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Blue Cheer

As rock’n’roll power-metal trios go, San Francisco’s BLUE CHEER were the loudest – the loudest in the universe as was claimed; they were the precursors to heavy metal, punk, stoner, speed, grunge, et al. At a time in the late 60s when disciples of CREAM and the JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE were rife (IRON BUTTERFLY, STEPPENWOLF, VANILLA FUDGE, et al), BLUE CHEER had some not-so-friendly followers of their own in the Hells Angels; in fact they were actually once managed by Gut (alias Allen Turk), a fully paid-up member of the infamous breed of bikers. The “Blue Cheer” moniker was taken from a mind-bending cocktail of LSD, mixed by drug chemist Owsley Stanley, a geezer then associated with the GRATEFUL DEAD. In their fragmented lifespan, long-time leader Dickie Peterson disbanded his BLUE CHEER combo no less than five times, the final time – somewhat out of his hands – on October 12, 2009, the day when the singer/bassist had no comeback from liver and prostate cancer.
Relocating to where the vibe took him, North Dakota-born Peterson was soon fed up with propping up other West Coast acts (including Group B), and decided to enlist like-minded guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Eric Albronda; the latter moved aside for the fresher Paul Whaley (ex-OXFORD CIRCLE) to become part of the management team and co-producer. A brief extension of the San Francisco Blues Band in 1967, included brother Jerre Peterson (guitar), Vale Hamanaka (keyboards) and Jere Whiting (vocals/harmonica), each newbie in turn were surplus to requirements when the BLUE CHEER trio found their mighty sound on seeing The JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE perform at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Inking a deal at Philips Records and binging on copious amounts of LSD, the trio exploded on to the scene in January ’68 through a blistering, no-holds-barred re-vamp of EDDIE COCHRAN’s `Summertime Blues’, a resounding smash hit. Followed into the Top 20 by its Marshall amps-busting parent LP, VINCEBUS ERUPTUM {*8}, a heavy metal thunder was born by way of Peterson-penned acid-rock injections, `Doctor Please’, `Out Of Focus’ and the positively primeval `Second Time Around’. Almost unrecognisable in shape or creed, BLUE CHEER ripped up the blueprints for deafening distortions of B.B. KING’s `Rock Me Baby’ and MOSE ALLISON’s `Parchment Farm’.
In the space of only several months, album two was on the shelves; OUTSIDEINSIDE (1968) {*7} not as big a seller as their previous monster, but critically on the ball. A fourth auxiliary member had been added to the core by way of organist/reed-player Ralph Burns Kellogg, and this was another dimension to songs such as flop 45, `Feathers From Your Tree’; minor hit `Just A Little Bit’ was a crude but good serving on this Top 100 set. Once again, BLUE CHEER exercised their right to turn up the decibel level and re-vamp classic rock and blues pieces, this time by way of The ROLLING STONES’ `Satisfaction’ and BOOKER T’s `The Hunter’ (made famous by ALBERT KING and FREE respectively).
Leigh Stephens decided to duly opt out, citing feafness, and was replaced by Pennsylvanian-born Randy Holden (ex-OTHER HALF, ex-Sons Of Adam), until he too put on his running shoes after laying down a whole side two of tracks for their third LP, NEW! IMPROVED! BLUE CHEER (1969) {*6}. The unrelated Bruce Stephens was installed as axeman just in time to feature on side one of the said set, a side that also reflected the work of Kellogg, who penned B-side and opening salvo `When It All Gets Old’. Dickie Peterson had let his ever-evolving newbies get to work; Bruce afforded co-compositions and two of his own concentric titles, `West Coast Child Of Sunshine’ and `I Want My Baby Back’; the odd one out was a boogie-rock reading of DYLAN’s `It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’.
Trying desperately hard to maintain the power-trio agenda, Peterson would play live gigs with guitarist Tom Weisser and drummer Mitch Mitchell, but as this proved fruitless in terms of songs, Bruce, Paul and even Randy were reinstated back into a tour de force quartet; until Paul Whaley was succeeded by Norman Mayell for the fourth set, the eponymous BLUE CHEER (1969) {*6}. Bookended by tracks from ex-KAK/ex-OXFORD CIRCLE axeman Gary Lee Yoder (`Fool’ and `The Same Old Story’), the amps had been turned “down” to around er… 9 for a funky and rootsy intervention; the raspy cover of DELANEY BRAMLETT’s `Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham’ (a certain JACK WHITE must’ve discovered this two generations later).
Unwilling to ebb and flow with the times, psychedelic blues was still the main ingredient on B.C.#5 / THE ORIGINAL HUMAN BEING (1970) {*6}, which introduced sitar, synths and Bruce Stephens’ replacement Yoder, who virtually took over the show on several cuts (alongside co-conspirator Gary R. Grelecki). Peterson and Co – sticksman Mayell extending his function to include guitar, keys and sitar – were still a Top 200 proposition, but their sprawling direction into a potpourri of slick music styles from boogie to country-rock or Eastern-styled funk (think HUMBLE PIE or STEPPENWOLF), was finding little faith among the fickle rock music fan; still, worth the admission price was `Good Times Are Hard To Find’, `Black Sun’, `Sandwich’, the flop 45 `Pilot’ and its eclectic flip, `Babaji (Twilight Raga)’.
Their sixth set in just over half the number of years, 1971’s OH! PLEASANT HOPE {*5} sealed their fate, ironically just as BLUE CHEER had found personnel stability. It was Peterson that seemed jaded and forlorn as Yoder was given free rein to sing lead on half a dozen tracks; the best of them, such as `Travelin’ Man’ and Mayell’s `I’m The Light’, coming across as some poor man’s CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL or The BAND.
Splitting up in 1972, Peterson resumed the band at will, opting to tour with brother Jerre and fellow axeman Ruben de Fuentes, plus drummer Terry Rae, for local dates in 1974; what fans would make of STEPPENWOLF’s Nick St. Nicholas subsequently stepping in for sole survivor Peterson could not be printable, but by 1978, the leader was back in operation for a bone fide BLUE CHEER, roping in stalwart-to-be lead guitarist Tony Rainier and drummer Mike Fleck.
By 1984, Paul Whaley was back on the drum stool for the Megaforce-endorsed reunion set, THE BEAST IS BACK (1985) {*4}, although this basically mulled over old ground from their debut LP, including covers `Summertime Blues’ and `Parchment Farm’. Sounding raw, hoarse and unrefined for the most part, Dickie and BLUE CHEER were at least turning up the “Spinal Tap” dials to 11 again.
Touring consistently in 1988, Dickie Peterson enlisted lead guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald (ex-RODS, ex-Bible Black, ex-Shakin’ Street) to replace Rainier, and drummer Dave Salce to replace Eric Davis (Billy Carmassi and Brent Harknett had come and gone), although their inaugural 1989-recorded concert set, BLITZKRIEG OVER NUREMBERG (1990) {*4} – featuring an encore rendition of JIMI HENDRIX’s `Red House’ – failed to win them any new converts; most heavy-metal kids opting for their higher octane descendants (i.e. METALLICA, SLAYER, ANTHRAX, et al).
With Paul Whaley reinstalled back in the driving drum-seat, the Jack Endino-produced HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIVES (1990) {*3} had definitely several “lowlights” among the eight cuts on board, not least their cover of WILLIE DIXON’s `(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man’. Dieter Saller in for MacDonald, 1991’s DINING WITH THE SHARKS {*3} – showcasing GROUNDHOGS’ Tony McPhee on slide guitar – found a similar stumbling block of critical alienation and rebuttal, although a closing take of HENDRIX’s `Foxy Lady’ was worth the wait.
Prior to disbanding once again, Gary Holland replaced Saller, but by 1999 and another live album, Peterson, Whaley and the returning Duck MacDonald unleashed their Japanese-only HELLO TOKYO, BYE BYE OSAKA {*4}. Moving on to 2005, drummer Joe Hasselvander (ex-PENTAGRAM) would take the position of Prairie Prince (ex-TUBES), while on stage at the time, Leigh Stevens had played a bit part before both Whaley and MacDonald teamed up with Peterson for what turned out to be BLUE CHEER’s final offering: WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU… (2007) {*6}. A bludgeoning, blistering, brontosaurus of a no-holds-barred album, the “real” ‘Cheer stepped up to the mark on the MOTORHEAD-esque `Rollin’ Dem Bones’, `Gypsy Rider’ and that obligatory token cover by way of ALBERT KING’s `Born Under A Bad Sign’ (ironically recorded by psychedelic-blues predecessors CREAM). The record was a great way to end the show – R.I.P. Dickie Peterson.
© MC Strong 1994-1997/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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