Blue Cheer: LSD, rehab, whisky, fights… And in their spare time they invented metal
They were the bellowing Gods Of Fuck. There were no big ugly noises in rock’n’roll before Blue Cheer. They created sonic brutality, coiling their teenage angst into an angry fist of sludge and feedback and hurling it at stunned, stoned hippies like a wave of mutilation.
Words: Ken McIntyre
(Originally published in Classic Rock No.137, summer 2009 edition)
Everything about Blue Cheer was badass. They had a Hell’s Angel for a manager, they were despised by the other bands in their scene, and they played so loud that people ran from them in fear. Proto-punk, proto-metal and proto-rehab, Blue Cheer took acid, wore tight pants, cranked their walls of Marshall stacks and proved, once and for all, that when it came to all things rock, excess was always best.
Formed by singer/bass player/mad visionary Dickie Peterson in San Francisco in 1966, Blue Cheer – named after the band’s favourite brand of LSD – was at first a gangly, six-piece blues revue with much teenage enthusiasm and little direction. After seeing Jimi Hendrix perform for the first time, the band’s prime movers – Peterson, drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Leigh Stephens – thinned the line-up and discovered their sound, a wall-shaking throb of low-end beastliness that sounded exactly like the world ending.
Anchored by a sweat-soaked, hell-for-leather cover of Eddie Cochran’s teenage lament Summertime Blues, Blue Cheer’s definitive sonic manifesto Vincebus Eruptum arrived in January 1968. It was the blues defined by acid-fried biker goons, and it changed the world. Two years later, the band was effectively over, its members shell-shocked, disillusioned, ripped-off and super-freaked. And it would take 40 years for them to put all the pieces back together.
Blue Cheer’s original drummer, Paul Whaley, speaks in a ragged whisper that suggests life done the hard way. Much like his perpetual partner-in-crime, band leader Dickie Peterson, Paul now lives in Germany, far from the psychedelic madness of the US west coast that spawned them.
“He met a girl, I met a girl,” Paul explains, simply. “I’m much happier here. That American style of life, it just makes me nervous.” Between long and thoughtful pauses, Paul recalls how the Blue Cheer story began. “Dickie and his brother showed up in Davis, California, in 1966,” he says. “They just showed upon the streets of this small town, these two trolls. These two long-haired freaks.”
Paul and Dickie became acquainted, and when Dickie moved to San Francisco to soak up the free-love-and-cheap-drugs atmosphere and form a band, he gave Paul a call. “I was doing nothing at the time, so I agreed, and I moved down there to this commune he was living in. I joined the band he was in and it eventually became Blue Cheer. It was a 60s blues band. We went to the Monterey Pop Festival and saw Hendrix there, and decided we wanted to be a three-piece. It all happened really fast. Within six months we were signed to Mercury Records and playing loud, aggressive music. The three of us got together and wrote Doctor Please and Out Of Focus for the first album, and it sold millions. That Vincebus Eruptum album has brought us to this point.”