Allen Lanier—the keyboardist, guitarist, and songwriter best known as a founding member of Blue Öyster Cult—has died. According to BÖC’s website, Lanier “succumbed to complications from C.O.P.D. [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease].” He was 67. In addition to his work with BÖC since its formation, Lanier appeared on recordings by numerous artists over the years, including those by The Clash, John Cale, and Jim Carroll—not to mention Patti Smith, whom Lanier was romantically involved with throughout the ’70s.
BÖC came together in Long Island in 1967 under the name Soft White Underbelly, which soon morphed into The Stalk-Forrest Group before eventually taking the strange name it would make famous. Compared to co-leaders Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma, Lanier was a less visible figure in the band as it gradually built a cult following on the backs of hits like 1976’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and 1977’s “Godzilla.” But he factored heavily into BÖC’s classic output of the ’70s, including writing or co-writing many fan-favorite album cuts like the soaring “In Thee” from 1979’s Mirrors.
Prior to BÖC’s last showing of mainstream success, 1981’s “Burnin’ For You,” Lanier had built a considerable résumé as a sideman and session musician. He played with John Cale in the ’70s—including a widely bootlegged set from 1976 titled The Ocean Club, in which Lanier appears alongside Cale, Lou Reed, and David Byrne—and added much to the former Velvet Underground member’s 1982 album Music For A New Society. He also played barrelhouse piano, anonymously, on The Clash’s 1978 song “Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad.” On his association with punk poet and songwriter Jim Carroll, he was given much more credit: Not only did Lanier co-write several songs with Carroll, he can be seen in live videos playing keyboards on Carroll’s 1980 anthem, “People Who Died.”
Lanier’s most intimate collaboration outside of BÖC was with Patti Smith. The two began dating in the early ’70s before either had hit it big—BÖC originally considered asking Smith to be its lead singer—and their creative synergy can be heard on Smith’s triumvirate of superb albums that decade: Horses, Radio Ethiopia, and Easter. Among the highlights of Lanier’s co-writing and playing on Smith’s first three full-lengths is “Elegie,” a haunting track from 1975’s seminal Horses. Although never an official member of the Patti Smith Group, Lanier contributed much to its sound.
Lanier left BÖC in 1985 only to return in ’87, then continued with the group until his retirement in 2006. His final appearance with the band was in November of 2012, when he took the stage during a concert in New York celebrating the 40th anniversary of BÖC’s landmark self-titled debut. Lanier co-wrote four songs on that 1972 album, including “Workshop Of The Telescopes”—an eerie, hard-rock enigma that presaged the legendary work Lanier would go on to make with BÖC.