Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Blue Cheer-Summertime Blues

Although their initial brush with success was fleeting Blue Cheer were a landmark band, incredibly influential in the development of heavy metal and later regarded as pioneers of stoner rock. Their debut album Vincebus Eruptum released in 1968 was a piledriving tour de force, a brutal mixture of blues and psychedelic rock. It was certainly one of the most powerful albums to come out that year, it was crashing wave of distorted guitar, pounding drums and anchored to the floor bass. The band were formed in 1967 in San Francisco and had a fairly fluid line-up, their classic three piece line-up consisted of Dickie Peterson on bass/vocals, guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Paul Whaley. Vincebus Eruptum was recorded in 1967 at Amigo studios in North Hollywood and reached #11 on the U.S album chart in January 1968, Summertime Blues reached #14 on the Billboard singles chart.

My introduction to the group came as a curious 10 year old, I happened to see a cassette tape called Roots of Heavy Metal in a local record store and I got my parents to purchase it. Summertime Blues which was their cover of the Eddie Cochran classic was unlike anything I had heard before. I played the song on a portable cassette player, I thought there must have been something wrong with the speakers, the bass was so distorted and crackling and the drums were thunderous, it sounded like it was recorded in a cave. You get an indication from the start that this isn't a typical cover, the band take hold of the song and take it to another dimension. They come crashing in like they are kicking down a door, Paul Whaley flailing on the cymbals and then giving serious assault to the floor tom. Then the band collide together, Peterson has a walking bass that is propulsive, distorted and loud. In his vocals Peterson gives the song a darker, violent feel, to match the period, it's almost anarchic in it's delivery. Where Eddie Cochran came from a place of humour and teenage frustration, Blue Cheer took to the song to a place of hostility and confrontation. America in 1968 was not a land of piece and harmony, it was violent and unsettled and it started to resonate in the music. A lot of bands were using blues music as the setting to voice their anger, it took on a dark hue but at the same time it had an exhilarating effect.

If you listen to the rest of the album you hear that sense of anger and almost a sense of tired resignation, Doctor Doctor has some brilliant drumming on it, it was written by Peterson as an anthem to drug use. They also give an intense sonic exploration on Mose Allison's Parchment Farm, Stephens guitar lines are screeching psychedelia at it's best, heavy and flowing. In this album you hear the genesis of heavy rock and also stoner rock, Vincebus Eruptum is a heavy beast indeed.

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