Picture this: You live in L.A. – you are a regular of the concerts at the Shrine Expo Hall near USC. It’s 1967. Some friends of yours who have moved up to the Bay area are telling you about a band they’ve just seen who they say are “Louder than God” – it’s just three guys and they call themselves Blue Cheer. They just so happen are playing one weekend in L.A. and you have to check them out.
First thing you notice is a wall – maybe about 30 feet across; the length of the stage, covered in Marshall amps. In the middle is a semi-monster drum kit with cymbals hoisted very high above the drummer. These three guys come out and the next thing you notice is an incredible hum from the amps. And right after that it gets sort of hazy – and all you know is that for the next week you can’t hear a single thing.
Blue Cheer were, without question, the loudest, heaviest band to plant themselves firmly in the 1960s. What they played and how they played it was labeled Heavy Metal – partly from a reference by the Beat writer William F. Burroughs and partly from a lyric in Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild (Heavy Metal Thunder . . .). It described them perfectly – and they ushered in, at least for the West Coast, a new age of searingly loud and upfront Rock which would quickly establish itself as the outer-fringe of Psychedelia.
But part of the problem Blue Cheer had, which was also a problem The Grateful Dead had, was the difficulty in getting that essence – that hugeness of sound on to the grooves of a commercial lp. It was almost impossible and Blue Cheer’s debut album, even with Summertime Blues as their penultimate hit, didn’t quite capture what they did in person – and so Vincebus Eruptum, their debut album, was a disappointment to many who heard them live. Blue Cheer live were an experience; it was like being caught up in a tornado – you couldn’t think or do anything else but listen. With the technical shortcomings at the time, it didn’t translate. Only when they recorded their second album, Outsideinside (which they recorded live outside on an abandoned Pier) did you get some inkling of what they were all about.
And then there’s this tape – a demo or a session or an excerpt from a concert; it’s hard to say. All I know is that it was originally broadcast on KSAN in San Francisco (and recorded by my friends who lived there) in 1967, prior to the release of the first album and captured perfectly what they were all about in person.
I would suggest you play this loud – but that would be beside the point – you can’t help but play it loud. Blue Cheer demanded nothing less than that.
If you aren’t familiar with them, this was the side of the 60s they may not talk about much – they were responsible for a considerable amount of hearing loss and are usually pointed at when someone says “oh . . lost your high-end, eh?” – they were not a band you took passively, but they were an integral part of the whole 60’s experience.
If you are familiar with them – you already know and are getting ready to hit the play button and dive into 20 minutes of hardcore.
Editors Note: In doing additional research, and hearing back from readers, I was pointed to original Blue Cheer producer/Manager/guru Abe “Voco” Kesh’s website where he tells the story of making this demo tape and sending it around to stations in the Bay Area, hoping to generate interest. Considering the energy of this demo, it should have been the debut release, but that’s just me – Rock on. G.