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BLUE CHEER: DICK PETERSEN


BLUE CHEER'S DICK PETERSEN "Louder Than God" 


By Theron Moore

(VERY happy to present the first of 2 BLUE CHEER interviews from Theron Moore here! Look for his interview with DUCK McDONALD next!--Dr. Mality)

I did this interview in 2007.  It’s one of a series of interviews that I’ve been compiling for a book on Blue Cheer.  As you can see it’s an ongoing process.  I was fortunate to have attended Blue Cheer’s Albuquerque NM stop on what would be their final tour in 2008. Dick, Paul and Duck were beyond fan friendly.  Dick especially.  I hung out with him before and after the show.  He exemplified what I believed a rock N roll icon to be.  He was, in my mind, right up there with Lemmy in terms of rock N roll royalty.  I still believe that.  Dick Petersen and his beloved Blue Cheer, were, are, and will always be held in high regard amongst heavy rock fans.  They were the true godfathers of heavy metal.  This is my interview with the late, great, Dick Petersen.  I hope you enjoy it.


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Going back to your childhood, were you encouraged as a kid to pick up an instrument and play, were your parents musicians by chance? How did you initially get interested in picking up a bass?

DICK PETERSEN: There was always music around my house, always.  Usually, things ranging from Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.  My father played some guitar and at one point when he was a young man he played trombone for Lawrence Welk’s band in Minnesota but was never really a professional musician.  My mother who was a schoolteacher during the depression, also played piano.  My brother played accordion, and by the time he was five years old he was doing children’s concerts with an accordion.  

My father did teach my brother some guitar, mostly country and my hands were too small to play guitar.  I felt very left out and decided I would give drums a try. It seemed like the simplest thing. My mother went about procuring me a very miniature size trap set and showed me certain techniques with the bass drum that you had to know how to beat.  I then tried out for the school band and failed miserably.  But continued to beat on the drums much to the annoyance of my parents.  

After they died and I was sent back to live with my adoptive parents in N. Dakota, I continued to play drums although I kept trying to play guitar also.  I met a guy at my high school named Tommy Aaker.  Tommy came from a family of musicians who worked in the Midwest and in Nashville.  As the youngest of four brothers, all of whom were players, he could actually play the bass guitar. {Laughs} One day I went over to his house and I was looking at his Fender Precision Bass, in a state of awe, sort of like it was a crucifix or something, Tommy said "Go ahead and play it".

When I picked it up, I knew full well I could not play one note on this instrument but the instant my hands touched it I knew that I would.  I was twelve or thirteen years old.  Shortly thereafter I got a job with the Severn Michael Peter Wesallowski Jr Blues Band, a Polish blues band, referred to locally as "…them white boys that play the nigger music…"  Being the only available bass player in town it was quite easy to get the job.  They basically had to train me. That’s how I landed on bass.

WC:  Again, as a kid, what got you into rock N roll? Was it listening to the radio or watching, say, Dick Clark bandstand on TV?  What one moment do you remember saying, this rock N roll thing is for me, this is what I gotta do for a living.

DP:Well, I know that my brother, who is the biggest musical influence on me in my whole life - mostly because he taught me to learn music, how to teach myself.  
I listened to everything he listened to: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard.  At eight years old I was going to school dressed up like Elvis for Halloween.  I knew I was gonna rock.   I didn't know how but I knew I was going to do it.  I spent many hours in front of the mirror learning how to shake my ass. I knew that was part of it.  I guess maybe the thing that committed me to it, I realized I was too small to play football and score with any of the babes and my two closest partners, Gene and Barry started a band called "The Rattlers" and in a matter of weeks we had babes.
  
Even though we were the bad boys - we were always getting thrown out of school because our hair was too long or our Levi’s were dirty or whatever.  Was there a defining moment?  I don't know if it was a moment or a series of moments.  It seemed like rock n roll was the only way I could go --- it was either rock n roll or Vietnam.

WC:  Three gigs I want to ask you about -- Chicago in ‘68 at the Kinetic Playground, DeKalb IL at the campus of Northern IL University and the Rumpus Room in Belvidere IL.  What can you tell me about them?

DP:  Kinetic Playground -- YES! I believe it was with the Velvet Underground.  It was really a great gig and I was extremely stoned (laughs big laughter). 

All I can remember was that the place was extremely psychedelic and we had a great time.  Like I said, we were really stoned, man.  DeKalb IL:  I don't remember the gig in any kind of detail but I do remember that we played there.  Rumpus Room (Belvidere IL): Don't remember,

WC:  Do you remember who came up with the inclusion of the cover songs on “Vincebus Eruptum?”  Especially “Summertime Blues?” 

 DP: As far as who came up with the idea to use “Summertime Blues” as a single, I can't accept the responsibility for that. I wanted “Dr. Please.”  I would say the major part of that decision fell on Abe Kesh, our producer.  They definitely were not going to go with some renegade shit like “Dr. Please.”  Cover songs - I can't remember any of them.  As I recall there were some Otis Redding things and some old rock n roll stuff but it's been so long ago I can't remember what they were.

WC:  Ok, I've got a few legends surrounding Blue Cheer that I’m curious about. Here they are:  I heard you guys appeared on Dick Clark's bandstand but got banned for offering Clark a hit off your hash pipe. Is this a true story or another urban legend? 

 DP:  True.  Dick Clark came into the dressing room while myself and Gut Turk, my biker manager, were smoking a hash pipe and we of course didn't really know what else to do except offer him a toke.  Dick Clark replied: "People like you give rock n roll a bad name" at which time we thanked him very profusely and never appeared there again.  

This happened before we went on.  If Dick Clark had been honest, he would have said: "I'm sorry, Blue Cheer was backstage smoking dope and I am not going to allow them to go on” but he would have lost a large part of his audience because we weren't the only ones who were smoking dope.  
I doubt if he ever smoked dope --- although he probably snorted silicone.  He still looks like he is 25.  We just blew out their ears.  I don’t think Steve Allen was ever the same again. 

WC:  Regarding the Steve Allen Show appearance, you guys were rumored to have been so loud you blew out the equipment in the control room. 

DP:  We blew out the equipment at Amigo Studios when we were recording.  He kept referring to our management team as "exiled human refugees" which was true {laughs}.  As I recall, prior to that trip, we had taken peyote to fly from SF to LA on the redeye.... there is nothing quite like a jet taking off when you are loaded on peyote and to this day I *love* to fly.

WC:  A kid goes to a Blue Cheer show and leaves deaf. True or false. Did that really happen? 

DP:  I have never heard of this.  I heard a dog died but I never knew it to be true.  I do remember, however, the health dept monitored our gigs.  We were always in trouble because we were always well over the 118 decibels level.  They were always trying to close us down on public health issues but a lot has changed.  
By today's standards, we were not really that loud.  Of course, by today's standards, Dick Clark never would have been indicted for payola.  After all, what is MTV, but one big payola?  The record company buys your time to play their record, which is all payola is.

WC:  Which bands were true brothers to Blue Cheer, you know, bands you could trust / rely on / were friends to you, and which artists or bands were the real assholes to tour or do shows with?

 DP: Traffic, Stevie Winwood and Traffic, which consisted of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, were probably one of the best bands musically and just as human beings, that we ever played with.  We played many shows with them.  It was always a joy and a lot of fun; they never put us down, they were always interested in what we were doing and vice versa.  Stevie Winwood is and was one of my favorite players.  I think he is a genius.

Assholes: Well, the Grateful Dead, because once the Dead started playing, they didn't have the common or professional courtesy to stop so that the other bands on the bill got their stage time.  And as a result, I grew up through that era with a bad taste for the Grateful Dead in my mouth.  Believe me, I feel the band has done things other bands have not done.  They control their own material.  I don’t admire them stamping over every band so they could do that.  You never want to play with the Dead after they did their show because you would never get your time.

Basically, most bands didn't like us.  We were too new, too young and too different.  We were doing things you are not supposed to do.  For example, you are not supposed to turn up three stacks of Marshalls to 10.  You are not supposed to disrespect a guitar by slamming it into a stack of Marshalls.  We did it because it was fun.  We made some nasty noise with that shit, man.  Along with the fact that we were relatively, musically uneducated.  What we did, we did because it felt good to do it that way, and not because it was correct.  By and large the music scene was coming from the folk and blues scene from the beat generation and we didn't fit that category.  Just like today ... new stuff always scares people.  

For instance, it's taking me some time, but I am beginning to like the White Stripes, even though they don't have a bass player.  But at first, because it was new and I've never liked bands that don't have bass players because I've never heard anyone who could fill up that space ...but the White Stripes have managed to do that --- according to my ears today.

WC:  Today,  what's your attitude towards drugs and booze?  Did it help spark creativity inside you?

DP: Hard drugs are a thing of the past.  You simply cannot abuse things as we abused hard drugs. I would be the last one to preach or put my values or morality on anyone but as in all things, whether it is drugs or alcohol or sex or whatever, abuse of it is not good. 
I buried too many brothers and sisters and as a matter of fact, will hopefully have a song on the new album called” Young Lions in Paradise” which is about the very topic of which we speak.

I think that the abuses we practiced in many ways did add to creativity ...Would the creativity been there without it?  I don't know because we can't relive that.  So, insofar as our behavior and creativity goes, they go hand in hand so yes, I guess they go together.  I doubt it would have been the same but I want to believe it would have been a creative experience anyway.

WC:  I heard you're writing books these days. Can you take a few moments and tell us about them?

 DP:  I am trying to write one book. {laughs} And it's about my development in life as a musician and life in Blue Cheer and life in general.