Blue Cheer once was billed as the loudest rock band on planet Earth.
Inventors of the term “power trio,“ the threesome of Richard “Dickie” Peterson on lead vocals and bass, Paul Whaley on drums and Leigh Stephens on guitar were the progenitors of acid rock, heavy metal, speed metal, progressive rock and other forms of psychedelic mayhem.
Named after a batch of LSD created by Augustus Owsley Stanley, the band erupted onto the San Francisco scene in 1967. A year later, they scored a massive hit with an over-amped cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.”
The band’s debut, Vincebus Eruptum, was one of the most excessive albums of its time, spiked with distorted lead guitar solos that come at you from every direction at once, a drum sound powerful enough to crush your chest and punishing bass lines so nasty that you felt them as much as you heard them.
Looking back on that first album, Peterson says he’s still amazed at what the band accomplished.
“We blew the studio up with our guitars on the first day [of recording,]” Peterson says laughing. “They told us to set up like we did on stage. We put up six stacks of Marshalls and blew out all the equipment. We came back three days later, after they’d rebuilt the place. We did [Vincebus Eruptum] in three days, everything live. I did a couple of vocal overdubs to balance the sound. I usually did a scratch vocal, which was sometimes the best vocal, so that’s what you hear on some tracks.
“We thought ‘Summertime’ was filler. It always went over big live, but we didn’t think it was a single. I came up with the intro by borrowing a conglomeration of notes from different Otis Redding songs, just a round of flat thirds, which didn’t make any sense, but I was young and didn’t know any better. It’s one of the reasons I still hang out with younger musicians. They do things jaded older guys won’t do ’cause it’s not proper. Young guys will go places that are pure strokes of genius. So I like to sit in and give advice to younger musicians. Anyway, there were other things we had that were more aggressive than ‘Summertime.’ ‘Second Time Around’ and ‘Doctor Please’ were totally about sex and drugs, and that was what we were leaning towards. But we were young. I was only 19.”
Youthful energy powered the record, allowing Blue Cheer to bombard listeners with heavy, sonic cannonade.
“I can’t tell you what they did technically, but we had a good engineer,” says Peterson. “We wanted to have all the instruments coming at you from all directions at the same time. It was an Abe Kesh production, although that wall of sound was our idea.”
Peterson reckons Blue Cheer could only have come together in San Francisco in the ’60s.
“It was a unique time and place,” he says fondly. “All the rules people followed up to that time in music and art were thrown out the window. People were breaking new ground all over the place. [The city] was wide-open, and music was community driven. If you were a stranger, you could eat with The Diggers [an anarchist, guerilla street-theater group that served free food in Golden Gate Park every afternoon — ed.] or sleep with your friends and fans in communal houses. Today, most people think about music and hippie fashion and forget about the draft, Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. The injustices gave people things to rebel against. My generation had been misled, and we decided to create a more peaceful culture. In Wor