Blue Cheer - Biography
In 1966, Blue Cheer (reputedly named after a type of LSD, if not directly after Procter & Gamble’s laundry detergent) formed as a six-piece band in San Francisco. By the following year, Blue Cheer reduced its membership by half to become a “power trio,” like heavy-rock contemporaries Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. KSAN DJ Abe “Voco” Kesh, or Abe Kesishian, played the band’s three-song demo on the air and got Blue Cheer a deal with Philips Records. The “power trio” lineup of Blue Cheer that took shape in 1967 — with Dickie Peterson on bass and vocals, Leigh Stephens on guitar, and Paul Whaley on drums — recorded the band’s first two albums, Vincebus Eruptum (1968 Philips) and Outsideinside (1968 Philips), which were produced by Kesh.
Some people have claimed that Vincebus Eruptum is Latin for “controlled chaos.” “Vincebus” is not a real Latin word, although “vincemus” is. Of course, the accuracy of Blue Cheer’s Latin was far from the minds of people who heard the band’s thunderous “Summertime Blues,” the first song on the album and Blue Cheer’s big 1968 radio hit. Eddie Cochran’s original “Summertime Blues,” a teenage rebellion song with every verse ending in discouraging words from an authority-wielding adult, had been a rock hit ten years before. Blue Cheer’s apocalyptic version of the song replaces the adult’s voice with acid-rock instrumental breaks that suggest a sense of sadism not in Cochran’s original, but appropriate to the events of the time. The great jazz songwriter, singer, and pianist Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” also becomes a screaming heavy-rock nightmare called “Parchment Farm.”
Blue Cheer followed the primal fuzz of Vincebus Eruptum with the more elaborate psychedelic production, Outsideinside, after which Stephens left the band. “I was asked to leave,” Stephens says in an interview on his website. “I was the only one in the band that was not chemically challenged and I did not fit in.” Stephens, who soon moved to England and released a solo album, was replaced by guitarist Randy Holden, previously of the Other Half (“Mr. Pharmacist”). In Richie Unterberger’s book Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers (published by Backbeat in 2000), Holden tells Unterberger, “Blue Cheer was a three-piece band using about eight Fender Dual Showman [amplifiers]; four on the bass, and four on the guitar. I used to use about six of them on the guitar when I’d do my thing. So everybody kept prodding me that I knew — ‘this is the band you should be with.’”
Side two of Blue Cheer’s third album, 1969’s New! Improved! Blue Cheer (1969 Philips), consists of three songs written by and recorded with Holden. Holden quit during the sessions for the album and released a solo album, Population II (1970 Hobbit), the following year. The first side of New! Improved! Blue Cheer features the lineup that followed Holden’s departure: Peterson and Whaley, with new guitarist Bruce Stephens and Ralph Burns Kellogg on keyboard.
Whaley quit after New! Improved! Blue Cheer, leaving Peterson as the only original member. Peterson, Stephens, Kellogg, and new drummer Norman Mayell recorded the band’s fourth album, Blue Cheer (1969 Philips), later in 1969. Gary Yoder of San Francisco contemporaries Kak, who is listed as co-writer on two of Blue Cheer’s songs, replaced Stephens on guitar for 1970’s The Original Human Being (1970 Philips) and 1971’s Oh! Pleasant Hope (1971 Philips), after which Blue Cheer disbanded.
Peterson assembled a new version of Blue Cheer in 1979 for live shows. In 1985, Peterson and Whaley reunited, added new guitarist Tony Rainier, and released The Beast Is Back (1985 Megaforce) on the metal label Megaforce. By the time of the live Blitzkrieg Over Nüremberg (1989 Nibelung), recorded on Blue Cheer’s 1988 tour of Germany with David Salce on drums, Andrew “Duck” MacDonald was Blue Cheer’s guitarist. Blue Cheer soon crystallized as Peterson, Whaley, and MacDonald, the lineup that persists to the present day. The band has since issued the albums Highlights and Lowlives (1991 Thunderbolt), recorded with producer Jack Endino and released in 1991, and What Doesn’t Kill You… (2007 Rainman), released in 2007. Peterson and Whaley reunited with original guitarist Leigh Stephens for one show in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on October 30, 2005.