This was from a theme month where I looked back at “forgotten greats”. In this one, I looked at heavy metal pioneers, “Blue Cheer”
(Leigh, Dickie, and Paul, the original members of the band)
When people think of the origins of heavy metal, the first band to come up is Black Sabbath. However, many have speculated that one of Sabbath’s greatest influences also deserves that title. While many consider Heavy metal to come from one source, it’s more so a mix of several groups, including this one.
Blue Cheer was an American acid rock/hard rock/heavy metal group from California. This group was heavily influenced by blues musicians of the United States and Great Britain, as well as the psychedelic masterwork of Jimi Hendrix. With these influences, they took these sounds to the next step in energetic rock. While this band didn’t have the background of Sabbath, they made up for it with experimentation, especially experimentation in volume. This resulted in a raunchier, more intense sound that continues to evolve today.
Their first album, Vincebus Eruptum, was a chaotic and loud album driven by blues themed lyrics, distorted sound, and intense and aggressive (for its time) solos. The album title is translated into “Controlled Chaos”, from Latin. And how! However, most of the songs on this album are heavy covers of blues and rock classics, like B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby.” The couple original songs show off their ability to shred, shriek, and provide an all around badass (or at least badass for its time) album. Certain tracks like their very catchy Summertime Blues cover really emphasize their louder than anything else approach. The production is made all the more interesting with a raw and live sound, rather than a professionally produced album oriented rock sound.
Their follow-up, OutsideInside, is considerably as heavy, with more original music than the previous album. The cover of Satisfaction from the Stones goes from classic rock groove to fuzzy acid joyride! Magnolia Caboose sounds like an intense action packed groovy soundtrack for a ’60s action or cop movie, which makes for one downright awesome track to rock out to. One of the tracks, “Come and Get It”, sounds borderline Motorhead, with its gritty, grimy, crunchy rock sound that had the potential to be a hard rock anthem. One could argue that tracks like this continue to rock hard and blow more commercial genres like glam rock out of the water.
The sound of these two albums is considerably driven by not just pounding guitar, drums, bass, and vocals, but the feedback and distortion of the music itself. Their use of distortion not only helped to propel the music, but create a raw, experimental sound that further blew away those who didn’t expect it. You could almost say that they helped turn the amplifier into an instrument, if not valued member itself. This only enhances the frenzied and hectic sounds of the guitar and bass and the ‘controlled chaos’ of the drum rhythm.
After these two albums, Band member Leigh Stephens left and Blue Cheer attempted a more commercialized turn, continuously swapping out new people in the process. Needless to say, the following albums were significantly less interesting and a lot less heavy. Shortly after those releases, the band broke up. Despite the break up, the band has had several reunions and revivals, returning to their gritty heavy rocking roots.
During those spontaneous periods, the band had not only returned to their heavy, bluesy, metallic sound that made them great to begin with, but amped it up further. From the 1980s through the late 2000s, the band released some headbanging albums of warped blues driven fury. Thanks to these revivals, Blue Cheer’s hard hitting sound was unleashed upon a new generation of rock fanatics and metalheads.
Despite success from reunions and new albums, Blue Cheer couldn’t continue on forever. On October 12, 2009, Frontman Dickie Peterson died after a long battle with prostate cancer. At this point, the band decided that the wicked intensity of Blue Cheer had concluded. Despite the passing of Peterson and the end of the band, numerous musicians came forth to share the influence the band had over their style, despite a prior lack of recognition while the band was still some what active.
While the world was ready for Black Sabbath, it looks like the world wasn’t quite ready for Blue Cheer when they first came about. To this day, they are remembered by some for helping to bring the loud to rock n roll as well as help to bring heavy metal to the world. Blue Cheer lives on as a passion that helped to spawn new a lively forms of music throughout the world, despite not getting the credit they deserve.