How Blue Cheer Changed Everything With ‘Vincebus Eruptum’
It has been said that Blue Cheer's sonic blast could "turn the air into cottage cheese." The classic power trio's debut LP, Vincebus Eruptum, arrived on Jan. 16, 1968, as proof.
Blue Cheer is typically cited as the world's first heavy metal band. That's true – to some extent. Iron Butterfly were already on the scene, while Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin were right around the corner, but none of them were as single (or simple) minded in their bludgeoning attack as Blue Cheer.
In a blur of Roger Corman films, amphetamines, LSD, long hair, loud guitars and teen lust, the roots of metal, grunge and stoner rock can all be found on this one album.
Blue Cheer was managed by a former Hells Angel called "Gut," and though they may have shared a home base (San Francisco) and a pharmacist (Owsley Stanley) with the Grateful Dead, their musical approach was entirely different.
Singer and bassist Dickie Peterson, guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Paul Whaley made one hell of a noise, while producer Abe "Voco" Kesh found the group's deafeningly definitive sound. Vincebus Eruptum is split between three cover songs, and three originals written by Peterson. Of those originals, "Out of Focus" is a classic. With a funky guitar riff leading the way, the song rides a heavy groove. The tone of the guitar alone defines the Blue Cheer sound – a Big Muff fuzzbox plugged into Marshall amp and cranked up loud. The circular riff of the song is hypnotic and ranks as one of the band's finest efforts.
Their classic "Parchment Farm" (a cover of Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm") is a glorious case of taking a simple blues and transforming it into Blue Cheer's own monster. It's a driving rocker that has the eternal pedal to the metal. "Doctor Please" is a rollicking number about Peterson's first time delving into the world of LSD. As Owsley states on the back of the album cover, "Subtle color of the mind - BLUE, call the figure of the soul - CHEER."
Watch Blue Cheer Perform 'Summertime Blues'
The band managed to have a hit single amid all the heavy fuzz going on. Their cover of Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues" lit up AM radio in 1968 and climbed the Billboard charts to No. 14. It would be Blue Cheer's sole hit single, yet remains their definitive song in so many ways.
They capture the angst and raw teen emotion of the Cochran original, but, like some crazy Ed "Big Daddy" Roth vehicle, it's all souped up and driving way out of control. "Summertime Blues" certainly didn't sound like a lot of what was on the top of the charts – but in those times, it really was a stylistic free for all that somehow made sense. Along the way, Blue Cheer created lifelong fans in listeners like the late Rush drummer Neil Peart.
"I had our family TV turned down low, trying not to disturb Mom and Dad, but the speaker was still overwhelmed with static and distortion," Peart said in a 2009 essay for Rolling Stone. "Drummer Paul Whaley thrashed at the cymbals with both arms, Leigh Stephens was a dark-haired menace grinding out thick guitar riffs, and Dickie Peterson wailed through a pyramid of blond hair with his bass guitar hanging low."
Rush would later cover Blue Cheer's rendition of "Summertime Blues" on their 2004 Feedback EP.