Listen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic power trio and heavy metal seed planters Blue Cheer. It’s “Come And Get It”, a cut off of their 1968 LP Outsideinside. The song would help to show off their, um, mettle as a band that specialized in “heavy” music, before many bands explored the range of back to basics loudness in quite this way.
The most obvious comparison for many to what Blue Cheer represented at the time may be the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, that comparison is mostly cosmetic. Hendrix’s music was about ecstatic excursions that included Dylanesque influences mixed with R&B, and culminating in an outward expansion of rock music as a form. Blue Cheer went the other way; inward, and back.
They went back to the roots of the music itself, their most famous example being their take on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. With that tune, they boiled the song down to its essentials, and turned up the heat (and the amps). A similar approach can be found on their take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, on which they took the original, hit it over the head with a lead pipe, kicked it while it was down, went through its pockets for loose change. They did all with the best results.
But, what of this song which is an original composition?
This song appeared at a very brief time when Blue Cheer was a pretty stable unit personnel-wise; Dickie Peterson singing and playing bass, Leigh Stephens on guitar, and Paul Whaley on drums. This would change drastically afterwards, with a supreme amount of turnover in its membership over the decades, and with a few hiatus periods interrupting what would end up being a 42-year career. This fluctuating line-up mostly happened around Peterson who’s gritty delivery and bluntly effective bass would become something of a trademark, although even Peterson would leave the band briefly in the next decade, only to return back to the fold.
The ever-shifting personnel and tough no-nonsense feel of Blue Cheer’s music may or may not have been affected by its street-level origins, managed initially by a member of the Hell’s Angels, and named after a variety of LSD common on the West Coast scene at the time. Peace and love was a fair distance away, philosophically speaking. But, this is where they win, with this song being a great example of how the basics of rock music were still as vital as they’d ever been, and easily translatable during a time when the stylistic trajectories being explored by many bands were drifting beyond those origins, sometimes dubiously so.
As far as this song goes, “Come And Get It” is a song full of sex, violence, and rebellion awash in bestial vocals, bludgeoning drums and bass, all supplemented by jagged shards of fuzzy guitar. The effect is not unlike three men trying to bash down a brick wall by the sheer magnitude of what was coming out of their amps. And somehow, even if they were looking backward in terms of their approach, this song perfectly frames that they’d also created a sound that was entirely suited to its time, too. This song came out during a year when it would have made for an appropriate soundtrack to fighting in the streets in Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Paris, and London. Who else sounded like Blue Cheer in 1968, practically the year of the street riot? Not many until the MC5 happened along a year later, and jams were appropriately kicked out.
Blue Cheer would be an on-off concern for decades, playing in venues of various capacities, and with several members too numerous to list here shoring up Peterson’s voice and bass. Whaley would make a return in some of those latter day line-ups. But, it’s almost appropriate that the sound of this band is also associated with so much turnover. It would be a whole lot for only three men to sustain over 42 years.
In 2009, on the event of Dickie Peterson’s passing, Blue Cheer was no more. But, even if the band aren’t the household name in a way that The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream would become, they certainly laid down a template for heavy music for many musicians that followed their example, ranging from Rush to Julian Cope.
Speaking of Julian Cope, here’s a piece written by him about what he feels made Blue Cheer such a frighteningly vital band that sprung forth as the first of their kind.
And here is an interview with Dickie Peterson of Blue Cheer which may shed some light on the approach of the band, and the resolve of its constant member.