Final cheer for a Blue Cheer

You may not know his name, but you probably heard him sing -- whether you wanted to or not -- his amped-up take on "Summertime Blues," throbbing and blasting from a passing car radio or an apartment stereo three blocks away.

Dickie Peterson (2002)
Dickie Peterson performing in 2002. (Photo courtesy of Web site)

You may not know his name, but you probably heard him sing -- whether you wanted to or not -- his amped-up take on "Summertime Blues," throbbing and blasting from a passing car radio or an apartment stereo three blocks away.

Dickie Peterson, an East Grand Forks boy with long blond hair and a burning need to play music, play it loud, went off to California in the 1960s. There, he pioneered what came to be known as heavy metal as bassist and lead singer with the band Blue Cheer.

He died Oct. 12 in Germany, where he had been living with his second wife, and his passing has triggered a chorus of tributes and memories from fans worldwide, from graying metal-heads to appreciative youngsters who only recently discovered the latest incarnation of Blue Cheer.

Peterson was 63. He had suffered from prostate cancer that spread to his liver.

But he was rockin' until the end.


Andrew "Duck" MacDonald, who performed with Peterson the past 20 years, said in a telephone interview Thursday that Peterson and the original Blue Cheer "had a tremendous impact on music" and provided "the link between Cream and (Jimi) Hendrix on one end and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath on the other."

The "power trio" band formed in San Francisco late in 1966, taking its name from a potent street brand of LSD.

Blue Cheer "never exuded the peace and love vibe of groups like Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead," the New York Times reported in its obituary last week. "It stood for raw, animalistic power, on full display in the raucous, hard-driving 'Summertime Blues,' the group's biggest hit.

"Pitted against Paul Whaley's savagely thrashing drums and Leigh Stephen's screeching guitar, Mr. Peterson, the group's lead singer, adopted the only possible vocal strategy: he opened his mouth wide and emitted primal sounds at top volume."

Blue Cheer released the album "Vincebus Eruptum" -- with its cover version of Eddie Cochran's hit "Summertime Blues" -- in 1968. The single reached No. 14 on the Billboard charts, while the album climbed to No. 11.

The band released several more albums before breaking up in 1972, and Peterson continued to perform across the United States and Europe with new versions of the group.

'Can I just watch?'

He was born Richard Allan Peterson on Sept. 12, 1946, and grew up in East Grand Forks, where he started playing bass guitar at age 13.


His parents died when he was young, and he lived with an aunt and uncle on a farm in North Dakota before joining his brother, Jerre, in San Francisco in time for 1967's Summer of Love.

Jerre Peterson, who performed with Dickie in an early, six-member version of Blue Cheer, died in 2002, not long after he and Dickie played with Mother Ocean at the Blue Shell in Cologne, Germany.

"My brother was my main musical influence all of my life," Dickie said in a 2005 interview with "He didn't actually teach me how to play; he taught me how to learn to play."

Peterson also got early inspiration from other East Side musicians.

"In 1962, Maury Finney had a band called The Charms, and we practiced in Maury's basement," recalled Gary Emerson, 67, of Emerson Sound and Music in East Grand Forks.

"This young kid lived across the street, and he came over several times as we practiced. He just sat and watched us perform. He said he wanted to be a musician, too."

Emerson later went out to California to try his luck in the emerging rock music scene, playing in a band called the New Salvation Army. One night in the mid-1960s, he was playing at Winterland in San Francisco.

"There were three bands: Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Blue Cheer, and us," he said.


During a break, Peterson heard someone mention Emerson's name.

"Are you Gary Emerson?" he asked.

"I am. Who are you?"

"I'm the kid who used to watch you practice."

Emerson said he grew weary of the rock lifestyle after a few years, returned to the Red River Valley, and lost track of Peterson. But last year, visiting Minneapolis, he heard that Dickie was playing at a club on Lake Street.

"I parked outside the club, but there were so many people waiting to get in," he said. "And he wasn't going to come on until midnight, so I didn't get to see him."

Right attitude

In the StonerRock interview, Peterson said the secret of rock 'n' roll is "10 percent technique and 90 percent attitude. If you deliver one note with the right attitude, it will do more than 60 notes with no attitude.


"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."

The obsession took a toll.

"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," he said. "If I am playing music, I'm OK. But if I sit around with nothing to do with my music for too long, I guess I get more ... grumpy. I don't have fun. I get depressed."

And there were drugs with his rock 'n' roll.

"We took a lot of 'em," he said, admitting that he had been addicted to heroin for years.

In a 2007 interview in Roctober Magazine, Peterson recalled how the band's "Summertime Blues" created a buzz that got them on major TV shows, including "The Steve Allen Show" and "American Bandstand."

"We weren't exactly what 'American Bandstand' expected," he said. "At the time, we were being managed by 'Gut' Terkl, who's been a Hell's Angel, and Gut and I were sitting in the dressing room, smoking a bowl of hash, and Dick Clark walked in and looked at us, and he says, 'People like you give rock 'n' roll a bad name!' We looked back at him, and we said, 'Thank you very much!' This was the last time we were ever on Bandstand."

Though he continued to believe that drugs could be a good influence, Peterson admitted that he had "gone over the top."


"Pretty much by 1975, '76, he got away from the drugs," MacDonald said. "He drank a lot then, but he quit drinking about 10 years ago. They say that in the rock 'n' roll world, to survive you have to give up something every 10 years: drugs, alcohol, women ....

"But these last years, he was ecstatic. He was happy. We were back on the road, we had a business manager we could trust, and we had a ball. The people loved the band, and Dickie loved the audiences.

"There were so many young people, and he was right in there with the kids."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to .

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald .

What To Read Next
Get Local