Blue Cheer: LSD, rehab, whisky, fights… And in their spare time they invented metal
As with any revolutionary concept, Blue Cheer had its detractors. Summertime Blues climbed the charts, and Blue Cheer were the toast of the town. Unless, of course, you asked the bands they actually had to play with.
“People thought we were just making noise,” says Dickie Peterson, from his home in Germany. “They thought we were a detriment to the scene. I just knew we wanted to be loud. I wanted our music to be physical. I wanted it to be more than just an audio experience. This is what we set out to try and do. We ended up being in a lot of trouble with other musicians of the time. I remember Mike Bloomfield came up to me at the Avalon Ballroom, and he says, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘C’mon, Mike, you can do it, too. All you gotta do is turn this knob up to 10.’ He hated me ever since. He was this great accomplished musician and I was this 18 year old smartass,” Dickie laughs. “We did have a bit of an arrogance, but it was nurtured by people like that criticising us.”
Despite being heavier and louder and more stoned than everyone else, Blue Cheer had a song in the charts, and so they were forced to make the rounds on Top 40 radio shows and prime-time television programs just like any other band. It was not always a perfect fit.
“We were on American Bandstand,” Dickie remembers, “And Dick Clark [AB’s host] didn’t like us at all. My manager was a Hell’s Angel, and we were sitting there smoking a hash pipe, and Dick Clark comes in and says, ‘It’s people like you that give rock’n’roll a bad name.’ We looked at him and smiled, and said, ‘Thanks a lot, Dick.’ We did the Steve Allen show too, and that was a real kick in the ass. When they introduced us, Steve Allen said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Blue Cheer. Run for your life.’”
Media relations was just one of the hard lessons the young band had to learn. “We were basically street kids,” Dickie explains. “We were never around the kind of money we were getting. There was a lot of financial mismanagement. All the songs I wrote, I lost my publishing for all of those. I didn’t know it when it happened. There was a lot of business – not just with us but with a lot of bands in the 60s – that was just slipshod.”
1968 was still in full-swing when Blue Cheer were marched back into the studio for their second album, and already there were signs of wear and tear in the band. Guitarist Leigh Stephens had quit, fearing deafness if he continued to play with the louder-than-God band. He was replaced by Randy Holden. Vincebus Eruptum was recorded in three days, with very little mixing. For their follow-up, the label demanded some actual production. This proved difficult.
“We had never done a studio production,” Dickie explains. “It was all new to us. We couldn’t turn our amps up the way we wanted to and get the tones we wanted. So the record company rented a pier in New York Harbour, and so we went out there with a mobile unit and recorded all the basic tracks. And then we went back into the Record Factory and did all the sweetening – which was a lot.”