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Dickie Peterson dies at 63; bassist and lead singer for the power trio Blue Cheer

The band rose to prominence in 1968 with a memorable cover of the rock classic 'Summertime Blues' and continued to perform -- loudly -- until last year.

October 17, 2009|Dennis McLellan

Dickie Peterson, the bassist and lead singer for Blue Cheer, the San Francisco power trio best known for its high- volume 1968 hit rendition of the rock 'n' roll classic "Summertime Blues," has died. He was 63.

Peterson, who had prostate cancer that spread to other parts of his body, died Monday in Erkelenz, Germany, where he lived, said Ron Rainey, the band's manager.

Taking its name from a potent strain of LSD -- as well as giving a nod to love of the blues -- Blue Cheer began as a six-piece band in 1966 and downsized a year later to a trio consisting of Peterson on bass and vocals, Leigh Stephens on guitar and Paul Whaley on drums.

The group's 1968 debut album, "Vincebus Eruptum," which included their signature powerhouse version of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard chart.

"The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll" says the album "remains something of a heavy-metal landmark."

"Primarily, we were a loud, straight-into-you rock 'n' roll band, man," Peterson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007. "Our whole goal was to make music a physical experience as well as an audio experience."

The heavily amped Blue Cheer was a musical sign of the times.

They were not only outraged over the Vietnam War, Peterson said in a 2008 interview with the Albuquerque Journal, "we were outraged at society in general and we were expressing it in a way that had never been done."

When Blue Cheer first came together in 1966, the San Francisco music scene included bands such as the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

"The point being," Peterson said, "is that the S.F. music scene itself was really wide open. That's the only way a band like ours could have been created."

In the Post-Gazette interview, Peterson recalled that the band had a hard time with the music industry and the rock press, not only for its sound and image but because of its lifestyle. Their early manager was a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

As for drugs: "We took a lot of 'em," Peterson told the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle in 2007.

"I still believe LSD and such drugs have a positive effect, but we took it over the top," he said. "We got very involved in all sorts of drugs, and it's a hard way to go. I was addicted to heroin for years."

Peterson, who was born Sept. 12, 1946, in Grand Forks, N.D., reportedly began playing bass guitar at 13. (His brother, Jerre, played rhythm guitar in Blue Cheer when it was a six-piece band.)

The trio split up in 1971. But Peterson reformed Blue Cheer intermittently through the years, Rainey said. Since the '90s, the band primarily has consisted of Peterson, Whaley and Andrew "Duck" MacDonald on guitar.

"First and foremost, he was a bluesman, who just happened to worship at the Temple of the Loud, is how I put it in the eulogy" on the Blue Cheer website, said MacDonald, who joined the band in 1988. "He did love the blues."

Peterson also loved performing live, MacDonald said.

"He was the quintessential live musician," he said. "That's what he liked to do. He hated working in the studio."

On performing live, Peterson said in a 2008 interview with the Oklahoman: "It's the only thing that keeps me alive, my friend. I'll never stop playing. I've said it before. When I go, I want to be standing in front of my microphone with my hammer in my hand."

Blue Cheer did its last show at a music festival in Bilbao, Spain, in December 2008 and was still living up to its high-volume reputation.

"That's what was expected," MacDonald said. "If it wasn't loud, it wasn't Blue Cheer."

And, of course, "Summertime Blues" was always part of the show.

"You couldn't get off stage without it," MacDonald said. "And there were times Dickie didn't like it. But he came to realize, 'This is the song that kept my career going for 45 years.' "

With Peterson's death, MacDonald said, "Blue Cheer is done. Out of respect for Dickie, Blue Cheer would never become a viable touring band again."

Peterson is survived by his wife, Ilka; a daughter from a previous marriage, Corrina Peterson Kaltenrieder; and a grandson.


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