Blue Cheer: LSD, rehab, whisky, fights… And in their spare time they invented metal
“I wasn’t too surprised that they ended up on Megaforce,” Duck says, “because there was a resurgence at that time. Heavy metal was huge, so it was a good time to bring back Blue Cheer. Of course, the guy they had then, Tony Rainier, was a heavy metal guitar player. It’s just what you had to play at that time. As well as, you know, the puffed-up hair and tight pants. Dickie even had a perm at that point.”
“Tony, who was our guitar player in the early 80s, this was his concept,” Dickie says. “I was pretty much against it. Not because I think heavy metal is a bad thing, because I don’t, it’s just not us. We’re a heavy, low-end, hardcore rock’n’roll band.”
Mottled with bad ideas – including a screech-metal remake of Summertime Blues – the noodling The Beast Is Back was greeted by fans as a curiosity, at best. Still, the band was together again, tenuously or not, and Dickie wanted to make the best of it. Blue Cheer spent the next few years slogging it out in the heavy metal trenches, waiting for the spandex kids to come around to their way of thinking.
“In 1989, Dickie wanted to go to Germany,” says Paul Whaley, “and Tony didn’t want to fly. He was afraid Blue Cheer would jinx him, and the plane would crash. So Dickie gave Duck a call, and he went to Germany with Dickie and another drummer. I didn’t want to go to Germany, either. I thought there was a jinx against Blue Cheer at the time, as well.”
Duck agreed to do the tour, and the band recorded a live album, 1989’s Blitzkrieg Over Nuremberg, just two nights in. Although this line-up was short-lived, Duck would return to the fold again and again over the next few years. Paul Whaley finally got over his fear of flying and joined Dickie in Germany, where they would eventually put down roots. Meanwhile, back home, a certain kind of metal died an embarrassing death at the hands of Seattle’s flannel mafia. Time for the Cheer’s second comeback.
“Here was an opportunity, “ says Duck, “With all these grunge bands. Blue Cheer had a heavy influence on a lot of those bands.”
“They liked us because we didn’t write songs about devil worship,” Dickie says. “We wrote songs about drugs and sex, just like them.”
Clearly, Blue Cheer’s downer-fuzz and proto-punk holler were pronounced influences on bands like Green River, Soundgarden and Nirvana, so it seemed like the perfect fit. In 1990, the band recorded a new album, Highlights And Lowlives, with grunge superproducer Jack Endino. Despite its grunge-ready, doom-washed excess, the album fizzled, as did grunge. The band retreated to Germany, where they tinkered and retooled. Unhappy with the German management, Duck quit, and was replaced with a German flash metal guitarist Deiter Saller. The resulting album, 1992’s Swimming With Sharks, was another misfiring foray into metal. “I was very displeased with the record company, with the production, with the whole thing,” Dickie remembers. “All I wanted to do was it get it done and get out.”