BLUE CHEER "Down the Rabbit Hole" 

Interview with Duck McDonald

By Theron Moore

(Here's the second part of our Blue Cheer interviews conducted by Theron Moore. This time he speaks to another legend,  Duck McDonald. Lots of great stories here!--Dr. M)

Duck McDonald had quite the career before joining Dick and Blue Cheer.  And the guy has one helluva business acumen as well.  The first band that I really knew him from was Shakin’ Street who toured the states with Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult on the infamous “Black and Blue” tour both bands did.  When he joined Blue Cheer, he took the band to a whole new level.  And the chemistry he had with Dick Petersen and Paul Whaley was probably the best chemistry the band ever had together, in any incarnation, any decade.  He was a kindred spirit and a trusted confidant with Dick.  When I spoke with him over the phone he struck me as not only a guy with a massive rock N roll pedigree but a real standup guy who genuinely looked out for not only Dick’s best interest but Blue Cheer as well.  Here’s Duck in his own words…

Duck McDonald: “Dickie got a lifetime achievement award and we both got awards for pot song of the year “Rolling Dem Bones.”  So, we got pot song, what was it, I think it was 2008.  The awards were two really nice bongs, in fact I’m looking at them right now.  Doobie awards.”

Wormwood Chronicles:  Really?

DM: “Yeah, I’m sitting here looking at them right now as a matter of fact.”

WC:  Did they get worked out a lot?

DM: “No, no, no.  If Dickie…we didn’t think it was a good idea to have them out and being used.  And besides, he, uh, he preferred rolling.  He preferred joints over anything.”

WC:  I remember at one time he said that he had quit drinking but wouldn’t give up pot.

DM: “No, no he wouldn’t give up the pot.  And I’m glad he didn’t, the bud was good for him.  He definitely liked smoking weed.”

WC:  Was he in any kind of pain during any part of Blue Cheer’s last tour?

DM: “Other than being 63, no.  Other than being 63 and sleeping in crappy hotel rooms and sleeping in the truck, not really, there was no indication he was uh, sick at all.  Other than he was, you know, he had a rough life but, he seemed pretty healthy.  He was doing hour to an hour and half shows every night, he was fine.”

WC:  Yeah, I saw you guys do a show in Albuquerque and he was in top form.

DM: “We had no indication, the only indication was the doctors told us he was sick.”

WC:  How did that diagnosis come about, was it discovered through a routine checkup?

DM: “Well, I’m sure…see, he had Hepatitis-C, and he quit drinking because he had the Hep-C and he was having liver problems, but, that’s why he quit drinking, otherwise he wouldn’t have quit drinking, you know?  He basically quit drinking ‘cause he had to.  But he didn’t know that, eventually it would lead to this.
But his brother died young too, his brother died a couple of years, you know, earlier, of basically the same kind of thing, so, I mean it could’ve been a genetic thing or, well, we’re not sure, ‘cause nobody’s done more drugs or drank more alcohol than Paul except maybe Dickie and Paul’s fine.So, it could’ve been some kind of, and Paul’s got Hepatitis-C too, so it could’ve been some kind of genetic thing where cancer ran through the family, you know, genetics and stuff like that, so.”

WC:  Do you ever talk to Dick’s daughter at all?

DM: “I speak with her all the time, I still do {Blue Cheer} business for her.  That new Blue Cheer album came out, that was from the 1978 recordings, and of course I’m not on it and Paul’s not on it, so really it wasn’t any of our business, except if Dickie was still alive I would’ve made the deal for Dickie because I was his business manager.  So instead of making the deal with Dickie I made sure his daughter got a percentage of the royalties and things like that, so.  It was released on Shroomangel Records.  
The guy did a great job on the record, I mean, he did a tremendous job of taking those old tapes and making them sound good because I heard it before on the internet and people had cassettes of them and it sounded terrible, yeah, but, he did a really good job on that record and made it sound really good.  I was pretty impressed with his work.”

WC:  I heard there’s a live tape of Blue Cheer at the Matrix in ’67 that’s supposedly “lost” which might really exist, do you know anything about that?

DM: “I don’t, it might, I just don’t know.  I do know that Dickie and Grace Slick didn’t like each other.  Well he liked the singer they had before Grace Slick and then when Grace came in they didn’t get along.”

WC:  I would’ve expected the opposite where they all hung out and partied.

DM: “Well they did, they all knew each other.  James Gurley and all the guys from Big Brother, they all knew each other and hung out, so.  They weren’t big friends with The Grateful dead though.”

WC:  That was my next question.

DM: “The Grateful Dead were stage hogs, that’s what Dickie called them.  He said they’d get up and do their set and then wouldn’t get off.”

WC:  Did Dick tell you a lot of stories about the old days?

DM: “No, I mean, Dickie, I knew some things about the old days but we didn’t really get too involved in all that.  I don’t even know if they remember half the shit that happened to them.”

WC:  Have you heard the rumor that former BC guitarist Tony Rainier might be putting together a brand-new lineup of Blue Cheer?

DM: “Oh that’s been going on for years.  If you go on you’ll see that I’ve made a few comments on this and this was from years ago.  This was when Shroomangel put out that record and they asked me what I thought and I don’t take it seriously and I don’t think anyone else does either.”

WC:  Wasn’t this whole thing started with a press release by a former BC manager?

DM: “This man has never been their manager, he’s an idiot.  He’s just one of those guys that says, “I was Blue Cheer’s manager” and never was.  So, what he did, was, he used that to try and get another job with some blues guy and he did and the blues guy believed him, it was just a way for a guy to make himself look important, really, he never had anything to do with Blue Cheer.You know, Tony’s {Tony Rainer} a nice buy but he’s easily manipulated.  I like Tony but for Tony to let this guy put a Blue Cheer together, it’s ridiculous.  There is no Blue Cheer without Dickie, end of story.”

WC:  Legally, it couldn’t happen because Randy Holden owns the name Blue Cheer, correct?

DM: “It’s grandfathered in, I mean, any brand name can get grandfathered in if you know what I mean.  Like Dickie’s daughter owns the name Blue Cheer because she inherited it, because Dickie owned, everybody knew that anything that everything that was done under the Blue Cheer moniker Dickie was involved in.”

WC:  So she holds the trademarks then, has the paperwork?

DM: “She doesn’t have to hold them, she doesn’t even have the paperwork on them, she doesn’t need it.  If this went to court she’d win…because it’s common knowledge.  Anyone can copyright a name but it doesn’t mean you can use that name.  There’s a Blue Cheer surfboard company but it has nothing to do with the music.  It’s like when the laundry soap tried to sue Dickie back in the ‘60s but the courts said Blue Cheer doesn’t make laundry soap, so, it wasn’t copyright infringement.  
So, the ownership of the name Blue Cheer in a musical sense would be owned by Dickie because he was the constant ownership of the name, the constant behind the name.  I mean it’s not that Tony Rainer couldn’t go out in a band named Blue Cheer, but why?  It wouldn’t be worth me suing them over it because there wouldn’t be any money, nobody would pay for that.   

And don’t get me wrong, people asked me if I wanted to keep things going with Paul and I said absolutely of course not, no Dickie, no Blue Cheer.  But that’s me, see, that’s the kind of person I am, I’m not a, I just don’t think that way, I’m not that kind of person.  But I told Paul, if they play live and they want you to go out and do it just make sure you get your money up front, that’s all, that was my advice to Paul.  

I’m not going to stop Tony Rainer, I don’t have to, the fans just won’t accept it, it’s just that simple.  Hell, we were barely staying alive, me, Dickie and Paul.  Why would they think they go out and do business as Blue Cheer and do business?”

WC:  It seemed like things really started to get rolling for the band with the last record and tour.  Obvious question:  Were there plans to continue with another record after “What Doesn’t Kill You…?”

DM: “It wasn’t necessarily about records.  Basically, I took over management in 2005.  And I took over the management because Dickie had problems with his marriage, so I got him to move back over to the states.  Because Dickie had a job and over the years we’d work sporadically, we do a tour here, maybe a tour there, because Dickie was working a regular job, I don’t even know, I think he was working as some kind of janitor, some horrible fuckin’ job, and that’s the reason he lived in Germany because he was married, you know, but when him and wife had problems I got him to move back to the states and re-up the business and got him full time back in the band again.”

WC:  See I always thought he had to move outside the states due to legal problems he had here.

DM: “No, no problems, that’s a myth.  When we first went over there in 1988 they abandoned him, Tony and Paul, over finances and they were kind of scared about going on tour because they thought kept getting ripped off so they were afraid to do stuff because they were afraid they’d wind up with no money but Dickie was never afraid of any of that, you know.  If he got offered something, he went for it.  
I met him in Rochester {NY} when I was doing the “Thrasher” album and he was doing “The Beast is Back,” we had the same producer, Carl Canedy.  So me and Dickie met up there over a bottle of whiskey and we liked each other, we didn’t really like hang out a lot but enough to know that you know, we got along.  
And then I went with Savoy Brown, Kim Simmond’s band, and then I met Dickie again, we were doing a showcase in New York and we ran into each other again and remember each other and this was like 1987, so we met in ’84 and then in ’88 Dickie got offered this tour and called my manager from Kim Simmond’s band and I happened to be on the phone with him and asked me if I wanted to do this tour and I said “sure,” and I brought in a drummer that I knew.”

WC:  Why did you leave Blue Cheer after that?

DM: “The problem with Blue Cheer and me after that had nothing to do with Blue Cheer, it had to do with the management, I mean, I knew the guy was a crook, I told Dickie we should leave and come back to the states but he didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay in Germany, and so did Paul, both of them.  And you know, this manager tried, he put up money for a couple of records and it was good for a couple of years and I was with the band till 1991 and then the money stopped coming in.  
What happened was, I put a tour together in the states for me and Dickie ‘cause Paul wouldn’t come and it was a package tour with The Outlaws and Foghat and Leslie West, Joey Molland, Toy Caldwell, one of Toy Caldwell’s last tours, it was like in ’92, it was the “Rock N Roll Shootout” tour, so they payed me and Dickie to go out and play for 15 minutes, that’s all we did, we played three songs, ‘cause we needed to make money, and of course the manager got pissed off at that so basically I wouldn’t go back to work for him and he didn’t want me to come back to work for Blue Cheer…it was mutual.  
And then of course in the end he screwed them, and I told Dickie he was going to and then like two years later Dickie called me up and said he wanted to have a Blue Cheer in the states that I managed and a Blue Cheer in Europe that he’d manage and I told Dickie no, it was a bad business move.”

WC:   So what would the band lineup have been here in the states?

DM: “It would’ve been me, Gary Holland, someone else.  And Gary, he lives like 30 miles from me.”

 WC:  We’re you a Blue Cheer fan as a teenager?

DM: “I have to say, I was into their volume and their bravado but I was always a Hendrix fan.  Believe it or not, Blue Cheer was a little rough for my taste.  I learned to appreciate them for sure.  I like loud and if you watch that TV series, “Metal Evolution,” Randy Holden, he’s a guy that likes to play loud and that’s me, I just love to fuckin’ play loud.  You know, when I was managing the band, I tried to put together a tour featuring all of Blue Cheer’s former guitar players but nobody would come up with the money; Leigh Stephens wanted two grand a night so financially it just wouldn’t work.  I wanted to bring them all in with all the different guitar players doing different songs.”

WC:  Is it true that there was a record deal in place that fell through, right around the turn of the decade for Blue Cheer?

DM: “I had a record deal for us in 2001 but it fell through because Paul wouldn’t fly due to 911.  I had my own studio in Florida to do a record back then but Paul wouldn’t fly and the record company wanted Dickie and Paul on the record so without Paul they wouldn’t come up with the money.”

WC:  What label was it?

DM: “It was a company out of New York.  A friend of mine offered me a certain amount of money to do a record.”

WC:  So what changed in 2005 when Paul finally arrived in the states?

DM: “Well the scare was over by that point.  At that time Joe Hasselvander was playing with BC as the drummer and he was a friend of mine.  He did all the drum tracks for the record “What Doesn’t Kill You…” but then the record company we had folded.  So the record was done and they were looking for a company to sell the record to. Paul had come back in when we started touring but didn’t do anything off the new record since it wasn’t out, it was finished, just not out.  In between the tours where we’d been rehearsing and based ourselves out of Maryland, that’s where the studio was so the guy who owned the studio was our live sound engineer and suggested we do some songs with Paul so we wrote three new songs and Paul re-recorded the drums on two of the songs so we had Paul on half the album and then found a company to buy the record.”

WC:  Post Blue Cheer, what’s Paul Whaley doing these days?

DM: “He’s working in a blues band in Germany, just puttering around, playing drums.”

WC:   Is he doing OK health-wise?

DM: “Yeah he’s healthy, he looks his age but he’s doing alright.”

WC:   Do either you or Paul have Facebook pages or get involved in social networking?

DM: “No, neither one of us does.  Paul, he doesn’t like to talk to anybody, he’ll talk to me but he doesn’t really like to talk to people.  Remember that TV series “Metal Evolution” I mentioned before?  That guy was calling me and I set Paul up for an interview with him and they were going to go to his house and talk to him and Paul wound up going into rehab two days prior, that’s why he isn’t on that show.  But the piece they got of Dickie is from the film that we took in California for the DVD.  I told them, go through the footage left over and use what you want of Dickie.”

WC:  How much film footage do you have left?

DM: “Oh quite a bit, like 8 hours but the record company owns it.”

Re:  his days in Shakin’ Street -- 

WC:  Are you doing anything with Shakin’ Street right now?

DM: “I haven’t done anything with Shakin’ Street since 1980.”

WC:  In terms of music, what are you up to right now?

DM: “Musically right now I’m pretty much retired.    I got offered a job with Ten Years After but they’re having problems and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for me to do that.”

Re:  the 1980 tour with Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult -- 

DM:  “Let me give you some info that led up to that.  I grew up with Joey DeMaio and Eric Adams, we were in bands together, I did demos for Joe and stuff like that and Louie did demos with me, his real name is Louie Morello, that’s Eric Adams, from Manowar, so I was in bands with them, at different times.  As a matter of fact, I brought Louie in for the first vocals on Bible Black, he came in before Jeff Fenholt, but this was way back.  Anyways, Joe was on the road working as a tech with Doc Stillwell and him and Ross got along and decided to do the Manowar thing and they  {Shakin’ Street} needed a replacement so Joey gave them my name and that’s how I got the gig.  I had to fly out to San Francisco and I started working with Shakin’ Street.  
I didn’t work with them for very long, I did the end of the Black N Blue tour and a tour in France with them and their manager was the same manager as Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath and that’s why they were all on that same tour, they all had the same manager.  What happened was, they wound up dropping their manager and wanted me to move to France.  They hired the manager from the band Trust.  I told them I’d do the move but I needed a certain guarantee regarding money; I wasn’t going to make the move to France without any money and they couldn’t do that and a short while later they fell apart.”

WC:  Did you hang out with either of the headliners?  Just kind of party with them?

DM: “Sabbath at that point was pretty serious, they didn’t really party that much and Ronnie, he’s from the same area I’m from, I used to go see Ronnie when I was a kid play at highschool dances.”

WC:  Was that with Elf?

DM: “Basically cover bands at that time.  Even before they were Elf they were a cover band.”

WC:  Did you know Carl Canedy through Ronnie James Dio then?

DM: “No, I knew Carl because we were around the same people.  But back to the Black Sabbath question…Tony, they were all nice guys, in fact, Tony recommended me to Lita Ford because he liked the way I played.  Ronnie Dio came up and talked to me because he knew I was from the same area as him and I had a reputation as being a hellraiser, his comment to me was, “You’ll be fine once you calm down” but I was having way too much fun, so.  I was pursuing my hobby quite extensively at that point – women!  In fact, at that point, women were chasing me so it was even more fun.  
Tony and I used to laugh at the big Godzilla that’d come on stage during BOC’s set and of course the guys in Blue Oyster Cult would laugh at the big disco crosses that Black Sabbath had on stage.  It wasn’t like a real friendly tour between both bands.  I was a Black Sabbath fan and Ronnie Dio was a big deal to me because he was a local guy I grew up with and I was happy to see that he was in Black Sabbath and “Heaven and Hell” was a great fuckin’ album.  But, yeah I liked Blue Oyster Cult; “Cities on Fire” is one of the greatest metal songs ever written, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is great too but I was mainly into Sabbath.  That was a fun tour, it was fun. 
It was my first time playing on stage in front of 20,000 people, I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I was like, holy fuck, all I’d done before that was play a couple small venues and the biggest audience I played for was maybe a thousand people.And I was there for that gig in Milwaukee when the riot broke out at County Stadium, and the riot police showed up, man the people tore that place apart.  It all started with Geezer getting hit in the head with a beer bottle.  Sabbath left the stage after two songs and of course the fans went nuts and tore it all to hell.  It was very exciting, but…I was mainly on the last leg of the tour, the last 10 or 15 shows, East coast, back where I was from.”

WC:  Back to the Milwaukee show for a moment.  Did you watch the riot happen or were you on the bus?

DM: “Oh no I watched it, it was fascinating, it was fuckin’ fascinating!  I mean, they literally tore the metal seats apart; I’ve got a piece of one the seats as a souvenir, still have it.  The fans, they just fuckin’ destroyed that place!  It was amazing, a little frightening but it was like a tornado, you can’t tear your eyes away.”

WC:  Did you find it curious that years later Sabbath, aka “Heaven and Hell,” had a song on their 2009 comeback record “The Devil You Know” called “Bible Black?”

DM: “I heard people talk about it.  Dio was definitely aware of the band.  In fact, he stayed pretty close with Gary Driscoll {founding member of Bible Black along with Craig Gruber, both ex-Elf / Rainbow members} who unfortunately was murdered in 1987.  But when Sabbath needed a bass player, who’d they call?  Craig Gruber.  And when Sabbath needed a drummer Gary Driscoll auditioned for them in St. Louis.  So, Ronnie was always thinking about those guys, he had a lot of respect for their abilities.  I mean, Ronnie’s dead now so we can’t ask him but we got the song title from King Crimson.  And the singer Jeff Fenholt came up with the name of the band.  

WC:  I’ve heard stories about Jeff Fenholt.  What was your impression of him?

DM: “I found him great.  He was a great singer, he was a decent lyricist, he wrote some really heavy lyrics.  As far as drugs, I didn’t see any of that.  I mean we were all drinkers, me and Gary were heavy drinkers and I’m sure there was some cocaine around, I didn’t do any of that, but, the most abusive thing was alcohol.  I never saw a lot of drugs in Bible Black, really.”

WC:  Why did Fenholt leave?

DM: “Jeff left the band because there wasn’t any money and then Craig left ‘cause he had financial and marital problems.  He went to England and joined up with Gary Moore.  But Fenholt, he had his own TV show, the 700 Show.  The Sabbath controversy happened in the late 80’s I think before Glenn Hughes came in.  Jeff and I have emailed recently in the last two years but that’s it, I haven’t seen him.  Craig too, we did a couple of shows with The Rods, and stuff like that, we’re not best of friends but me and Gary were close.  When I left for Savoy Brown I asked Gary to go with me but he didn’t want to.”