There are reunions and then there are reunions. One did not get the sense, on a windy October night at the Knitting Factory in 2006, that the ancient California proto-metal act Blue Cheer had taken many years off. In fact, they had. Founded in 1966, the band garnered a kind of bizarre early success–their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” in ’68 broke Billboard’s Top 20; Vincebus Eruptum, their debut, can lay modest claim to being one of the most influential rock and roll records of the last century. A revolving cast of personnel assembled and reassembled and broke up and reunited in the subsequent 40 years, though Dickie Peterson, one of three founding members, was a constant. This morning he died, at age 63.
That night at the Knitting Factory, Peterson could’ve been a monument: white dishelved hair, bass guitar, towering amplifier. Blue Cheer’s set was a rumbling, screaming mess. There were maybe 35 people in the room by the end, and all of them looked stunned–not a foregone conclusion. This was a CMJ showcase that started somewhere around 1 a.m. and made zero gestures of self-importance: there was no hum in the room, no whisper of anticipation, and no small embarrassment among those who, like myself, were seeing the band for the first time four decades after its founding. It didn’t matter. They were loud and humble in an uncomplicated way.
“This song’s off one of them old albums,” Peterson would say, and that was pretty much it in the way of banter. My ears rang for days. “I’ve been married twice, I’ve had numerous girlfriends, and they’ll all tell you that if I’m not playing music I am an animal to live with,” Peterson said in a 2005 interview. “Music is a place where I get to deal with a lot of my emotion and displaced energy. I always only wanted to play music, and that’s all I still want to do.” And so he did.