40 Years Of Cure For The Summertime Blues.
“Dickie Peterson was present at the creation — stood at the roaring heart of the creation, a primal scream through wild hair, bass hung low, in an aural apocalypse of defiant energy. His music left deafening echoes in a thousand other bands in the following decades, thrilling some, angering others, and disturbing everything — like art is supposed to do”.
-Rush drummer, Neil Peart
Neil’s words speak volumes. It would seem unnecessary to say more…but I will. Dickie was a guy who lived for the next gig- He had too much to say, whether he was vocalizing or knocking out thundering bass lines. He’s another player whose bass playing talent and unprecedented attack and style has been largely ignored for some stupid reason or another. He had the fire.
Dickie Peterson died on October 12th in Germany where he lived for many years. Word is he had prostate cancer which eventually spread throughout his body. He is survived by his current wife, a former wife, daughter and a 6 year old grandson. He was 63.
Starting as early as 1966 but gaining popular status by ’68, Blue Cheer broke so many moulds and musical rules it beckons me to point out their one-of-a -kind indelible impression of…the non-mould.
Emerging from a well-trodden San Francisco inner-invasion of psychedelic music from many so-called psychedelic groups, they almost single-handedly inserted a reality-laden heaviness that a less than handful could aspire to. Big Brother and The Holding Company and Savoy Brown are 2 of a very few which come to mind.
Aside from an absolute devotion and attachment to the blues, Blue Cheer and particularly Dickie’s delivery seemed to be fueled by an endearing if not acerbic combination of powerful acid, antiwar sentiment, acid, constant practice, acid… endless nights at local hip-shake clubs… acid… and an all consuming fire forged from the blues- but delivered with an iron fisted punch, while smiling like California sunshine. BC really created a kind of reality-check the west coast movement desperately needed as new ammunition against a war-mongering and increasingly murderous establishment. Their intrinsic value was, and still is… immense.
Dickie’s raw vocal delivery placed a spike if not compliment to the SF musical foray, which had up until this point cut its teeth upon the well-heeled roots of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Byrds and the likes’ ornate paisley style. These groups were considered the heaviest around during the height of the Haight-Ashbury peace vs. war sentiment. Peterson and BC successfully mixed juxtaposed tinges of psychedelic color with a slight but certain disparate shadow. Standing alongside the rebellion of groups like The Doors, who portrayed dichotomous parallels between innocent rainbow candy canes, angry clenched fists against the establishment, and Britain’s Black Sabbath who’s English-minced anger rightfully griped about war and the greedy slugs who controlled it all. BC successfully stood equal ground with one foot in the love-filled inspiring summer of 1967 and the other the culmination-cum-ruination of the movement in 1969; Dickie Peterson’s style most
certainly had to father certain punk and metal influences which would later come- his voice alone tells that story. Tired of the malady and madness from staunch conservatism of the Johnson-Nixon era, it had finally become entirely too much to bear – it was time to bring out the big guns. And so, it was also time to finally blast those fuckers with an even greater strike than the counter-culture could deliver. BC was right there with a power-trio driven strength only slightly next to levels of what Hendrix’ or Cream were operating to. It was time to get ugly, and Dickie Peterson was a willing and hugely influential contributor…just ask Lemmy Kilmister.
He was driven by metallic tinged acid tabs that could curl your top lip a good 2 inches above the tongue, super amplified over-drive, a low tolerance for political extremes, and a love for humanity. But most definitely – vast quantities of top grade 100% Albert Owsley. Ah yes, lysergic acid of which only the likes of Aldous Huxley, M.C. Escher or Hunter S. Thompson could tolerate…o.k., Jim Morrison, too. Let it be written that drug-drenched ‘Mr. Mojo Rising’ himself was quoted as saying, “Blue Cheer is so far the heaviest band I’ve ever seen”. Blue Cheer changed attitudes as well as ear drum standards. Crushingly non-superfluous as they were, and teeming with superbly sublime bone crushingly heavy.
Throughout the 90’s and most of this decade, BC only got heavier- It would seem the intense weight of 9/11 foibles and post trauma of continuous lies and subsequent madness of greed-stricken war continued…ever -apparent lessons still need be learned- a sad testament to a continuing down the thwarted avenues of thoughtlessness governments continue to take.
Over the years, if Dickie’s lyrical message seemed to get darker, and the tone became heavier, conclusions could only be attributed to the tone of the times – the good news? They rocked even harder.
In there lies the legacy of Dickie Peterson. BC soldiered on and continued to constantly blur the distinction between hope-filled sweetness of summertime blues, lofty numbness of Annie Green Spring-soaked visions and the smoggy memories of speed-freak aspirations from the racetracks of Altamont.
It was only a year or so ago, I was very fortunate to have been invited down by the band’s manager to meet Dickie and shoot exclusive shots of the band onstage at Dantes in Portland. They were gracious and accommodating to give me room anywhere I wanted to station myself. I had a few brief moments downstairs in the green room to watch them get ready for last minute details. Original drummer Paul Whaley looked great for his age…great. Longtime heavy metal lead guitar player Andrew ‘Duck’ MacDonald joined the reconfiguration in 1999.
As he put on his sequined black western-style vest I was able to ask Dickie a question or two. Before he could get the answer out, it was show time- so I was reduced to repeatedly mumbling his answer to myself as I followed them up the stairs on their way to the stage. I stopped at the top of the staircase to write “When I was a young dude trying to explore music, I was into getting as loud as I could. Some liked us, some didn’t but we held our ground. Here we are 40 years later, still holding on. So hold on, here we come again”. He also made a brief comment that he always liked Portland because of its quest for uniqueness, paralleling that of San Francisco.
Other than select few such as Lemmy, Phil Lynott and Mick Rock stood Peterson, looming under a shadow which few dared to stand. Among the hatred and bloodthirsty mongrels, stood a voice for reason and a bit of sunshine…sunshine I say…down to the very last blot-soaked tab.
“There is a thing that has happened in music over the years that says, if you like rap music, and I like heavy metal music, we can’t be friends, and to me, this is the exact opposite of what music is supposed to do. Music is supposed to bring us together, you know, you don’t have to like the kind of music I like, to like music. You don’t need my approval, you know, you need your own. Don’t try to be cool, it’s the most un-cool thing you can do. Cool is only cool when you’re not trying”.
August 18 2009 interview with Ken Davidoff
© 2011 Buko Magazine