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Blast From The Past: Blue Cheer

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Blue Cheer is the original heavy metal band, before the label is even invented. A power trio named for a popular and a particularly potent brand of LSD manufactured by Owsley Stanley (dubbed by the L.A. Times as the infamous LSD Millionaire who was further  immortalized in the Grateful Dead tune, “Alice D. Millionaire.” When prison curtailed Owsley's output, The Brotherhood of Eternal Love stepped in to fill the void with the, at the time, ubiquitous Orange Sunshine. The Brotherhood, themselves a fascinating story, were notorious for hiring radical 60's lefties, The Weathermen (from the Dylan song, Subterranean Homesick Blues...  “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”) to bust Timothy Leary out of jail. But enough digression.

Blue Cheer were psychedelic and very heavy. Dickie Peterson's bass roars from the belly of this beast. The drums pound with a trash-can ferocity that would leave drummer Paul Whaley's hands dripping blood on the skins and shimmering like liquid black gold on the cymbals. If John Lennon had blisters on his fingers at the end of “Helter Skelter,”Leigh Stephens was down to bone. Blue Cheer's second album, Outsideinsidecarried a Hell's Angels endorsement. They both hailed from San Francisco. Their debut, Vincebus Eruptum was trumpeted as " the loudest record ever made." A dubious boast which was backed up in decibels.

These days, Blue Cheer is remembered, and then seldomly, for their top 40 cover of Eddie Cochran's “Summertime Blues.”The later released Who version from Live At Leeds usually usurps the Cheer's version even though The Who owe more to Blue Cheer than Eddie Cochrane. Similarly, their version of Booker T & the MG's “The Hunter”from the 2nd LPwould be copped by Free who turned it into a minor FM staple. Unfortunately for Blue Cheer the band was subject to so many personel changes, Dickie Peterson being the sole stalwart, their revolving door policy meant their sound never properly progressed or gelled. The band released their last record in 1971 and broke up in 1972. They reformed about 20 years later to wander the oldies circuit and occasionally release some new material and live cds to appease a small, but rabid cult following.  

Blue Cheer - Vincebus Eruptum (1968)

My favourite Blue Cheer record is Original Human Being. This is their most polished work which means it is still as loose and ragged as a Quaalude drunk. In spots the sound is fattened up with horns and a sparse haunting harp; there are tasteful keyboards throughout and on one one track, “Babaji (Twilight Raga)” even a sitar. Check this one out for a lost, blues-rock classic that precurses The Black Crowes by decades.   


The Original Human Being (1970)

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