Dickie Peterson: Front man for the influential American power trio Blue Cheer
Tuesday 17 November 2009
The original anthem of teenage frustration, "Summertime Blues" has proved one of the most enduring songs of the rock era, and has been covered by many acts over the five decades since its creator Eddie Cochran took it into the charts in 1958. It featured in The Who's repertoire from 1967, and their heavy version from the Live At Leeds album made the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970.
However, the US power trio Blue Cheer outdid The Who in the loudness stakes with an even heavier rendition of "Summertime Blues" which reached No 14 in the US singles charts in 1968. Fittingly enough for a group who took their name from a potent brand of LSD, Blue Cheer bassist and lead singer Dickie Peterson admitted that their psyched-up – rather than psychedelic – take on 'Summertime Blues' had "to do with large doses of LSD. We kept changing the song around and adding and taking bits away," he told the getreadytorock.com website in 2003. "Don't get me wrong, I am against drugs and don't condone their use at all now. But at the time LSD opened channels in my head. It did change my life. When you took LSD, the music took on a whole new perspective and the whole sound changed.
"That's part of the reason why it became so big as it did. We were teenagers, we were outraged at society in general, and that anger had to come out. In our case, it came out through our music. We added more and more amps. Our whole goal was to make music a physical experience as well as an audio experience."
Though Blue Cheer never replicated the success of their big hit and Vincebus Eruptum, their debut album recorded in three days, they helped define the heavy metal genre, influenced bands like Grand Funk Railroad, and anticipated grunge and stoner rock by a couple of decades.
Dickie Peterson was born into a musical family, and started on drums before switching to bass in his teens, and playing alongside his brother Jerre, a flautist-turned-guitarist. After the death of their parents, they both moved to San Francisco and formed a band called Group B in 1966, and then featured in an early six-piece line-up of Blue Cheer. By the following year, this had slimmed down to a trio of drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Leigh Stephens alongside Dickie Peterson. They were managed by "Gut" Terkl, a former Hell's Angel, and gigged alongside the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
Blue Cheer owed much of their popularity to their extreme loudness and their blistering, brutal covers of rock, blues and jazz standards, in particular B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" and the Mose Allison composition "Parchment Farm". But Peterson wrote also half the tracks on their debut album, including "Doctor Please", "a glorification of drugs" which proved oddly prescient as he became addicted to heroin. "It all happened very quickly for us. Too quickly. 'Summertime Blues' really took off, so did the album. Suddenly, I had all this money. But it ended just as quickly as it began," he recalled.
Stephens left after Outsideinside, the band's second album, and Whaley after New! Improved! Blue Cheer, their fourth album and their last US Top 100 entry, in 1969. Peterson soldiered on until 1972, and after a hiatus, fronted several more line-ups of the group and later reunited with Whaley. In the late 1980s, they relocated to Germany where Blue Cheer had a big following since their appearance on the Beat Club TV show in 1969, and toured throughout Europe and lately the US as well.
Peterson released a couple of solo albums in the late 1990s and also formed a duo called Dos Hombres with Hank Davison. He died of prostate cancer. When asked to define Blue Cheer's music in 2007, the frontman called it "ultra blues, rock'n'roll. It's really simple. Primarily, we were a loud, straight-into-you rock'n'roll band, man."
Richard Allan Peterson, bassist, singer, songwriter: born Grand Forks, North Dakota 12 September 1946; twice married (one daughter); died Erkelenz, Germany 12 October 2009.
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