Blue Cheer: Harder 'n' Louder Than The Rest

By: Chris Pacifico

With the passing of Dickie Peterson earlier this week on October 12 after a long battle with liver cancer, we wanted to share this conversation with Peterson that took place in late 2006 as the band was firmly establishing a young, new audience. This interview has never been seen until now.

Blue Cheer
There are certain bands in the history of rock & roll that never got their proper due, yet remained pivotal in serving as the blueprint for a genre. Case in point, Blue Cheer. In the mid to early '60s, this trio was just another pack of "crazy longhairs" that happened to form a band and go to San Francisco. Perhaps they weren't wearing any flowers in their hair but Blue Cheer's presence on the Haight-Ashbury scene was one louder than most of their musical peers.

Blue Cheer was amongst the first to turn their amps up to eleven. Bassist-vocalist Dickie Peterson, guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Paul Whaley blared out cumbersome guitar riffs with blizzards of raw, psychedelic voltage, bluesy hooks and quaking beats. Peterson, whose un-decibel friendly vocals and beefy bass was no less than lacerating, always saw himself as more of a "blues screamer" than a lead singer. They never quite morphed into a household name in part because they were a tad loud for some of the peace loving, tune in and drop out generation. Yet Blue Cheer managed to share the stage and local limelight with the who's who of musicians in the Age of Aquarius.

In 1968 their debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, peaked at #11 on the Billboard, and their version of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" went to #14 on the singles chart.

Their sophomore LP, Outsideinside, was just as creatively fervid, but as the '60s wound down Blue Cheer slipped through the cracks of much deserved recognition while still cutting albums, touring and enduring a revolving door of lineup changes well into the '80s and '90s. Yet, it was with their first two albums that Blue Cheer became unsung heroes, with many crediting the power trio for laying down the first brick in the towering house that became heavy metal.

Dickie Peterson 2007
Many a heavy band swears by them, which in past decades has solidified them as cult heroes. "I first heard Blue Cheer in 1981 while under the spell of hardcore," recalls Mudhoney's Mark Arm. "I met this kid from the Bay Area while attending college in Oregon. He was one of about five folks at the school who was even slightly into punk rock. We were all hanging out in his dorm room and he puts Vincebus Eruptum on the turntable and says, 'Check out what these crazy hippies did back in the '60s.' It nearly split my head in two. Hearing Blue Cheer at that point was almost as important to me as hearing The Stooges for the first time the year before. When Mudhoney started up, Blue Cheer was definitely part of our blueprint."

"I have a more interesting relationship with Blue Cheer's songs than I do most people I know," explains "psychedevangelist"/ring leader/lead singer Eddie Gieda of An Albatross. "Their music, throughout their entire catalog, is a sonic epicenter of the prolific cultural revolution of the '60s and '70s West Coast. Their degree of separation between virtually all of the '60s political, musical, philosophical, and cultural figures that I deem essential in forming our country's history is unbelievably minute. These guys are the real fucking deal and to meet them is to know that their spirit, unlike their peers, hasn't eroded. They're still loud and still proud."

Prior to Peterson's passing, Blue Cheer continued to tour with two-thirds of their original lineup, with guitarist Andrew "Duck" MacDonald taking Stephens' place, and crossing into the shattered eardrums of a new generation of fans who like it loud and lewd. Dickie Peterson spoke with JamBase about the band's place in history, the upheaval of their youth, and how the Grateful Dead managed to piss them off.

JamBase: In the early days of Blue Cheer you guys started out as a regular young California band just aiming to head out to the Bay Area, right?

Dickie Peterson 2006
Dickie Peterson: Yeah, everybody was just moving to San Francisco because it was such a happening music scene that was wide open. It was a really rare event in the music world since all the rules were being tossed out the window and everything was accepted.

JamBase: How did you get the attention of PolyGram Records?

Dickie Peterson: Actually, Abe "Voco" Kesh, who was our producer had a bit to do with it. He had talked to several record companies and nobody wanted anything to do with us because we were so different than anything else that was going on. We went in and we did a demo, and we took it to KPIX radio and they got so many requests for it that the record companies couldn't ignore us.

Any sort of music style or artists that really roused you or the members of Blue Cheer to pick up the instruments and start playing?

Blues. Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker. These were all big influences for me, and also Little Richard. Oh, and Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. I had the unique honor of meeting both of them.

You took your name from a strand of Owsley Stanley's acid, right?

Yes, that and also because of the strain of music that we gravitated toward was jump blues.

I'm sure you're aware that over the years there have been many journalists, as well as fans, that credit Blue Cheer for paving the road for what is now heavy metal.

You know I can see where people are coming from but I can't really say if we were the first heavy metal band or the first of anything because there were a lot of bands kind of in our realm around us, such as the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. I think we were the first American power trio. I guess if you listen to us you'll find elements of heavy metal, elements of grunge, elements of punk, elements of the blues, and even elements of country. You'll find all of these in our music.

Continue reading for more on Dickie Peterson and Blue Cheer...

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