Blue Cheer appeared in spring 1968 with a thunderously loud remake of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" that many regard as the first true heavy-metal record. One of the first hard-rock power trios, the group was named for an especially high-quality strain of LSD. Its manager, Gut, was an ex-Hell's Angel.
After moving to San Francisco, the band was taken under the wing of an enthusiastic DJ, Abe "Voco" Kesh of underground KMPX-FM. He aired a three-song tape of Blue Cheer, leading to a contract with Philips Records. "Summertime Blues" reached #14, while the trio's first album, Vincebus Eruptum, hit #11 and remains something of a heavy-metal landmark. None of the group's subsequent five albums had nearly the same impact, however, and in 1971 Peterson, the lone original member left, broke up the band.
Leigh Stephens, who now raises Thoroughbreds in California, recorded two solo albums, another with the band Silver Metre, and two more with Bruce Stephens; he too has released a solo album, 1982's Watch That First Step. Peterson has twice put together new versions of Blue Cheer, in 1979 and 1985. The second attempt, which included Whaley and guitarist Tony Rainier, son of an original Blue Cheer roadie, produced an album, The Beast Is Back. With Peterson still at the helm but Whaley gone, Blue Cheer has put out two more LPs in Europe.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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