The History of The Albums – n°373
Through a seminal album Vincebus Eruptum by Blue Cheer, we're going to take a look today at both a pioneering Bay Area band and also at the history of Heavy Psych, a rather short underground musical trend that spans only 4 years (from 1968 to 1972) but whose influence is very important for the future. I don't know if we can define Heavy Psych exactly as a big cousin or rather as one of the spiritual fathers of Heavy Metal or Stoner Rock/Metal, but it is certain that there is a link. The first traces of Heavy Psych go back to the year 1967, with bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Vanilla Fudge or Blue Cheer that set the ingredients of this musical style. The psychedelic era gave birth to many derivatives like Hard Rock, Acid Rock and then Heavy Psych, all influenced by Blues Rock which could be confused by their many similarities. Let's say that Heavy Psych can be simply translated by its name, that is to say crushing psychedelia, articulated around riff and very languid improvisation. Whereas Hard Rock is more raw and energetic, and Acid Rock offers more surrealistic sounds. You will have understood the difference between Heavy Psych and Acid Rock is almost derisory. Anyway, the influence of Heavy Psych started to be felt directly and quickly on the Metal birth scene, and then more indirectly on the Punk, Alternative and more contemporary Metal scenes (especially Doom Metal). Blue Cheer is also recognized as the leader of the Heavy Psych (and that's probably why we made the difference with the other close styles) because the band had an absolutely atypical signature. To go further, the band's music was so deafening and loud for its time that Blue Cheer is often considered as the pioneer of heavy metal since 1968. Despite their impact, the Blue Cheer experience will really spread from 1968 to 1971, before quickly exploding due to internal tensions and especially their opposition to the music industry. After a few more commercial attempts followed by reformations with other members, Blue Cheer will never manage to find their 1968 form and will die slowly. Moreover, none of the original members managed to pursue a solo career afterwards.
We often talk about the British, New York or Los Angeles scenes, but once again a band from the Bay Area has made music history. Formed in 1966/1967 in San Francisco and really made up of Dickie Peterson (Vo-cal/Bass), Leigh Stephens (Vocal/Guitar) and Paul Whaley (drums) after several trials with other musicians, the trio takes the name of its band Blue Cheer in reference to an LSD pill. We are in the middle of a period where the Bay Area undergound scene was so flourishing that local bands were starting to be known more nationally and then internationally (The Jefferson Airplanes or Grateful Dead). While the band was searching for its own identity among the ever-growing competition, it was while attending the 1967 Monterey Festival as a spectator that the band fell in admiration of the innovative prowess of bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, and drew influence from them to immediately create a different personality. Nobody sounded like them, which allowed Blue Cheer to sign a deal with Phillips. The trio then headed to Hollywood to record their first album Vincebus Eruptum with producer Abe Voco Kesh. The album will be released in January 1968 but it is especially thanks to the success of their first single Summertime Blues, a cover of Eddie Cochran that the group will gain in notoriety and success with a 14th place on the Billboard single. It is thus from this moment that Blue Cheer will become a major group of the Californian scene in the Bay Area.
Certainly, Vincebus Eruptum is not a classic, it is not as excellent as the best records of this time, but it is so particular, influential and pleasant that it would be a shame to neglect it. The album consists of 6 songs over 31 minutes only, including 3 covers and 3 original songs written/composed by Dickie Peterson. First of all Summertime Blues, a song initially rockabilly of less than 2 minutes but adapted to the signature Heavy Psych of Blue Cheer for almost 4 minutes of happiness. We find there the aggressive, crushing and psychedelic aspect of their formula, respecting perfectly the blues heritage. That's why Summertime Blues is considered as one of the first Heavy Metal songs in history. Stephens' wild riffs that make you feel like you're glued to the ground, or Peterson's devastating voice that set the tone for a new era. We even tend to forget the original version so much it's an absolute metamorphosis. In fact, all the covers that it Rock Me Baby (B.B King) or Parchment Farm (Mose Allison) transpire in the same way, as if Blue Cheer had concretely appropriated these songs. Concerning the original content, Doctor Please gives the impression to hear Lemmy from Motorhead with years of advance, while Out Of Focus is a real demonstration to settle among the best songs of the trio from the Bay Area. Unfortunately their lack of experience and talent in writing original songs won't allow them to pass on this first album and this is one of the main limitations. They will do much better on the second album Outsideinside (also released in 1968) but I tend to prefer their first album for two simple reasons: Summertime Blues and for the pioneering influence of this one. In short I think it is not necessarily necessary to own Vincebus Eruptum, however it is necessary to listen to it at least once to become aware of the legacy it left and the innovative prowess of the Blue Cheer formula.