Inspired by the heavy blues improv of Cream and Hendrix, legendary proto metal gods Blue Cheer roared forth from the San Francisco Bay area onto the national scene in a big way in early 1968 with their debut album 'Vincebus Eruptum'. Completely at odds with almost all of what was coming up from the hippie flower power underground, they were the antithesis of bands such as The Grateful Dead, as subtle as a jackhammer and louder than a 747.
Named for the particularly potent "Blue Cheer" acid, incredibly they hit paydirt with both the album and the single culled from it, the classic cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" soaring towards the upper reaches of the Billboard charts, peaking at #14 and #11 respectively. Contemporaries of Hendrix, Joplin and The Doors, their powerhouse performances elicited Jim Morrison to pronounce them, "The single most powerful band I've ever seen".
The first American band to use Marshall amps, the power trio, initially consisting of bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson, drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Leigh Stephens were undoubtedly the heaviest and loudest band of the time. So loud in fact that due to said loudness, these pure volume dealers had to, for their Eddie Kramer engineered sophomore release 'Outside Inside', record the basic track sessions outside on Pier 57 in Manhattan. Live, they were the first band ever listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records as "Loudest Band In The World", establishing a precedent which was eventually eclipsed by Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple.
After the first two albums, Stephens left, replaced by Randy Holden, the first of numerous personnel changes to occur before the band released the final album of the first go around, 'Oh Pleasant Hope!' in 1971. Dickie Peterson eventually split up the band in 1974. Reforming for the decidedly metal based 'The Beast Is...Back' with guitarist Tony Ranier in 1984, from 1988 to 1993, Blue Cheer toured mainly in Europe to overwhelming success with classic rock acts Mountain, The Outlaws, Thunder, The Groundhogs and Ten Years After as well as newer bands at the time such as Danzig.
Joined by guitarist Duck McDonald in 1988, the band also found time to put out 2 studio recordings, 1990's Jack Endino (Nirvana/Soundgarden/Bruce Dickinson) produced 'Highlights and Lowlifes' and 1991's 'Dining With Sharks'. Also of note is the first ever live album from the band 'Blitzkrieg Over Nüremberg'. Released in 1989, it marked the first recorded appearance of McDonald, who's been with the band now off and on for 20 plus years as of this writing.
After a long recording hiatus, the beast is defiantly back with their first new studio release in 15 years, the stunning 'What Doesn't Kill You...'. Not the usual cash grab by veteran rockers attempting to pad their retirement fund, it shows that after 40 years the band hasn't lost a step. Still plying the heavy blues style tinged with psychedelia which led to many, including Geddy Lee of Rush, to proclaim them to be if not the first, certainly one of the very first heavy metal bands in rock history, predating Black Sabbath by a good two years. Influencing many subsequent bands such as the aforementioned Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, early U.F.O. and Motörhead up to the current crop of stoner rockers including Nebula and psychedelic merchants Dead Meadow, it appears that as long as musicians have the urge to turn things "up to 11", there will be countless generations discovering and being influenced by these heavy rock pioneers.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Peterson as the band was leaving Washington, D.C. en route to Oklahoma City to embark on the Southwest and Western leg of the current U.S. tour. Read on as we present a very candid conversation with one of the founding fathers of metal, punk, grunge and all music that's louder than God, Dickie Peterson of Blue Cheer...
Special thanks goes to Duck McDonald for coordinating, and a VERY LOUD thanks to Dickie Peterson for doing this interview.
Interview and text by Nightwatcher © 2009 Nightwatcher's House Of Rock
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : First of all, thanks Dickie for taking the time out to talk with us, we really appreciate it, it's an honor...
Dickie Peterson : No problem man, my pleasure.
NHOR : Blue Cheer has a brand new studio album out 'What Doesn't Kill You..." which is the first studio album from the band in 15 years, and the first one released here in the U.S. in 20. How do you feel the album came out, and why was there so much time between albums?
DP : First off, I think the album came out really great. Duck is an excellent producer. He did pretty much what I wanted to do, in that we wanted to capture who we really are. I think he did a really good job in doing that with today's technology applied to what we do. We didn't record for quite some time simply because #1, we're performing artists. We record albums because you have to in this business, but if you really want to see what Blue Cheer is all about you have to go stand there. Performing live, that's what we're all about.
NHOR : Are you pleased with the response the album has been getting?
DP : I'm very pleased. We've got a lot of good responses, a lot of good reviews. I haven't really read any bad ones. The way people hit the 'net these days, if somebody thought it was bad it'd be on there.
NHOR : What effect do you feel that the Internet has on a band such as Blue Cheer?
DP : Well, one thing that the Internet does is give you massive exposure. Whether people pick up on it or not is another story, but it does give you that exposure. It gives younger bands a lot more exposure than we ever had when we were young. In that respect I think it's good. I know there's a lot of downloading going on. I don't know how they're ever going to stop that. But, sort of the way we've been treated by record companies, I don't mind them having to bite the bullet for a minute. (Laughs)
NHOR : If you had to pick a favorite song from the album, one which is the most personal to you, which one would it be and why?
DP : The most personal song for me off the new album is "Young Lions In Paradise". That was written about friends of mine and Paul's who are no longer with us because of the way we treated ourselves when we were younger. We stood right next to them. Why we're alive and they're not, I don't know. We all thought we were immortal and abused ourselves profusely. So, in that respect that's the song which touches me the most in that area. I also like "I'm Gonna Get You," and "Rollin' Dem Bones". I really do like all the songs on the album. Duck and I wrote all the songs on the album and we're a good team.
NHOR : Getting into the songwriting aspect...where do you get the inspiration for songs, and what's the usual process you and Duck have when you're writing?
DP : My inspiration for songs that I write comes from experiences that I've had or I've observed amongst my friends. I get my inspiration from my friends and family. Usually what happens is I'll show up with a melody line and a bass line. I'll play it for Duck, we'll push it around and work on it until we have something we're happy with. Sometimes we won't pursue something because it just doesn't work. Duck was the inspiration for "Rollin' Dem Bones". He said, "Hey Dickie, you ought to write a song about all the pot you've smoked". So, we did that. I think there's going to have to be a sequel. (Laughs)
NHOR : How if any has the songwriting process changed for you versus the early days of the band? Is it more disciplined now than it used to be?
DP : I would say we're more disciplined, but I think that comes with time, age and experience. I often talk with the young bands that open for us, and they'll often ask me, "What is it that you figure you've got now that we need?" And I'll say, "What we have, you WILL have, but it takes time". It's called experience. You can't get that until...plain and simple, every one in this band is a lifer. We've had a lifetime commitment to rock n roll long ago.
If you're willing to make that kind of commitment, in time your experience will show through. That's something no one can take away from you. It can't be replaced. It can't be taught, you just have to live it. I'll say to young musicians, "Hey man, you've got your whole life ahead of you. You'll pack on experience, and you'll understand what I'm saying when you do".
NHOR : You're on tour as well in support of the new album. How has the tour been going, and how long do you anticipate being out on the road this time around?
DP : We'll be out on the road through most of April. We'll be over in Europe in April I believe, and on the road here in the U.S. until then. As far as I'm concerned I don't want the tour to end. We do have to stop and take breaks, but I hope they're not too long.
NHOR : You just mentioned going to Europe...what is the difference in terms of the audience when you play over there versus here in the States for you?
DP : I can say that European audiences really, really love their music. If they like your band, they're very loyal and dedicated. American audiences, we've found that we get at our shows a lot of the stoner rockers and a lot of people our age. We get a large generation gap. We draw an audience probably not like most bands get. We'll get two or three generations of a family who will come to our shows.
NHOR : Are there any plans to film some shows from the tour and perhaps release a DVD?
DP : Yes. We've been doing some of this, but we haven't come up with a good one yet. We have several videos that we've done at shows, which eventually something will get compiled and come out, but I don't know when. We're in the middle of the tour, so we're hoping to get more footage as it goes along.
NHOR : This year, 2008, marks the 40th anniversary since your debut album 'Vincebus Eruptum' came out in 1968. It's one which has influenced countless bands including Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad all the way through to modern stoner rock bands such as Nebula and others. Arguably it can be said that the album was the catalyst for what later became heavy metal. What do you recall about the sessions for that album? Was there ever a sense that what you were laying down was something special?
DP : Yeah, we thought it was special. But every band does, of course. Did we realize what was taking place? No. I don't think anybody at 19 years old has a grasp of your band turning into a classic, or anything like this. We were breaking ground. We were doing stuff that at that time nobody else had done. But whether it was going to be accepted or not, we didn't know that. We were doing it because that's what we wanted to do.
NHOR : That album has been referenced by countless critics as being, if not the first, one of the first heavy metal albums ever. How comfortable are you with that classification?
DP : We're pretty flattered by that statement, although we really don't consider ourselves heavy metal per se. We're a power trio. We're all low end. Heavy metal is high end, we're not. We're a Harley. We're not some high winding super bike, we're low end cruisers. (Laughs)
NHOR : What was it like coming up in the San Francisco scene in the mid 60's? You were certainly at odds at the time with what was coming out of the Bay area at that time such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Steve Miller etc. How much of a resistance was there to the wall of volume, heavy blues sound you were pioneering at the time?
DP : At the time a lot of the bands coming from San Francisco were emerging from the folk rock scene. Arlo Guthrie, Buffy St. Marie, Rambling Jack Elliott... all those people were the influences of most of those bands. Our influences were all blues and rhythm and blues artists. We were a lot younger than most of the other bands, and we had a bit more of an attitude. San Francisco was wide open, the music scene was wide open, and it gave us an opportunity to happen. There was a lot of resistance though. We were put down unmercifully. But all it did was make us stronger. What doesn't kill you will make you stronger.
NHOR : With the way the music scene is today, do you think that Blue Cheer would have a chance at commercial success if you were a young band just starting out?
DP : I would like to think so. I know I hear a lot of young bands that are coming from the same place musically that we came from. Would we make it? I don't know. We just happened to be the first ones around at that time, one of the few. When we started there were a few, like Iggy & The Stooges, The MC5 and stuff, but there were very few of us.
NHOR : Reportedly you, Leigh Stephens and Paul Whaley started Blue Cheer after seeing Jimi Hendrix at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Is that correct?
DP : That's not true. Blue Cheer was formed before we ever saw Hendrix. He was just the icing on the cake that told us we were going in the right direction. I had met Paul in Davis, California. I'd moved to San Francisco from Sacramento, and was starting a band with two friends of mine who were going to be managers of the band. I was the only musician. I started auditioning musicians and Paul was one of the first ones. I got him from a band called The Oxford Circle. As my hunt for a guitar player progressed, I finally met Leigh, and Paul and I decided to use him. He was with the band for about three years, but then he left.
NHOR : What were the reasons Leigh ended up leaving the band?
DP : There were several different reasons, but one of the main ones was musical incompatibility. He wasn't moving in the way we were moving.
NHOR : You recently, a couple of years ago got back together with Leigh at the Chetfest in 2005. What was that like playing with him again after so many years?
DP : It was okay. Leigh didn't do what he used to do. I've been doing this for 40 years straight, but Leigh took breaks.
NHOR : After the first couple of albums the band went towards a more commercial rock sound...
DP : I don't know if you would say we went for a more commercial sound. We were just making music. I've never once in my life...I swear to you, thought, "I'll write this because it's a commercial song." I've never thought that way. I can't think that way. I don't even know how you'd think that way. I know there are songwriters who do, but I'm not one of them. It was more refined, and quieter than what was on the first albums. I think that was a normal metamorphosis in a musician. I mean, I don't pick bands that I like who sound the same all the time. To me, that's quite boring. That's why we try to throw a ballad in, other stuff in. That makes us musicians and not just clones.
We still have to do a lot of our old songs, we can't get away without doing them. But we've managed to keep them fresh. We do that by sometimes rearranging the songs a bit. But generally speaking we really like playing with each other. We're really close. My biggest thrill is when one of these guys blows my mind, or when I blow their mind, that's when we know we're doing the right thing.
NHOR : We touched on this briefly a little bit ago, and although Jimi wasn't the main catalyst for the formation of Blue Cheer, the band did go on to play several shows with Hendrix. Did you interact much with Jimi or the other members of The Experience?
DP : We played quite a few gigs with Hendrix. I met them all. I met Jimi a few times. I didn't get much of a chance to interact with him. I did interact with Noel Redding some, but it was mostly just partying.
NHOR : What was your impression of Jimi as a person?
DP : The first time I met him I thought he was a really great guy, a really nice guy. When I saw him in New York a year or so later, he was still a nice guy, but he was very full of Jimi, which is what happens to a lot of people. He didn't do anything that I should put him down for, I'm just saying he was very self centered at that point.
NHOR : There are many legends which have been built up throughout the years about the band...two of the most notable have been that during the recording of the second album 'Outside Inside' the volume was so loud that it had to be recorded outside, and secondly regarding the volume, that one time it was so loud that a dog which was sitting on top of the amps exploded. Are any of those urban legends true?
DP : The first one is true. We recorded the album on Pier 57 in Manhattan. The second one isn't true. If I'd ever killed anything with my music I wouldn't be playing. I've heard this many times, but no, we didn't kill anything. We might've killed the punch bowl and the whiskey though. (Laughs)
NHOR : I'm sure P.E.T.A. will be glad to hear about that....Speaking of 'Outside inside', that album was engineered by Hendrix's right hand man Eddie Kramer, who went on to produce Led Zeppelin and Kiss as well as many others. What was it like working with Eddie?
DP : Eddie was a genius. There was a lot more work being done with the producer, Abe Kesh, than Eddie. But Eddie was a great guy to us. Now you have to take into consideration that here we were, three young guys, who when we worked with him was the first time we'd ever done any real production. So I'd imagine in some ways we were quite humorous because we didn't know what we were doing. We had a good time in the studio with Eddie.
NHOR : What do you feel that he brought to the recording that you didn't have before?
DP : He bounced up the level of personnel that we were working with. He's an incredible engineer. That jumped us up to a whole new level.
NHOR : One aspect besides the heaviness which has remained a constant throughout your career in the band and solo has been a pronounced blues influence. What was it about the blues that initially drew you to it, and who were your early influences?
DP : My first blues influence was Jimmy Reed. When I grew up, listening to rock & roll, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley...it all works out of a blues pattern. I'm a firm believer in that if you can't play the blues, you can't play rock & roll. It's really simple. There's no complicated deal with rock & roll, not as complicated as people try to make it. Rock & Roll is 10 % technique and 90% attitude. You can do more with one note and the right attitude than you can with fifty notes and no attitude. It's your delivery, how you deliver the package. Otis Redding was a big influence of mine, and James Jamerson from Motown, Duck Dunn from Booker T & The MG's was another.
Over the years I've had many influences. I'm still influenced today, some of whom people might not even know. My brother was a tremendous influence on me. He's dead now. He didn't teach me how to play music, but he taught me how to learn. Duck McDonald is one of my strongest influences, not because he plays in my band, but because he's such an excellent musician.
NHOR : As you still have that blues base to the music, do you keep up with the blues scene much still?
DP : Oh yeah, I still follow the blues scene. Blues scenes can be very localized. The Oakland blues scene, San Francisco, the east Bay blues scene is great. John Lee Hooker was out of that scene. All over the place there's blues going on. I pay attention to Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker, Lucky Peterson...I pay attention to these people. Some nights I'll go out to Slim's or Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco. But there's a lot of great blues players coming up in San Francisco. Billy C. Farlow from the Lost Planet Airmen, he's putting together some things, and he's a very good singer and harp player. Richie Kirch from John Lee Hooker's band...I've done a few shows with him. He and I are very good friends. Slim's and The Boom Boom Room are great blues places in San Francisco. The Boom Boom Room was John Lee Hooker's club, and Slim's is Boz Scaggs'. Every year they have The San Francisco Blues Festival, which I try to get to every year. They usually have some really good talent.
I lived in Europe for a number of years, and there's a lot of American blues bands who go over there because there's still a big appreciation for the blues over there. They have clubs over there that don't cater to anything else but the blues. I've heard several bands from all over the world. There's some good ones out of Texas. The Mighty Sam McLain now lives in Stuttgart, Germany but he's from the South originally and he moved over there. I even heard a band from St. Petersburg, Russia that played the blues like you wouldn't believe.
NHOR : After recording two albums with the original band, Leigh Stephens left, and you brought in guitarist Randy Holden, with whom you toured for about a year and recorded several tracks for the 'New! Improved!' album. What was the reason that Randy left the band? He's gone on record as saying he left due to there not being any money. Is that how you recall it?
DP : Randy was with us for eight months. He had a way of working in the studio and with the band which was totally non-conducive to Blue Cheer at all. That's why we let Randy go. I've never told my guitar player what to play. When he says, "What do you want me to play?" I'll say, "Something good." Randy's method of working was that he had to be in control of every note, of everything that was being played. That's just not the way we work.
My main reason for not desiring to work that way is when musicians play a song the way they feel, and help create it, they have a vested interest in that song. Therefore they play it better. I'm not challenging Randy, I have no intention of doing so. But Randy and I never saw eye to eye. We still don't. I've talked to him, but it's not something where we're ever going to play together again or anything like that. I doubt that very seriously.
NHOR : So, in your opinion there isn't any chance you'd be up for recording anything else with Randy then...
DP : No. Not unless he changed his whole attitude about how to record.
NHOR : I conducted an interview with The Lizards' Randy Pratt a couple of years ago and he mentioned that he had helped Randy trademark the Blue Cheer name so that Randy could use it. What are your feelings on this, and what's the current situation in that regard?
DP : They were attempting to do this, and I talked to Randy about this. I let him know that it just wouldn't be dealt with in court. That I'd deal with it, but it wouldn't be in any court, and he'd better back the fuck off my band. Common sense will tell you that he doesn't stand a chance. I started this band, and I was the only musician in it. I'm the only one who's been in it all along. I'll be in Blue Cheer until I die.
NHOR : During the early 70's, the band went through various personnel changes. Looking back, was the drug usage a factor in your opinion for so many changes in the lineup during that time?
DP : I think drugs were a factor in everything that happened during that time.
NHOR : After the release of 'Oh! Pleasant Hope' in 1971, that was pretty much it for the band until the release of 'The Beast Is Back' in 1984. What were the reasons behind you dropping out of the music business for so long during that time, and what inspired you to come back at that time?
DP : Well, #1, we were tired. We were really tired. We didn't stop playing. Each one of us went and played other places and did other things. Then Paul and I got back together in '84. We just wanted to play together again
NHOR : That album was definitely more of a heavy metal album. How do you feel that album holds up today?
DP : I think it's too quick, too fast, and it was a case of someone trying to turn us into a heavy metal band. But I think it's a good album.
NHOR : Your cover of "Summertime Blues" went to #11 on the Billboard Singles Chart in 1968, and during that time the band appeared on both 'The Steve Allen Show' and 'American Bandstand'. What was it like for you playing those shows?
DP : Both of them were very strange, because we were counterculture. 'American Bandstand'... Dick Clark didn't like us, but we didn't like him either. 'The Steve Allen Show', we only saw him for just a minute. You do a tv show, and normally you just set up, it's business. How did we like it though? Doing tv is strange, so I don't even know if "like" even applies. It's just a strange trip doing tv. We were glad when it was over.
NHOR : It has been 40 years now, and many of your contemporaries, such as Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etc. have long since passed, what do you attribute being around to still while many have gone to that great gig in the sky?
DP : Luck. I don't know why. That's what I was talking about in the song "Young Lions". I don't know why we survived, but I'm glad we did.
NHOR : Speaking of Janis, I've read where she pissed you off, and you didn't get along too well. Was that the case?
DP : We got along. She was a lover of Paul's, and I used to get angry at her for taking up Paul's time, but we got along. She used to encourage me to sing and all kinds of stuff. We used to argue too. But we as a band have been together forty years. I argue with my wife, my band mates. I argue with my friends sometimes. Yeah, we argued, but we were friends.
NHOR : What was she like as a person?
DP : Well, I didn't get that close to her. What she was like as a person was quite demanding. And pretty wild. I didn't really hang out with her many other places besides a show.
NHOR : Blue Cheer also has an association with The Doors, is that right?
DP : The first time I went to go hear The Doors at The Avalon ballroom, they were just a band from L.A. that I was going to check out. And they came onstage, started their first song, and they had no bass player. I just turned around and walked out. I'm a bass player, and to me, at 19 years old, that was the most insulting thing in the world. Later on Jim Morrison called us his favorite band, and used to come to our gigs in L.A. There was a bit of socializing going on too, none of it positive. (Laughs) Ultimately it wasn't too positive for Jim though I guess. And the rest of us lost a really great poet.
NHOR : As you have been doing this for 40 years now...what keeps you going?
DP : Well, there's my love for rock & roll, which is undying. And, the simple fact that it's the only thing that I know how to do. I don't foresee ever not doing this. If I die at the microphone with my Hamer in my hands, I'll be happy.
NHOR : When you're not playing with the band, what do you listen to when you're at home?
DP : Rhythm and blues. I'm a really big rhythm & blues fan. I like Wilson Pickett and The Temptations a lot. That's what I've been listening to lately. It changes. I don't know how to narrow it down to just a few favorites.
NHOR : You released two solo albums back in the mid 90's 'Tramp' and 'Child Of The Darkness,' both of which are great albums which would appeal to most fans of the band. So far, they've never been released Stateside. Is there any chance either one of these might be released here, and do you have any plans of recording another solo album?
DP : Yeah, but I don't know when at this point. We're working on that. I certainly do have plans to do another solo album. It will be with my solo band Mother Ocean, and it won't be anything like Cheer. It'll be rock & roll though.
NHOR : Last year you performed at the Summer Of Love 40th Anniversary show at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which was attended by over 100,000 people. What was that like for you?
DP : Oh, that was great. It was really wonderful. For me, it was sort of like, and for a lot of people there it was like passing the baton on to the younger generation.
NHOR : If you had to choose, which album would you say out of all the Blue Cheer albums is your favorite?
DP : My favorite Blue Cheer album, as of now is the latest one, 'What Doesn't Kill You...'. Prior to that, my favorite would've been 'Highlights and Lowlifes'. That one was done in Hull, England. That was the first album that Duck, Paul and I worked on together. I thought it was an excellent album. Jack Endino produced it, who is an excellent producer. When we gave it to the record company they put this reverb wash on it, which wasn't what we handed them. So actually what came out wasn't fully as we had intended.
NHOR : Have you given any thought of remixing it and re releasing it as you'd intended it?
DP : Yes, we have and we're going to do that. That's one of our goals. Because when we handed it to them, it was all the same notes, tracks and everything, but there was more of a raw edge to it. The reverb wash was not there that softened everything up. It's a technique that a lot of metal bands use where they put this wash on top of it. That's basically what they did. It wasn't with our approval, but they did it, and it was their property at that point so there's nothing you can do. We own it, so we're going to remix it and put it out again. There's no time frame for that right now though, as we're working so hard on what we're doing right now that it's kind of tough. All of that takes capital. So we'll cross that bridge when we get into that position. First of all, there has to be a capital interest to really do it right. We don't want to do it half assed. Which has happened to Cheer before. We don't want to do that, because things are pretty much in our lap. Yes, we have Rainman records, and Ron Rainey is doing a lot of the management work for us. Still, all in all, things remain in our camp. We plan to keep it that way.
NHOR : What's the biggest difference that you've seen in the music business from when you started out versus today?
DP : I'll tell you the thing which probably bothers me the most. When I was a young man coming up in the world, trying to learn my instrument, socializing and coming up in the scene in San Francisco, when you went to a concert, what you would find is a psychedelic band, maybe a country band, a blues band, and a jazz band all in the same night. All at the same place where you just went to. All very good, so there wasn't so much an emphasis on," If you didn't like this sort of music, you can't be my friend". If you don't like rap, I don't like you...if you don't like punk, we have nothing in common. These kinds of things that exist today really bother me because it's not anything what music is all about. It's just the opposite. Music is meant to bring us together, not drive us apart. I think today, what's happening is the music scene is pretty fragmented. I think that's the ultimate result of people grasping at things to try and make it different. It's rock & roll for God's sake. It's NOT complicated. It's about rebellion. It's about being enraged, not being satisfied. Wanting more. Knowing that there's more to this big blue marble that we're on than George Bush. (Laughs)
I love rock & roll. I call it my woman, and it's the only woman that's been true to me all my life. Not to put any women who I happen to be seeing down or anything, but always, when the smoke cleared, music was there. This bass has been the most faithful thing I've ever had. I mistreat her, I abuse her, but she doesn't leave me.
NHOR : What has been the most memorable gig you've ever played?
DP : I would say probably the one which I was the proudest to be part of, and remember vividly was in Detroit, Michigan, with Iggy & The Stooges, The MC5 with Blue Cheer at The Grande Ballroom. I mean, all three bands shook that place down to the foundation. I think it was the first ever in the history of rock & roll, power rock & roll concert. I don't think one had ever taken place before then. Nobody ever thought about putting three of those kind of bands together. So, we may have inadvertedly been a part of this fragmentation, which I spoke of earlier. Although, I've got to say that show was absolutely incredible. Iggy just blew my mind. We'd never seen anything like him before. Nobody had. But nobody had seen anything like any of these bands. We love Detroit and we've played there several times in the past three years as a matter of fact, and every time we go there we have good, real rock & roll people turn out.
Not to mention my favorite bass player James Jamerson from Motown comes from there. If you listen closely to what I play you'll see they're very much rooted in rhythm & blues. I listen to this day to Stax/Volt and Motown. It's still so relevant. Even the topics they sing about are still relevant. I believe in getting into a groove and really driving it home. And they do this. I just love it. I'll get into my car sometimes and I'll just put on Motown stuff and go for a ride. Have you ever seen the movie 'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown'?
NHOR : Yes, that's a great documentary...
DP : This was before they had click tracks, and how they used to keep everyone in time was a strobe light. All those hits were made in one room by one band, The Funk Brothers. It's just absolutely amazing. I think things like that still happen today, but they're not commercial enough. I go to jam sessions and different sessions with people I know in California, but it's nothing that's commercial. No company's going to come and pick this up. If they thought that they could push some fashion, perhaps they'd get you on MTV maybe. (Laughs)
NHOR : All throughout though, even though you had a big hit with "Summertime Blues" you've always been somewhat of an underground band....
DP : We've always been renegades man, and always will be. We've always pretty much broken all of the rules. We've managed to find our way and survive. We love what we do, and we love the people that come to hear us. I say it in our shows...but, we're a three piece band, but we're actually a much bigger band, because without all you people we wouldn't be here. Without our fans, we wouldn't make this music. It's akin to masturbation otherwise. We need you. As a matter of fact our fans are the most important thing. We appreciate the people who participate in our shows. I will be very honest and frank with you. The audience feeds me. They make me able to do things that I didn't know I could do. They're very powerful. All of our audiences are very good people, and I always pick up on people in the audience and interact with them.
NHOR : Live, what constitutes a great performance for you?
DP : It's when everybody, the band, the audience, the promoters, the advertisers...everybody walks away saying, "Hey, we did something tonight". Some gigs it happens when you're playing them, they transform themselves from gig into an event. Sometimes that happens in the most obscure places. We played in Pittsburgh at the 31st Street Pub, and it's a very run down club. That night we packed that place, and we turned it into a palace. Everybody was just beside themselves with a rock & roll orgasm. To me, you couldn't ask for more. It turned into something bigger than a gig where we really were part of the audience and they really WERE part of us. We consider ourselves, when we're on stage, a link to an umbilical cord. There's a fourth link there that goes right off the stage. It's something that I can tell you all about it, but you had to be there to experience it.
NHOR : Are there any other bands in the scene that you've seen who have that type of relationship with their audience like you do?
DP : To be honest with you, I haven't gone out and been watching a lot of bands. A lot of the band who open for us are these young stoner rockers. They usually have a pretty good rapport with their audience. You have to consider that they're usually pretty young guys or girls. They're just starting out on a career. So they may not have honed the skills that they will hone. Given the space and time to do that, there's some fine talent out there. We had a hit when we were very young. I had to get a note from my stepfather to sign my contract. That's pretty rare. Usually musicians are hitting their stride in their late 20's and starting to settle into their own groove.
NHOR : Who have you heard that you've been particularly impressed by as of late?
DP : In New Orleans I was very impressed by a band called Suplex.There's a band out of Austin, Texas called The Lions. A band who opened for us reminded me so much of '67 that I couldn't believe it, and they're called The Buffalo Killers. I enjoyed listening to them a lot because they brought me back to a lot of strange stuff. (Laughs) There's also The Black Angels and Dead Meadow. There's a band out of San Francisco called Drunk Horse. I can't really point to any one of these and say that they're favorites of mine. But I can say that these are bands that people like that you've got to pay attention to. Because they're really making music. They're not selling you tennis shoes. They're not shoving a bunch of crap down your throat, they're just playing music.
NHOR : Blue Cheer was at one time referred to as being "Louder Than God", and to prove it, you actually have callouses on your eardrums is that right? How does that come about?
DP : That's true. I was having a physical done, adn the doctor looked in my ears and went, "My God man, what have you done?!" I said, "Why?" He said, "Because you have callouses on your eardrums". I said "I play bass guitar". And the doctor said, "Uh huh...a lot of bass players develop callouses on their ears wheras guitar players will rip their ears". So, yeah, I do have bona fide callouses on my ear drums, just like my fingers I guess. My hearing besides that is pretty intact, although I have developed, and a lot of musicians develop this over the years, and that's selective hearing. Because you're listening to tapes in the studio and stuff, and you're singling out the bass line even though all these other things are going on. Or a horn line, or whatever. So, you hone in on this one particular sound. So I think over a period of time you develop the ability to do this. I can do this, but some times it makes my old lady angry as hell. (Laughs) Because I can just shut her off.
Over the years the one thing which does bother me the most is my left shoulder. I play a very heavy bass, with heavy wood for the tone. Over the years my shoulder will give me many problems. But, I've always seen it through.
NHOR : If you were to encounter someone who had never heard Blue Cheer before, what song or album would you say is most representative of what the band is all about?
DP : Our most recent one. I really would. Not to take anything away from what we did earlier, but if you look on the back of our first album cover you'll see liner notes which were written by Stanley Augustus Owsley. It's a poem called "Now". We live very much in "Now". We don't live in yesterday. We are by no means a nostalgia band. You'll know that from the moment we walk on the stage. We own it. We're not there to be nostalgic. We're there to rock the house down, and that's what we do. This band, at this point in our career do it better than we've ever done it before. So this is what my favorite is. My favorite band is my band. We've been rockers and that's what we'll always be. It fulfills our needs. The time when I'm most at home is when I walk on the stage. Everything else off the stage is kind of a shot in the dark.
NHOR : What do you feel the band's chances are of ever being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame? Is that something that you're even interested in?
DP : It's not anything that excites us. We'd be more interested in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Infamy. The Hall Of Fame is a strange animal. There's a lot of people that should be in there who aren't, and there's a lot of people in there who I don't know how they got there. But I know this, that you join, and that's how you become eligible to be considered. To me, this doesn't have anything to do with rock & roll. Rock & Roll...the obvious doesn't have to be enrolled to be considered. So, it's not something we don't even talk about. The band speaks for itself. If you want to make it a hall of fame type of band, that's up to somebody else, not up to us. If they think we're going to pay money and try to buy fame, they're wrong. Not to mention most of the guys who get in end up playing Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or they die. We're more interested in the gig tomorrow night than being in the hall of fame.
NHOR : Blue Cheer was just nominated for 2008 Doobie Awards by High Times Magazine for not only "Pot Song Of The Year" for "Rollin' Dem Bones" but also for "Lifetime Achievement" as well. How does that make you feel?
DP : I'm very proud of that. For me that's better than a Penthouse centerfold. I'm an advocate for the legalization of marijuana, so I'm VERY proud of that.
NHOR : At the end of the day, how would you like to be remembered?
DP : As a good, solid, dependable musician. Reliable. I did my job.
NHOR : Is there any advice, if any that you would give to someone just starting out in the business?
DP : If you are just starting out, you have to understand that the odds are totally against you. Right off you have to understand that. If that doesn't dissuade you, keep going. Sometimes it's really hard, and hard to rationalize what you do, why you want to be a musician in the first place. But if you stick it out, you will become a musician. It doesn't mean you'll become rich and famous, but you'll become a musician. And I think that's a very satisfying thing to be. I would also say to young musicians that get involved in any type of business ventures to make sure they have a lawyer. Cover your ass because nobody else is gonna. Not even your guitar player. I'm fortunate in that Duck is my personal and business manager, and he's great. We've been together on a handshake for almost 25 years. I know as brothers we love each other, we care for each other and look out for each other. And that's what it's all about.
NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
DP : I hope that you guys come to a show if we come to your area. We're going to be around all this year, and probably several years to come. Because to really to know what Blue Cheer is all about you've got to stand in front of that stack. You've got to feel it. Because our goal all along has been to not only make it an audio experience but a physical one as well. It really will grab you by the guts.