Friday, July 17, 2009

July 17: Blue Cheer, "Vincebus Eruptum"

Artist: Blue Cheer
Album: Vincebus Eruptum
Year: 1968
Label: Polygram

The idea of the "power trio" is a time honored tradition in rock and roll, and it has produced some of the greatest music in history. From Cream to Morphine, the trios that rise to the top usually contain some of the most talented musicians of their era, and these groups also tend to be huge influences, bringing new sounds and ideas to the masses. Far at the beginning of the history of the "power trio" was a band that were once called, "the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia" yet would later be cited as one of the biggest influences on both heavy metal and punk rock. The band, Blue Cheer, created some of the finest fusion of blues and rock, and there are few bands since that have not been impacted in some way by their sound and style. Though the band remains somewhat unknown, their amazing sound and influence are obvious, and their 1968 debut record, Vincebus Eruptum, is nothing short of a musical masterpiece.

When you look at the larger picture of music history, the fact of the matter is, nobody in the world was making quite as loud and aggressive as Blue Cheer was in 1968. Though The Velvet Underground's White Lightning/White Heat would bring this attitude to the masses, and Grand Funk Railroad's debut a year later would use the sound to become icons, Blue Cheer very much remain the innovators of the style. The career of Blue Cheer started off with a bang, as their high-octane cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" cracked the top 15 on the singles chart, helping the album nearly into the top ten in sales. It was very much the volume and tone of their music that set Blue Cheer far apart from the rest of the bands playing in San Francisco at the time. The band has admitted that, though they began as a five-piece group, they trimmed down to a trio after seeing Jimi Hendrix Experience perform a the Monterey Pops Festival. The influence of Hendrix is also very apparent within the bands musical style and tone, though one cannot really make the case that they are "ripping off" Hendrix. The trio has seen many changes in personnel over the years, yet there is no doubt that the groups' original three-man lineup is, by far, the finest incarnation of the band, and Vincebus Eruptum serves as proof of their greatness.

The music of Blue Cheer is a perfect encapsulation of the early crossovers between blues and rock into what would become both heavy metal and punk rock. Yet at the same time, one cannot deny the heavy elements of psychedelia within their music, though with it being louder than most other psychedelic bands, this aspect is often overlooked. Guitarist Leigh Stephens often has a tone that sounds exactly like that of Jimi Hendrix, and there are many moments when the riffs he is playing sound exactly like those of Hendrix. However, there remains a huge gap in creativity between the two, and Stephens, though an amazing guitarist in his own right, is simply not in the same league as Hendrix. Drummer Paul Whaley may very well be the most underrated drummer in music history. By far, one of the heaviest drummers ever, the influence of his sound on bands from Black Sabbath to Queens Of The Stone Age is simply undeniable. Whaley's true genius and talent is spotlighted on Vincebus Eruptum's final track, "Second Time Around." Rounding out the groups' sound is bassist and vocalist Dickie Peterson. It is often Peterson's playing that gives the songs a bit of a deeper, darker mood, and bass legend, Lemmy Kilmister has often cited Petersons' playing as a major influence. With their louder, darker take on the blues-rock medium, and then cranking it louder than anything before it, Blue Cheer made themselves into true music innovators with Vincebus Eruptum.

Though he is phenomenal on bass throughout the album, Dickie Peterson truly shines on Vincebus Eruptum with his amazing, soulful vocals. Walking the line between screaming and singing, Peterson delivers some of the most stunning and inspired vocals in rock history. His sharp, clear singing often plays in perfect juxtaposition to the moody, grungy, somewhat fuzzy music being played underneath his voice. Peterson is truly an amazingly gifted vocalist, and after hearing Peterson perform, one can easily see his sound as an influence on everyone from Iggy Pop to Alice Cooper to Kurt Cobain. Vincebus Eruptum contains three original songs, and three covers, and Peterson explores each song in a manner never before heard. Definitely pushing the boundaries on what was acceptable at the time, Peterson takes nearly six minutes to sing about picking cotton, shooting his wife, and his sexual exploits on the Mose Allison song, "Parchment Farm." Blue Cheer also presents their take on the B.B. King classic, "Rock Me Baby" (which they had seen Hendrix perform at Monterey Pops) as well as the aforementioned "Summertime Blues." The three original songs on Vincebus Eruptum are just as good as the covers, and they are amazing examples of the band using the blues-rock format to explore what would later be called heavy metal.

Blue Cheer represents one of the countless number of bands whose work was unquestionably influential, yet never garnered much credit or acclaim for their efforts. In an era and location where mellow, meandering music was the standard, Blue Cheer took the formula and turned up the volume and aggression and managed to craft a sound that would be used by some of the biggest bands in history. Presenting the superb guitar playing of Leigh Stephens and the unmatched drumming talents of Paul Whaley, Blue Cheer is a stunning musical experience. The bass work and vocals from Dickie Peterson remain some of the most amazing work ever recorded, and his sound has served as the blueprint for innumerable artists in both arenas. After experiencing the phenomenal sound of Vincebus Eruptum, it is quite easy to see where bands like Black Sabbath and The Stooges got their musical influence. Vincebus Eruptum is truly a perfect fusion of rock and blues with an ample dose of psychedelia and then turned up "to eleven," making it one of the most innovative and influential albums to ever be recorded.

Standout tracks: "Summertime Blues," "Parchment Farm," and "Second Time Around."

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