Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Preceded by: -
Followed by: Outsideinside (1968)
Fortunately for the development of music in all its variation, especially the heavier genres, there were always bands out there that asked themselves if things couldn’t be played a little louder. Blue Cheer certainly was such a band.
It’s 1968 and a big part of the music scene was embracing the progress technology had made with regard to improving amplifiers and electric guitars. Especially the possibility to significantly amplify the sound of the bass guitar made it possible for bands to play as loud as possible without losing the sound of the bass. This was the deciding development that notorious blues rock artists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were waiting for to form their own power trios, consisting of guitar, bass and drums. Bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who in fact used the same concept, adding a seperate singer. 1967 subsequently brought us Hendrix’ Are You Experienced?, 1969 Led Zeppelin’s debut album and 1968 had Blue Cheer’s impressive debut: Vincebus Eruptum.
Just like those two acts, Blue Cheer reinterpreted old blues songs and took them to higher and louder levels using loads of amplifiers. Hendrix ofcourse added the psychedelic influences that were characteristic for those times. With Blue Cheer being located in San Francisco and being called after a kind of LSD (at its turn called after a washing product), it may not be surprising that those influences are also present on their debut. If you’re looking for extensive improvisation, hyperamplification and lots of distortion, this is the album that definitely should be in your record collection. No other band of that time in my opinion had the raw intensity and energy of Blue Cheer, making them blow up their complete equipment the first time they tried to record this album.
Blue Cheer was founded in 1966 with the original line up consisting of Dickie Peterson on bass (which he played since the age of 13) and vocals, Leigh Stephens on guitar (ranked 98 on Rolling Stones’ 100 greatest guitarists of all time) and Eric Albronda on drums. Albronda was subsequently replaced by Paul Whaley and the band recruited some extra members on guitar, keyboards and harmonica. But, according to the myth, they brought the band down to a power trio after witnessing Hendrix’ mind blowing performance with his Experience at Monterey. So Dickie Peterson, Leigh Stephens and Paul Whaley remained as the line-up for the first album, consisting of 6 songs with a total length of about half an hour. But don’t worry, just turn the record over again.
The LP starts with the bands only real hit, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s blues song ‘Summertime Blues’. This must be the ultimate example of transforming a classic blues song into blues rock, played that hard that it’s drawing the outlines of hard rock. The first part of the song combines an extremely pounding rhythm section with a crying guitar, immediately giving you the opportunity to test your own sound equipment. The riff in the middle of the song reminds of Hendrix’ ‘Foxy Lady’, after which the guitar becomes a rollercoaster, steadily taking off and at its peak crushing down at high speed. This version beats The Who’s interpretation of the song hands down if it comes down to muscular strength and roughness.
An even greater blues classic follows quickly, when B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’ sets in. Also covered amongst others by Otis Redding (a great idol of singer Peterson), this song sticks to the typical blues sound of the guitar with another pumping combo of bass and drums adding the rock here. If not already taken place, everthing goes mental on the third track, Dickie Peterson’s self-proclaimed drug anthem ‘Doctor Please’. Peterson experienced a lot of funny feelings in his head at the time and sings about them after a rough intro of Paul Whaley. The song is about 8 minutes long and offers you the best definition of the term ‘power trio’. The energy drips out of your speakers when guitar solos, kicking drums, the screaming voice of Peterson and heavy bass sounds keep interchanging before exploding together now and then. This also reminds of later stoner rock from bands like Kyuss.
The next song, ‘Out of Focus’, lasts four minutes but was written in ten minutes according to Peterson. This song also has some psychedelic lyrics about angels in mystic dreams, propelled by a haunting guitar riff from Stephens. The roughness of the instruments and Petersons howling voice on this track marks the difference between Blue Cheer and more polished power trios like Clapton’s Cream. It’s followed by another cover, ‘Parchment Farm’, from jazz and blues pianist Mose Allison. This song offers some space for some extensive jamming just when you think the song has ended, while Peterson sings sightly funny lyrics like “I’ve been sitting over here on Parchment Farm. Ain’t ever done nobody no wrong. All I did was shoot my wife. She was no good! “. ‘Second Time Around’ offers you one last chance to pick up your air guitar, as the riffs are very sweet again. Towards the middle of the song, Paul Whaley throws in a wild drum solo, after which all the remaining distortion and psychedelic effects out there are used to close the album, definitely a personal favorite.
After their debut album, the group was confronted with a lot of personnel changes, with their style developing towards a more commercial sound during the seventies and eighties. Periods of activity and temporary break-ups followed eachother, before breaking up for once and for all in 2009 after the death of Peterson, the only continuing member troughout the years. But Vincebus Eruptum remains an essential album to understand the concept of a power trio. Enjoy.
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Hard Rock
Preceded by: -
Followed by: Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
Let’s have another walk through the treasure chamber of 1967. Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were turning guitar players into absolute stars and Clapton was God. But suddenly a black American lands in the UK and asks the white rock scene: Are You Experienced ?
As you know, 1967 can not be seen apart from the uprising of psychedelic rock. Existing blues and folk rock bands began to use new techniques and effects which would later cause the establishment of prog and hard rock. Jimi Hendrix himself can be seen as one of the most important pioneers of this latter genre. Originally being a blues rocker, he incorporated those psychedelic elements to transform his original style to pure hard rock. That’s exactly what makes Are You Experienced such an incredible debut album, containing not only Hendrix’ blues roots, but also psychedelic effects he mastered perfectly thanks to his extreme talent as a guitar player, and the origins of hard rock.
Hendrix (as a guitarist) supported some acts like Little Richard during the mid sixties in the USA, before former Animals bass player Chas Chandler heard Hendrix perform the classic American song ‘Hey Joe’. Chandler soon became his manager and brought him to the UK, for Hendrix being the promised land as it was the native country of The Yardbirds, a band Hendrix greatly admired. Together with Hendrix, the different members of this band would later define the new genre of hard rock, as they were soon to form pioneer bands like Cream (Eric Clapton), The Jeff Beck Group (Jeff Beck) and Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page). So Chandler would arrange a so-called ‘power trio’ (just like Cream) for Hendrix, which formed in October 1966 and consisted besides Hendrix of former jazz drummer Mitch Mitchell and former guitarist Noel Redding, who would from now on play the bass, obviously.
In June 1969 the band would already break up again, after growing tensions between Hendrix and Redding. But during those three years the band released a magnificent trilogy of albums, being Are You Experienced (1967) – Axis: Bold as Love (1967) – Electric Ladyland (1968), all three of them ranked within the top 100 of ‘Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. A little more tragic thing about the band is that they were all found dead in their homes or some hotel room. For Hendrix of course this already happened in 1970, Redding was found dead in 2003 and Mitchell was the last man standing after passing away in 2008.
Back to 1967, when their debut was released after already launching three singles: besides ‘Hey Joe’, these were ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. This must have contributed to the success of the album (with the singles excluded, opposite to the US version, where some original album tracks like ‘Red House’ were replaced by the singles instead), reaching #2 in the UK behind Sgt. Pepper’s and staying there for 8 months. Let’s have a look at the 11 original tracks.
Like I said there’s blues rock, psychedelic rock and hard rock on this album. Far out the most bluesy song is ‘Red House’, which sounds like the early blues of Robert Johnson, intensified by Hendrix’ guitar. The song was already written by Hendrix before he joined The Experience, and has this typical blues theme of the singer which is left alone by his woman. The same goes in fact for the track ‘Remember’, the other blues rock song on the album.
Best represented is psychedelic rock, making this the most psychedelic Hendrix album. First there are the shorter ’3 minutes’ songs, with ‘Can You See Me’ (with a noteworthy role for drummer Mitch Mitchell), ‘May This Be Love’ (sounding a little bit like Cream, with a very dreamy voice of Hendrix) and ‘Love or Confusion’. This last one is a personal favorite, with the Airplane-like distorted sounds and the delicious guitar licks and powerful voice of Hendrix. Towards the end of the album are two longer psychedelic masterpieces. ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ (the title referring to earth) is mostly an instrumental one with lots of guitar effects and Hendrix talking like some character from Star Trek. If you play this track on the LP at single speed (45 RPM), you can actually hear what’s been said. The last track on the album, also the title track, is probably my favorite. Supported by his screaming guitar, Jimi invites us on a journey, making this song a true hippie-anthem (with lyrical similarities to The Doors’ ‘Break on Through’, from their own debut album of 1967).
What’s left are those riff-based, real hard rock songs that really turned the music scene upside down. First of all the opening track, the well-known ‘Foxy Lady’. Drifted by the catchy guitar riff and the pounding drum and bass section, this is a perfect start for an album. It’s still covered now and then during live gigs by Paul McCartney, who was a big fan of Hendrix. It’s followed by ‘Manic Depression’, another very Cream-like song with a couple of nice drum solos. Alltogether, this sounds like a stormy kind of waltz, and is supposed to be ‘about a cat wishing he could make love to music’, awesome song. ‘I Don’t Live Today’ is another sweet riff-based song, referring to the chaotic life of Hendrix.
The last song left is ‘Fire’, which really shows the capacity of the total band, not Hendrix alone. For me, the label ‘power trio’ is justified best on this song: it begins with a mighty drumintro and a minimal guitar riff, before exploding into an uptempo hard rock classic, propelled by a schizophrenic drum beat and a very catchy bass line from Redding. No surprise the group often opened their live gigs with this song. It’s a pity we won’t be able to witness those powertrips anymore, but you can make up for it by having this album in your record collection.
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Preceded by: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966)
Followed by: After Bathing At Baxter’s (1967)
Related to: not available yet
It must have been like eight years ago or something that I heard the thrilling intro of ‘White Rabbit’ for the first time, on some New Year’s Eve. Some seconds later the enchanting voice of Grace Slick kicked in and I knew I had to get the album this was on. ‘White Rabbit’ remained one of my all time rock favorites year after year till now, and year by year my appreciation for the other songs on the album grew. Our next great album from the magical year 1967 is Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow.
Jefferson Airplane was the only band that played on all three of the notorious hippie festivals in the late sixties. This was not only because of the good looks of Grace Slick on stage, but above all because the band was a true pioneer of psychedelic rock. This genre at his turn played a key role in the evolution of rock history. Before the emerging of psychedelic rock, most rock bands were folk and blues orientated. With it’s new techniques and effects it completely turned the rock scene upside down in the late sixties, paving the way for progressive and hard rock bands. Psychedelic rock derived from a psychedelic subculture, with people like Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley preaching the expansion of consciousness and popularising the use of psychedelic drugs. It found its way into music first through The Byrds in the US and reached its peak in 1967, when it reigned the music scene all over the world. In the UK, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, Pink Floyd had there album debut with Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and Cream showed the world Disraeli Gears. Meanwhile, Surrealistic Pillow was the defining album in the US.
The band had its roots in the flourishing San Francisco music scene of the mid sixties, where vocalist Marty Balin met fellow folk musicians and guitar players Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen. Influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds, they transformed to a folk rock band with some other temporary band members. Performing in this music scene, they were often supported by fellow folk rock band The Great Society, which featured the female lead singer Grace Slick. Airplane, after releasing their folk rock debut album, was at that very moment transforming into a psychedelic rock band, and Grace Slick’s voice was just the ingredient they needed to make this transformation a big success. This big success was Surrealistic Pillow.
Talked enough, let’s see what’s on it. First of all those two monster hits, ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody To Love’, two songs Grace Slick brought with her. The first one was written by herself, the second by her brother in law and they are both absolute rock classics. ‘White Rabbit’ starts with an awesome bassline, closely followed by the marching drums. Then Grace slides in with the most psychedelic rock prayer ever, taking you to the fantasy world of Lewis Caroll. This is a landmark in its genre, but also one of those true classics that will NEVER bore me. ‘Somebody To Love’ is a much more catchier song, also supporting on the great voice of Slick, especially during the verses.
You can also still hear the roots of this band on several songs, which are a mixture of folk rock and British Invasion influences. A real folk rock gem for example is ‘Today’, a ballad with a very ‘foggy’ intro. But the beauty of the song is the combination of the vocal harmonies between Balin & Slick and the sweet guitar riff that was actually played by Jerry Garcia. The song basically fades into ‘Comin’ Back to Me’, which intro somehow reminds me of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Another beauty is ‘D.C.B.A.-25′, with a typical Byrds sound (listen to that typical lead guitar and tambourines) and a fantastic canon between Balin and Slick. The British Invasion sounds can be heard on ‘My Best Friend’ (with some Westcoast breeze) and ‘How Do You Feel’, which could actually be The Moody Blues when you leave the tambourine out.
The real psychedelic rock sound is to be found for example on opening track ‘She Has Funny Cars’. It has a delicious jazzy drum intro, followed by a variation of vocal harmonies (verses) and dialogue (chorus), and that typical distorted guitar sound. Also in this categorie are ‘Plastic Fantastic Lover’ (sounding like their psychedelic colleagues of 13th Floor Elevators, nice solo in the end) and ’3/5 of a Mile in 10 seconds’. This one has bouncing guitars from the start and the combination with the fast drums make this the loudest song on the album and a personal favorite. Talking about favorites, there’s one song that doesn’t fit in any of the previous categories: ‘Embryonic Journey’. Waking up never felt better since I set this song as my alarm clock tone, they should play this instrumental acoustic one in every elevator.
Airplane would release some more psychedelic rock albums in the years following, till the genre died in the early seventies. Pink Floyd’s Syd Barett had gone crazy, Brian Wilson got depressed, The Beatles and Cream broke up and Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix died. Luckily for us, the music is still there and this album is a perfect starting point for discovering psychedelic rock. It’s the variation between psychedelic shots like ’3/5 of a Mile in 10 seconds’ and fascinating ballads like ‘Today’: this album launches you eight miles high before letting you land peacefully again, right on your surrealistic pillow.