Gary: “This group was one of the pioneer’s of a music type (that I dislike) called “Heavy Metal”. We must mention these three guys from San Francisco because, I know there are millions of heavy metal fans, so let’s at least acknowledge the existence of one the early Heavy Metal Groups
Blue Cheer came together in 1967. 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.
Dickie 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 the power 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, loud and psychedelic.
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. Another guitarist that was in the band for a short stint was Tom Weisser, who recorded his material with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Dickie Peterson on bass.
Later, 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.
Reconfigurations, inactivity and first extended hiatus (1970s)
The new line-up of Peterson, Ralph Burns Kellogg, Norman Mayell (drums) and Yoder in 1970 saw the release of The Original Human Being, followed by 1971’s Oh! Pleasant Hope. When Oh! Pleasant Hope failed to dent the sales charts, Blue Cheer temporarily split up in 1972.
There was a temporary resumption in 1974 with Dickie Peterson being joined by brother Jerre Peterson, Ruben de Fuentes (guitar) and Terry Rae (drums) for some tour dates. This grouping continued on briefly in 1975 with former Steppenwolf bassist Nick St. Nicholas replacing Dickie. The group was then largely inactive for nearly three years, until 1978.
Dickie returned in 1978-79 with a fresh line-up of Tony Rainier on guitar and Mike Fleck on drums. This version of the group never got out of rehearsal studios.
Further reconfigurations, relocation to Germany, second and third extended hiatus (1980s–1998)
Blue Cheer was once again inactive in the early 1980s. There was another attempt to reunite in 1983, but that fell through.
In 1984, Peterson had better luck when he returned with Whaley and Rainier as Blue Cheer and a brand new album The Beast Is Back, which was released on the New York label Megaforce Records.
Whaley left again in 1985 as drummer Brent Harknett took over, only to be succeeded by Billy Carmassi in 1987. That same year, Dickie led yet another new lineup of the Cheer that had Ruben de Fuentes back on guitar and Eric Davis on drums.
In 1988, the line-up changed once again, being now composed of Dickie Peterson (bass), with Andrew “Duck” MacDonald (guitar) and Dave Salce (drums).
From 1989 to 1993, Blue Cheer toured mainly in Europe. During this time, they played with classic rock acts as well as then-up-and-coming bands: Mountain, Outlaws, Thunder,The Groundhogs, Ten Years After, Mucky Pup, Biohazard and others.
1989 saw the release of Blue Cheer’s first official live album, Blitzkrieg over Nüremberg. This album was recorded during Blue Cheer’s first European tour in decades.
1990 saw the release of the Highlights and Lowlives studio album, composed of blues-based heavy metal and one ballad. The album was co-produced by notable grunge producerJack Endino and producer Roland Hofmann. The line-up was Peterson, Whaley on drums and MacDonald on guitars.
Blue Cheer followed up “Highlights” with the much heavier Dining with the Sharks. Duck McDonald was replaced by German ex-Monsters guitar player Dieter Saller in 1990. Peterson was on bass and vocals and Paul Whaley was again on drums. Also featured is a special guest appearance by Groundhogs guitarist Tony McPhee. The album was co-produced by Roland Hofmann and Blue Cheer. Gary Holland (ex-Dokken/Great White/Britton) replaced Whaley on drums in 1993.
In the early 1990s, Peterson and Whaley re-located to Germany. In 1992 Peterson recorded his first solo album “child of the darkness” in Cologne with a band named “The Scrap Yard”. The album appeared five years later in Japan on Captain Trip Records. After Peterson came back to the U.S. (1994), Blue Cheer was dormant from 1994 to 1999.
The return of Blue Cheer (1999–2009)
In 1999, Peterson & Whaley got together with guitarist MacDonald, to resume touring as Blue Cheer. This band configuration remained largely constant from 1999 until Peterson’s death in 2009.
In 2000, Blue Cheer was the subject of a tribute album, Blue Explosion – A Tribute to Blue Cheer, featuring such bands as Pentagram, Internal Void, Hogwash and Thumlock.
Peterson and Leigh Stephens were together once again in Blue Cheer with drummer Prairie Prince at the Chet Helms Memorial Tribal Stomp in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Parkon October 29, 2005, and their lively performance drew old rockers like Paul Kantner and others from backstage to observe.
They did some recordings in Virginia in Winter 2005 with Joe Hasselvander of Raven and Pentagram on drums, due to Paul Whaley choosing to remain in Germany.
While Hasselvander played on the entire album, his contribution was reduced to drums on five songs, with Paul Whaley re-recording the drum parts on the balance of the album. This was because Whaley was set to rejoin the band and it was felt that he should contribute to the album, prior to touring. The resulting CD, What Doesn’t Kill You…, released in 2007, features contributions from both Whaley and Hasselvander as a consequence.
Blue Cheer’s video for Summertime Blues made an appearance in 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, where Geddy Lee of Rush referred to the group as one of the first heavy metal bands.
Death of Peterson and disbandment (2009)
On October 12, 2009, Dickie Peterson died in Germany after development and spread of prostate cancer. After his death, longtime Blue Cheer guitarist Andrew MacDonald wrote on the group’s website that “Blue Cheer is done. Out of respect for Dickie, Blue Cheer (will) never become a viable touring band again.”