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"Louder Than God": Rush's Neil Peart Remembers Blue Cheer's Dickie Peterson

October 21, 2009 1:52 PM ET

Rush drummer and Blue Cheer fan Neil Peart wrote the following in memory of singer/bassist Dickie Peterson, who died after a battle with liver cancer on October 12th:

In the summer of 1968, I was going on 16, living in a small Canadian city (St. Catharines, Ontario), and had been playing drums for a couple of years. I owned a small set of Rogers drums, a plastic AM radio that I played along to, a tiny mono record player, and 12 LPs. On the bookshelf in my room, facing my drums, I stacked those LPs with the covers facing outward, rotating different ones to the front.

Both fans and haters of my future work with Rush would find those LPs telling, and nod their heads or roll their eyes accordingly: The Who's My Generation, Happy Jack and The Who Sell Out; Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; the Grateful Dead's and Moby Grape's eponymous debuts; Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow; Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears; the first album by Traffic (called Reaping, in a Canadian-only variation, the cover showing the band posing on a Massey Ferguson combine); and Vincebus Eruptum, the first album by "the world's loudest band," Blue Cheer.

Tiny articles in early rock magazines said Blue Cheer were so loud they had to record outdoors — part of their second album, Outsideinside, was recorded on a San Francisco pier — and the drummer, Paul Whaley, played so hard he had to wear golf gloves. Blue Cheer had a fortress of amplifiers, cannonades of drums, forests of hair, were managed by a former Hells Angel named Gut (who described the band's sound as: "They turn the air into cottage cheese"), and they were hated by grownups and rock critics alike. Of course I loved them!

Blue Cheer's version of"Summertime Blues" was a good-sized hit that summer of 1968, and their two albums that year, Vincebus Eruptum and Outsideinside, galvanized my friends and me. When TV Guide listed Blue Cheer as guests on Steve Allen's late-night TV show, I was wildly excited (rock bands on TV were rare in those days). I tuned in to watch what I remember as a comical period-piece: Steve Allen, in his black suit and tie, thick-rimmed glasses, and Brylcreemed hairdo, sitting at his desk and saying something like, "the loud noise you are hearing is just the hum of their amplifiers." Then, "Blue Cheer — run for your lives!"

Cut to a wall of Marshalls, a massive set of Rogers drums, and three long-haired guys crashing into "Summertime Blues." I had our family TV turned down low, trying not to disturb Mom and Dad, but the speaker was still overwhelmed with static and distortion. Drummer Paul Whaley thrashed at the cymbals with both arms, Leigh Stephens was a dark-haired menace grinding out thick guitar riffs, and Dickie Peterson wailed through a pyramid of blond hair with his bass guitar hanging low.

I loved those first two Blue Cheer albums, and even the third, New! Improved!, though it was a major departure (not as loud). In 2004, my bandmates and I celebrated our thirtieth anniversary by recording an album of covers, Feedback, to pay tribute to our early influences. We combined the Who's and Blue Cheer's versions of "Summertime Blues," and ended with me playing the innovative drum pattern from Blue Cheer's "Just a Little Bit," from Outsideinside, which I had never forgotten.

So Blue Cheer made an enduring impression on this once-young drummer, and definitely played their part in shaping Rush's beginnings — a loud power trio with a fortress of amps, cannonades of drums, and a bass player's high voice trying to pierce the darkness. That would be my bandmate Geddy, who remarked that Blue Cheer might well have been the first heavy metal band.

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.

A later anthology of Blue Cheer songs was hilariously titled Louder Than God, and whatever your beliefs, it is certain that death, alas, is louder than God. Given a little ironic licence, perhaps it becomes a fitting epitaph for Dickie Peterson.

Because it sure would look cool chiseled in granite . . .

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