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Friday, February 4, 2011

Flashback Friday - Blue Cheer

Alright…welcome to the first ever edition of our new feature here on Heavy Planet, Flashback Friday. The goal here is to dig into the archives of this music we love and pull out some of the classics, legends and downright innovators who have done their part to get us where we are today. I chose Blue Cheer as the focus of my inaugural Flashback Friday feature because I feel they're often overlooked and somewhat under appreciated when it comes to discussions about the origins of not only stoner rock, but heavy music in general.

The band got their start in San Francisco in the late 1960's during the now legendary Haight-Ashbury psychedelic rock renaissance that spawned bands like Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and of course, the Grateful Dead. Known as much for their experimentation with psychedelic drugs as for the music they created, these bands created a hippie culture that can still be seen to this day. But while everyone else was spewing peace, love and happiness, the three guys in Blue Cheer, who were no strangers to the drug subculture (after all, the name of their band comes from a type of LSD), were about to truly put the power into the term "flower power".

The band was one of the first ever "power trios" (the argument could be made they were THE first) and although the lineup changed countless times throughout the years, the classic three were Dickie Peterson (Vocals/Bass), Leigh Stephens (Guitar) and Paul Whaley (Drums). This lineup recorded two albums together, the legendary debut Vincebus Eruptum as well as the band's sophomore effort Outsideinside. The former featured the song for which Blue Cheer is perhaps best known, a psychedelic and devastating cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues". If you haven't seen the video for this one, scroll down to the end of this post and have a look. I defy anyone to tell me these guys weren't the first stoner rock band after seeing that clip.

After Outsideinside, Leigh Stephens left Blue Cheer due to his tiring of the rampant drug use within the band, particularly while attempting to play live. In fact, the band's live shows were becoming something of a spectacle due to their wall of amplifiers onstage (unheard of at the time), deafening volumes (they're still considered to be one of the loudest bands in history) and the complete annihilation of their instruments at the end of their performances (years before Nirvana would become known for doing the same thing). From that point on, Blue Cheer's lineup would remain in a near constant state of flux.

The third album New Improved featured two replacement guitarists for Leigh Stephens and found the band exploring a more "classic rock" sound. It would prove to be the last album that Blue Cheer would record as a "power trio" as subsequent records would feature keyboards and an additional guitar, among other instruments. The band would record three more albums between 1969 and 1971 with Dickie Peterson being the only constant in Blue Cheer's ever changing lineup, and by 1972 they finally decided to call it quits.

Over the course of the next three decades, Dickie Peterson revived Blue Cheer a number of different times with a revolving cast of musicians, and managed to crank out four more albums before his death from prostate cancer in 2009. The band's legacy and clout remained intact throughout their near 40 year career as is evident when you see the people associated with them, like Jack Endino (legendary producer for Soundgarden, Nirvana, TAD, Mudhoney, Nebula and High on Fire to name a few), who helped produce their 1990 release "Highlights and Lowlives" and Joe Hasselvander (Pentagram drummer), who played on their 2007 (and final) record "What Doesn't Kill You…".

With no disrespect intended towards the mighty Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum was released two years prior to that band's classic eponymous debut…an album that many consider to be the originator of heavy music. In my opinion, it's Blue Cheer who deserves this distinction. With their fuzzed out wall of distortion and noise, the band single handedly changed the face of rock music and paved the way for what we now know as stoner rock. So next time you're looking for a new band to burn one to, why not go the other way and check out a classic band that can still kick your ass all these years later...why not check out Blue Cheer?

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  1. Actually I just began a new section in a similar fashion, about albums that laid the foundation, or contributed to the beginning of metal. I chose Iron Butterfly for my first but Blue Cheer was going to be my next. Odd we'd have similar ideas within a few hours of each other.

  2. you're forgetting a very important part! New and Improved featured the legendary Randy Holden on guitar, and while he wasn't at his best on this album, he simply crushes on his solo project titled "population 2"! (Blue Cheer does a watered-down version of one of his songs but it doesn't have close to the impact it does on pop 2).

  3. I mentioned that I was going to start this feature last week.

  4. Ludzeppelin...no doubt about Holden's talent man, I hear you. But since he only played on half of "New Improved" and because I probably could have written for days if I talked about every musician who played in Blue Cheer, I tried to keep the focus on Dickie Peterson and the original trio. Thanks for the comment though...I'll have to give a listen to Holden's solo material.


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