“I need your pain killer, Doc, shot inside of me”: Vincebus Eruptum (Blue Cheer)

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Year: 1968

Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Preceded by: –

Followed by: Outsideinside (1968)

Related to: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced


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.

Top Tracks:
1. Doctor Please
2. Second Time Around
3. Summertime Blues

“Blind man running through the light of the night ”: After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)

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Year: 1970

Genre: Country Folk

Preceded by: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

Followed by: Harvest (1972)

Related to: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà-Vu




Last time I spoke about the influence of a certain Neil Young on the music of My Morning Jacket. Neil Young is a man who used to rear chickens to sell their eggs when he was just a boy. Neil Young is the man Martin Scorsese had to re-edit his rockumentary ‘The Last Waltz‘ (about the goodbye concert of American group The Band) for, to get rid of the cocaine that was hanging from Neil’s nose during his performance. But above all, Neil Young is the man who delivered some of the most classic albums in music history.

Young was born in Canada where he became interested in pop music as a teenager and started to perform as a singer-songwriter in 1960, at the age of 15, after dropping out high school. During the early sixties, influenced by Bob Dylan, Young discovered that he also had a talent for writing beautiful folk songs. So in 1966, he left Canada and took off to Los Angeles, the place to be at that point for everyone with a guitar and some good songs. After meeting Stephen Stills, they founded the band Buffalo Springfield together. That band would fall apart after only two albums caused to high tensions between the band members, especially between Stills and Young. Where did we hear that before? Right, Young would join Stills again in 1969 for the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, another group that was condemned to a short existence.

But during those years in between, Young had already released two solo albums. In 1968 he debuted as a solo artist with the self-titled album Neil Young, including one of his well-known songs: ‘The Loner’. But Young apparently wasn’t such a loner after all, as he arranged a new backing band for his second album (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969): Crazy Horse. This new combination resulted in some lengthy jams with that typical guitar sound Young was developing at that moment. Young considered Crazy Horse as ‘his Rolling Stones’, just like he saw Crosby, Stills & Nash (who he joined shortly afterward) as ‘his Beatles’, . They claimed worldwide fame with Déjà-Vu, broke up again and Mister Young was now ready for his international break-through as a solo-artist, trying to combine Crazy Horse and CSN on his next album: After the Gold Rush.

How to accomplish this better than letting Crazy Horse jam with you on a couple of tracks, inviting Stephen Stills to do some backing vocals and CSNY band member Greg Reeves to play the bass? The result is a stunning classic album, mainly consisting of country folk songs, a genre that originated in the early sixties, when folk artists started more and more to reinterpret old country songs, in this way establishing an hybridization of folk music with country music. As one characteristic of the genre is the presence of thoughtful and personal lyrics, this album is the perfect representative.

The album starts with the typical country sound of ‘Tell Me Why’. It’s just Neil and his acoustic guitar, till the backing vocals kick in, giving this opening track a little more weight. You can guess after the meaning of the song for yourself. The second track is my personal favorite, also being the title track. The first times I heard it, it sounded to me like a demure antithesis of John Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’, with all kind of psychedelic lyrics. But Young is in fact warning us about what we’re doing to our environment, accompanied by a piano and a flugelhorn, which delivers a fantastic bridge in the middle of the song. Thom Yorke also covered this song solo during Radiohead‘s concerts in 2003, fading it into ‘Everything in Its Right Place’.

What follows is the first of four piano ballads that are on the album. Somehow they all have in common that they combine often melancholic lyrics with cheerful compositions, featuring a young Nils Lofgren (later on to become a member of Bruce Springsteen‘s E-Street Band) on piano. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ are both great songs, as they show us Young  as a fantastic songwriter. The first one has this very recognizable lyrics, about how life’s simple before you fall in love. You’re not extremely happy, but everything’s just OK. Of course does love make you feel great, like you never felt before, but that same love is also the only thing that’s able to completely destroy you. The second one is a little more cryptic, but comes down to this: the world is a joke, I (Neil) know it, you know it, but don’t let this bring you down. Stay hopeful, because another attitude won’t help you any further.

The other two ballads, ‘I Believe in You’ and ‘Birds’, are both love songs (about doubts and goodbyes), which don’t really jump out among the other songs. Fitting in the same category is ‘Oh Lonesome Me’, a cover from the original song by country musician Don Gibson. Young turned this song into a beautiful lament about a dumped man, starting with an harmonica intro and with backing vocals contributed by Stephen Stills.

However, After the Gold Rush would never have become a classic album without the two songs where Young is joined by Crazy Horse, together jamming like on stage. First there’s of course ‘Southern Man’, one of Young’s most famous songs. This is the track that made me listen to the album more than once and in that way this song made me discover the other tracks out there. Don’t search for an intro, because there isn’t one: Young and the band immediately kick off with an upbeat piano and electric guitars. During the song Young condemns the racism in the American South, asking himself when the southern man is going to pay back the black people for treating them like slaves. The other grooves are to be heard on the heavily amplified ‘When You Dance I Can Really Love’. This song also has this upbeat rhythm and a nice bassline, with the band having an awesome jam towards the end, including a nice solo from Young.

The remaining songs are ‘Till the Morning Comes’ and ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’, both about  one and a half minute long. The first one is, according to my interpretation of the lyrics, about a guy who is only waiting till the morning comes. The other one is an easy going little country song, which closes the album perfectly.

In the years following After the Gold Rush, Neil Young would first reach it’s highest commercial peak on his next album Harvest, containing his only number one hit, ‘Heart of Gold’. Then followed the so-called Ditch trilogy, full of songs drenched in depression, and many many more albums till today. Young succeeded to create a different sound on every one of them, making his discography as eclectic as a Captain Beefheart song. But the best starting point to discover this man’s work must be After the Gold Rush. Take your time, give the album an extra chance if necessary, but never, never force yourself to like it.

Top Tracks:
1. After the Gold Rush
2. Southern Man
3. Don’t Let It Bring You Down