Blue Cheer: LSD, rehab, whisky, fights… And in their spare time they invented metal
“I retreated for a while,” he acknowledges. “Like I said, I was addicted. In 1973, I went into rehab, and I stuck with it for four years. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I still wanted to be a musician. When I was finished with that, I was sort of incognito. I would go into places and hear bands cover my songs. I would never identify myself, though. I was in Northern California, just being anonymous. Then, around the late 70s, I ran into a friend who knew where Paul was. I called up Paul, who was living in England. I asked him if he was interested in talking about putting the old band back together. He said he was, so I flew over and we talked about it. Two weeks later, we were back together in the states, hashing it out.” “It was out of the blue,” Paul remembers. “At the time, we had no contact with each other whatsoever.”
“We were just trying to get it together,” Dickie says. “We had gained nothing from our earlier successes. It was like trying to start all over again.”
Andy ‘Duck’ McDonald grew up in Almeida, New York, the same heavy metal hotspot that spawned Ronnie James Dio and Manowar. He’s played in many bands over the decades, from Shakin’ Street to Savoy Brown, but for the past 20 years, he’s been the new guy in Blue Cheer. Besides swinging Cheer’s mighty axe, he also serves as their business manager and, when it’s called for, their historian.
“I met Dickie through Carl Canedy,” Duck remembers. Canedy, the drummer/producer/visionary behind New York raunch’n’roll institution The Rods, served as producer on Blue Cheer’s first ‘comeback’ album, 1984’s The Beast Is Back. McDonald was also in the same Rochester studio working on Canedy’s star-spackled solo album, Thrasher Supersessions.
“So, we were both in the studio at the same time,” Duck explains. “I was a drinker at the time, and so was Dickie. I had a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the studio, and I made the mistake of leaving it there. Dickie happened to find it. We’re talking 10 in the morning here. So I walk in the studio about noon, ready to work, and Dickie’s in there, and my bottle’s half gone. I go, ‘What are you doing? That’s my whisky!’ But he was so cool and so innocent about it that I said ‘Fuck it’, and we just finished the rest of the bottle together.”
Dickie doesn’t remember the meeting in such friendly terms. “We got in a fight over whisky,” he says. “So I went and bought another bottle, because he’s much bigger than me. I mean, I’m no idiot.”
“I really liked his attitude,” Duck says. “He wasn’t a jerk or a rock star. We went our separate ways after that. They went on tour and did The Beast Is Back record, and I did my own thing. It was a few years before I heard from him again.”
Released on New York’s Megaforce Records, one-time home to thrash metal juggernauts like Metallica and Anthrax, The Beast Is Back was to be Blue Cheer’s comeback record. It was their first album in more than a dozen years, and arrived near the peak of heavy metal’s stranglehold on American pop culture. The only problem was, Blue Cheer may have spawned the whole genre, but they weren’t a heavy metal band.