Blue Cheer was named after a pure strand of LSD. Dickey Peterson (bass and vocals), Leigh Stephens (guitar), and Paul Whaley (drums) were average musicians and fair songwriters, but they had a vision that would lead to a far different type of rock music than was being produced in the late 1960s.
They were a quintessential power trio that helped set the foundation for the development of heavy metal music. They advertised themselves as the loudest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world and history notes that their sound would reach sonic levels. Each instrument would have a bank of twenty speakers. They were also one of the few groups that Billy Graham banned from playing the Fillmore West.
Vincebus Eruptum was their debut album and was released in 1968. It featured extensive feedback, an overbearing guitar, and a sound that was both psychedelic and hard rock. The album struck a resonant chord with the record buying public as it reached number 14 on the national charts.
The classic Eddie Cochran tune, “Summertime Blues,” would become Blue Cheer’s best known song and only hit as it would reach number 11 on the charts. It featured a fuzzy guitar sound with a lot of reverb set against pulsing bass and thundering drums. The sloppy production only served to enhance the track. While this song may seem dated today, in 1968 it was groundbreaking.
Blue Cheer would always sound better covering other artist’s material. “Rock Me Baby” was a B.B. King tune. Dickie Peterson’s vocal remained true to the original blues interpretation and ran counterpoint to the guitar lines. Leigh Stephens was not a blues guitarist and certainly not of the caliber of B.B. King. He did know loud and louder and so churned through the song in an interesting if not creative manner. Another old blues song, “Parchment Farm” written by Mose Allison, was moved over to a heavy rock ‘n’ roll sound and became a successful interpretation.
Blue Cheer was more hit or miss with their three original songs. “Doctor Please” featured frenetic drumming but the guitar playing is ponderous. Stephens could produce a heavy guitar sound but never developed a clean technical style. “Out Of Focus” featured impassioned vocals and some excellent bass playing by Peterson. Stephens improvises some tasty guitar licks but at times has difficulty returning to the basic melody. “Second Time Around” came with a typical drum solo and extended guitar improvisations and is the best of the Peterson compositions.
Vincebus Eruptum marked the popular and creative zenith for Blue Cheer. A revolving door of band members and a move toward a more commercial sound would push the group into the background of the public’s consciousness. They would break-up in 1971. Peterson and Whaley would reform Blue Cheer in 1983 and tour extensively in Europe and release a number of new albums. They continue to tour sporadically down to this day.
Their legacy is rooted in their first album. Vincebus Eruptum preceded such groups as Black Sabbath by two years. The song structures, especially on the original tunes, may have been inferior and the playing sloppy at times; nevertheless the musical vision was ahead of its time and is their ultimate contribution to rock ‘n’ roll. While their sound is now dated; it is still listenable and historically interesting. So put on the ear phones and turn the stereo up real loud.