Ever loved the stoned rock groovings of Hendrix but wished he was louder and far less good at guitar?
Ever wanted in at the birth of hard rock / metal/ grunge?
Ever liked Cream but found them a bit quiet and restrained?
Ever really liked Mose Allison and Eddie Cochran but wondered what they would sound like played by men wearing boxing gloves?
Ever read Hunter S Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and wondered what Gut did next?*
Well roll up folks and let me sell you a copy of Blue Cheer Vincebus Eruptum, 1968s most primitive release, by far. I’d always heard about this lot in hushed tones years before I’d heard it. In fact I remember a competition in Kerrang! to win the top 100 metal LPs ever in about 1988 by naming and reviewing one you felt had missed out, some clever clogs did Vincebus Eruptum and scooped the lot**, it was the first I’d ever heard of it.
When I eventually scooped this one in 2004 I was just astonished, as I still am really, at just how primitive sounding this LP is. Take their cover of ‘Summertime Blues’ for example, now think of the Who playing it on Live At Leeds in 1970; now let’s lose some of the notes, up the fuzz, double the feedback and quadruple the volume and you’re about there (see below). Quite frankly it’s magnificent. I don’t think anyone has ever recorded bass guitar like that played by Dick Peterson here.
Next up a cover of B.B King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’, supreme fuzzed-up blues played by three longhairs in too much of a hurry to get to the next tune. Like the whole of the rest of the LP Blue Cheer just absolutely pummel their way through this one, making no concessions to virtuosity, or melody at times, the whole point being the ferocity of it all. Okay so Cream, Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin were/would soon be ploughing similar furrows, giving the blues their shot of over-amped energy, but perversely what Blue Cheer had over those bands was precisely their lack of virtuosity setting up an audible struggle between intent and execution. I defy you not to hear Mudhoney and their Northern ilk lurking in the shadows of these grooves, particularly in ‘Doctor Please’. It’s almost a predecessor of the whole punk, have-a-go and let the energy carry us through ethos.
The doctor in question being none other than pharmacist to the stars, the Grateful Dead in particular, Augustus Stanley Owsley III and the song being Dick Peterson’s debate whether to take the acid himself. Given that Blue Cheer were named after a spectacularly potent variety of LSD, you can guess the outcome.
Doctor don’t you turn me down
Don’t burn me away
I need your pain-killer, Doc
And I need it right away
Without your pain-killer, Doc
Lord! What would I be – Alright, Stick it to me Doctor!
‘Out of Focus’ is yet more cave man rock, clumsy and effective as a tyre iron to the back of the head, but my fave is ‘Parchment Farm’ – a misspelt cover of, 1537 fave, Mose Allison’s ‘Parchman Farm’. As everyone knows you can’t beat a good prison song and this is certainly one,
Well I’m gonna be here for the rest of my life
I’m gonna be on this farm for my natural life
Well I’m a gonna be here for the rest of my life
And all I did was shoot my wife
I mean just listen to the dustbin-lid drumming on ‘Second Time Around’, I’m really struggling not to re-use the word primitive again here but I mean it pure and simply as a compliment. The feedback conjured by Leigh Stevens is no orchestrated symphony as used by the very best, flashiest players it was a blunt instrument used to flesh out and bulk up the sound and send it back into the ring for another round. My reissue copy^ carries a later track as a bonus, the original LP only clocking in at around 33 minutes (yeah!), ‘All Night Long’ with later member Ralph Kellogg^^, which sounds like nothing more, nor less, than a crude blueprint for Ziggy Stardust-era glam rock.
I really hope none of this sounds like I’m damning by faint praise, quite apart from the fact that this is music that could easily take care of itself if it came to a rumble, I’m not. It’s this absolute 20,000 years B.C cave dude quality that makes this such an influential LP. Even 45 years later on it’s not an easy listen in places and Vincebus Eruptum can still duke it out with the best of today’s noisiest young savages.
The most telling credit on the back cover? ‘Amplifiers by Jim Marshall, Ltd.’ Heavy.
*he managed Blue Cheer.
**I, of course reviewed Faster Pussycat and won bugger all.
^lovingly reissued on the Akarma label in Italy, vinyl and sleeve so thick that I would have no qualms sheltering behind it in the event of an imminent meteor strike on my home.
^^later known as Ethan James and producer of another of my fave ever LPs, Minutemen Double Nickels On the Dime.