With its great wall of Marshall amps and its corrosive fuzz guitars, the San Francisco power trio Blue Cheer played heavy metal before there was a name for it. The band went Top Twenty in 1968 with a death-rock version of ”Summertime Blues.” But the original trio–singer-bassist Dickie Peterson, guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Paul Whaley–broke up soon after, with Peterson leading a series of new, quieter Blue Cheers into the Seventies to fulfill contractual obligations.
While Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were cashing in on the Cheer’s white-noise breakthrough, Stephens retired to Northern California (where he now raises thoroughbred horses), Whaley worked in a bakery in Cornwall, England, and Peterson fell on hard drug times. He spent most of 1975 and 1976 in a drug-treatment program at Walden House in San Francisco. ”I had linked chemical abuse so heavily to my music,” he says. ”I had to separate it.”
Peterson, 38, is divorced, has a 12-year-old daughter and lives on a farm in Cotati, California, with his girlfriend, Tonka Belle. Encouraged by the heavy-metal revival, he re-formed Blue Cheer again last year with Whaley and guitarist Tony Rainier (the younger brother of an original Cheer roadie). The group released a new album, The Beast Is Back. (Whaley has since quit again; he now makes pizza in San Francisco.)
But the original Cheer is still much on Peterson’s mind. He hasn’t received a royalty check in 12 years and he claims that $80,000 in foreign royalties alone is unaccounted for. Of the good times, he cites the Golden Gate Park Be-Ins as the band’s best gigs. ”We were a much better band outdoors, because of the sheer power we used.”