Blue Cheer were an American psychedelic blues-rock band that initially performed and recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and were sporadically active from that point on until 2009. Based in San Francisco, Blue Cheer played in a psychedelic blues-rock style, and are also credited as being pioneers of heavy metal (their cover of «Summertime Blues» is sometimes cited as the first in the genre), punk rock, stoner rock, doom metal, experimental rock, and grunge. According to Tim Hills in his book, The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom, «Blue Cheer was the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia. The band is named after a street brand of LSD and promoted by renowned LSD chemist and former Grateful Dead patron, Owsley Stanley.»
Jim Morrison called the group, «The single most powerful band I’ve ever seen.»
Blue Cheer came together in 1966. It was co-founded by Eric Albronda and Jerry Russell, music aficionados who wanted to become involved with the San Francisco music scene of the 1960s. Both moved with Dickie Peterson from Davis, California, to San Francisco. Peterson had previously been with the Davis-based band Andrew Staples & The Oxford Circle, as well as future Blue Cheer members Paul Whaley and Gary Lee Yoder. The original Blue Cheer personnel were singer/bassist Dickie Peterson, guitarist Leigh Stephens and Eric Albronda as drummer. Albronda was later replaced by Paul Whaley, who was joined by Dickie’s brother Jerre Peterson (guitar), Vale Hamanaka (keyboards), and Jerry Whiting (vocals, harmonica). Albronda continued his association with Blue Cheer as a member of Blue Cheer management, as well as being the producer or co-producer of five Blue Cheer albums.
The band was managed by an ex-member of the Hells Angels named Gut. Early on, it was decided that the lineup should be trimmed down. It is said that Blue Cheer decided to adopt a power trio configuration after seeing Jimi Hendrix perform at the Monterey Pop Festival. Hamanaka and Whiting were asked to leave. Jerre Peterson didn’t want to remain in the group without them, so he departed as well, leaving Dickie, Leigh and Paul as a trio. Their first hit was a cover version of Eddie Cochran‘s «Summertime Blues» from their debut album Vincebus Eruptum (1968). The single peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, their only such hit, and the album peaked at #11 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The group’s sound was hard to categorize, but was definitely blues-based, psychedelic, and very very loud.
The «Summertime Blues» single was backed with Dickie Peterson’s original song «Out Of Focus». Peterson also contributed to the album the eight-minute «Doctor Please» and «Second Time Around», which features Paul Whaley’s frantic drum solo. Filling out the record, the band cranked out blues covers «Rock Me Baby» and Mose Allison’s «Parchman Farm» (titled «Parchment Farm»).
The group underwent several personnel changes, the first occurring after the 1968 release of Outsideinside after Leigh Stephens left the band due to musical differences or, as some report, deafness. He was replaced by Randy Holden, formerly of Los Angeles garage rock band The Other Half. On 1969’s New! Improved! Blue Cheer there were different guitarists on side 1 and side 2 (Randy Holden and Bruce Stephens) due to Holden’s unanticipated departure from the band. Ralph Burns Kellogg also joined the band on keyboards. Blue Cheer’s style now changed to a more commercial hard rock sound à la Steppenwolf or Iron Butterfly. For the fourth album Blue Cheer, Bruce Stephens left and was succeeded by Gary Lee Yoder who helped complete the album.
According to Dickie Peterson the group’s lifestyle during this period caused problems with the music industry and press. Peterson said the group was outraged by the Vietnam War and society in general.