The Omission of Blue Cheer

In my last two years at Porter-Gaud, I taught a class called “America in the Sixties,” a history elective I felt unqualified to teach.  Sure I came of age in the Late Sixties and Early Seventies, yes, I was suspended from school for wearing a black armband on Moratorium Day[1], and, um, sure, I could offer firsthand insight of what it is like to ingest lysergic acid diethylamide. On the other hand, my knowledge of the Freedom Riders, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the Great Society agenda was on par with Mike Pence‘s knowledge of the poetry of Charles Bukowski.

The one topic we covered I felt confident about was music.  Thanks to the sophistication of the latest technology, I could embed short videos into Keynote slide shows that covered the roots of rock, Early Sixties music, Mo Town, Stax, the British invasion, and finally the San Francisco sound.

But even here I was somewhat derelict because in the San Francisco piece I failed to mention the seminal acid blues rock band Blue Cheer, whom some identify as the very first heavy metal band.[2]

My pal, the late Gordon Wilson, turned me on to Blue Cheer in ’69.  The band, which borrowed their name from a variety of LSD, had released a really arresting album, Vincebus Eruptum, the year before.   Its most successful single, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” actually peaked at #14 on Billboard, though I don’t remember ever hearing it on the radio. Also featured on the album was the blues standard “Rock Me, baby,” made famous earlier by Muddy Waters and BB King.

Eddie Cochran

So what you got was the blues all hepped up on goofballs.

Here’s a video.  Note the relentless drumming and wailing guitar.



Anyway, I think “Summertime Blues” holds up fairly well, though I doubt if many of my students in the Sixties course would have dug it.  When I first started teaching at PG in the mid-Eighties, students were obsessed by Sixties music.  In fact, I dubbed them “the re-generation.” However, nowadays hip hop and country have replaced rock as the most popular genres, and most of those students of mine last year would prefer to hear Beyoncé over Janis Joplin.

[1]15 October 1969

[2]Maybe, but isn’t the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” at least a heavy metal song, even if you wouldn’t call the Kinks a “heavy metal band?”

2 thoughts on “The Omission of Blue Cheer

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