October 24, 2010

Artist Spotlight: A Quick Rap With Blue Cheer's Dickie Peterson (R.I.P)

Defying any standard musical categorization for almost four decades, bassist Dickie Peterson pioneered a raw, unbridled approach to playing rock and roll long before punk, heavy metal, or hip hop made it fashionable. He’s driven by an intense passion for his art and remains a reverberating force in the world of rock and roll.
Mr. Peterson’s professional career started in 1965, when he joined the psychedelic West Coast band, Group B. Over the years, he has played in several other bands, including Peterbilt, Mother Ocean and the Hank Davidson Band; however, his most noted contribution to date is as the vocalist/bassist of the super power trio,Blue Cheer, the band he co-founded in late 1966.
In the summer of 1967, Blue Cheer scored a Top 20 hit with a hard-rocking cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” Summer’s never ended for Dickie and his Blue Cheer bandmates, drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald. In honor Of Mr Peterson we dedicate this timepiece to him for all his work the world loved dearly..I wonder if he really did tell his boss he was sick..mmm  Ken took on the job a few years ago and spoke to the fucking man himself. The legend himself.
Ken: Who has influenced you musically?
Dickie: My brother (Jerre Peterson) was my main musical influence all of my life. He didn’t actually teach me how to play; he taught me how to learn to play. He was much more into the world of music theory and note writing and note reading. He was very good at this and taught me some things that you could apply to any kind of music, whether it was jazz, country, rock, folk, or classical music. These are rules or little tricks that have helped me play my music all my life.
Ken: What drew you to the bass? Ultimately that became your instrument.
Dickie: It felt right! I gravitated toward it. It was what I wanted. I was looking for an instrument that I felt really good with. I tried drums. I tried guitar. Everything felt awkward. But when I picked up the bass, that was it - the love affair that’s lasted my whole life.
Ken: Being that you’re also a vocalist, I was wondering if you use a different approach when you sing as opposed to playing the bass? Or do you see a connection between the two?
Dickie: For me there’s a strong connection between the two. A lot of the songs of Blue Cheer come out the way they do because I write then with a bass and voice. I don’t necessarily write them with a guitar. So the rhythms that I play on the bass and the vocal phrasing and melody I use are very strongly connected.

Ken: What are some of the sources of your creative inspiration?
Dickie: For me, it’s the people and what I do. A lot of my inspiration probably goes back to my childhood, which was pretty rough.
(Psychic healer) Edgar Cayce talked about a place where all the creativity that exists comes from. It’s like a well. And that part of your mind that controls the creative part of you, when you have the opportunity to visit this place, when you’re tapped into this, this is when you are being creative. Now, stoned on acid, I think I was there once. But I don’t know. Some songs I wrote have taken 20 years to really complete. And there are other songs like “Doctor Please” or “Out of Focus” that I wrote in ten minutes. It’s like BOOM! I sit down and the song sort of writes itself.
Ken: “Doctor Please” is pretty intense.
Dickie: “Doctor Please” is a very intense song! It’s really strange because when I wrote the song (in 1967), it was a glorification of drugs. I was going through a lot of “Should I take this drug or should I not take this drug? Blah, blah, blah.” There was a lot of soul searching at the time when I wrote that song, and I actually decided to take it. That’s what that song was about and that’s what I sang it about, sort of a drug anthem for me.
Ken: I’ve always viewed it as the antithesis to “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, which portrays drugs as innocent, happy, fun stuff. “Doctor Please” seemed to me to represent the dark side of drugs.

Dickie: It was the dark side of drugs, but I was at a stage of that dark side to where it was romantic. It wasn’t a bad thing yet. It hadn’t turned into the monster that it later turned into.
We do this song today and when we play it, we feature it. I had a little problem with it for a while. I didn’t do this song for a long time. Then we started doing it again and the song really took on a whole different meaning for me to where I feel really good when I do it, because it’s now a lesson well learned. Things that mean one thing when you were 20 years old, when you get older, toward the end of your life, you see things in a different way.
Ken: It’s cool the way the song has stood up to time even though its meaning has changed for you.
Dickie: That’s the mark of a good song. And not just because I wrote it. It still stands. Through all the cultural changes and metamorphoses and growths that have gone on since it was written, it still works. I’m quite proud of that! That whole band is. As I said, all of my songs I write on a bass and my voice. I need a guitar player who can make the guitar work. I need Whaley to make the drums work. I don’t know how to do those things.
Ken: What keeps you playing after all these years?
Dickie: I can only tell you this. 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. 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.
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.
Ken: I understand Blue Cheer will be recording an album soon.
Dickie: I think we will be recording in Wales at Foel Stadium which is a place where I love to record. It’s a 500-year-old sheep ranch that’s been modernized inside, but it’s still ancient outside. The atmosphere is just incredible! Ancient stone circles and all kinds of Welsh and Celtic stuff around. It’s a nice place.
Ken: Where else are you currently headed on your musical journey?
Dickie: We’re looking to get over into the States. I think they’re working on a tour for Europe. Right now our focus at this point is the album - we go into the studio and we record in two to three weeks. That’s the way we do an album. We’re not a band that’s going to spend three months writing the songs for an album, six months rehearsing them, and then another six months recording them. To us that’s all backwards.
Ken: That’s what I like about Blue Cheer. The music is raw, honest, right from the gut, and not over produced.

Dickie: I don’t particularly care for the recording studio. As far as I am concerned they can record us live. I look at recording as representing a moment in time.
The listener is so much a part of it to me that if you’re not a part of the live audience, you’re not a part of what the music really is. You can listen to all the Blue Cheer records that we ever made. When you see us live, it’s different because it’s more a physical part of you, and to me this is what makes our music. That’s why I’ve always considered us a performing band and not a recording band.
Ken: Any other projects in the works?
Dickie: I got a couple of songs, one called “Young Lions in Paradise,” which we’re going to try to put on a CD of solo songs. It will undoubtedly come out on A Blue Cheer album, but it will come out different than when you hear the solo version of it.
It’s interesting to see how songs metamorphose, which happens in this band over time. Songs sort themselves out, like the song decides what it wants to do. I like being a part of that.
Ken: You’ve put a lot of work into this band over the years and influenced more bands than you get credit for.
Dickie: I saw an article with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, where he said I influenced his bass playing. To me, Flea is one of the hottest bass players I have ever seen? He’s got licks! How did I influence him? It’s really a warm and enriching feeling to hear someone say you were a positive influence on their life. Overall, it’s great when we meet bands that come to us and tell us, “If it wasn’t for your band, we wouldn’t be playing.” These are bands who come to hear us because they cover our songs. This is truly something to me, as a songwriter. Wow! It’s unbelievable.

Ken: The attitude portrayed on Vincebus Eruptum (premier Blue Cheer album) has been an influence on the way I play.
Dickie: I think the secret of rock ‘n roll, which I learned from Tony Rainier (former Blue Cheer guitarist), is that it’s 10% technique and 90% attitude. If you deliver one note with the right attitude, it will do more than 60 notes with no attitude.
I’m waiting for the guy who’s really going to take the guitar to the next level. Maybe he’s just being born. Chet Atkins did it. Then Hendrix did it. Now somebody else has got to do it.
I think the true thing that makes a guitar player valuable is how he works with the band. This is why Duck’s been with us for 18 years now. A lot of times the rhythm section has to go along with whatever the guitar player is doing. Duck knows how to take what he does and let Paul and I do what we do.
Ken: Any secrets to share?
Dickie: This is what I think is the most important thing in being a musician - knowing how to play with other people. We call it the “umbilical cord,” the thing that connects the three of us into just one.

Duck knows how to do that as a guitar player and that’s really difficult for a guitarist, because they carry so much weight and there’s always 50 guys waiting behind you to take your place. So the pressure on the guitar player is tremendous. I understand why they act a little weird. It’s great to be a whiz at what you do, but if you can’t do it with other people and apply it and adapt it, it’s very limited. You’ve got to be able to move laterally with your music and help bring out the best in everyone who’s on stage.
Ken: What other bands are you into?
Dickie: I’m very into rhythm ‘n blues, people like Long John Baldry, and Mighty Sam McClain. I like obscure stuff.
I really love Screaming Jay Hawkins! I love him because he keeps the humor in music. The subject matter of some of the (current) stuff and the intensity in which they do it doesn’t have anything to do with music for me. I like Screaming Jay Hawkins because when I listen to him, it makes me laugh, and it still stays very personal. I listen to a lot of country music. I listen to a lot of blues.
Ken: Is there a connection between what you listen to and what you play?
Dickie: I don’t listen to music with the idea that it’s what I’m going to play. Above and beyond all, I try to play like nobody else. I don’t try to do what somebody else has already done. Okay, we did “Summertime Blues,” but nobody did it like we did! I know guys who pick out riffs from songs to write other songs around and I don’t do this, because I don’t want to have other music influence what I write. I want it to come out of us just as it is, good or bad.
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but I listen as a listener. I don’t listen to songs as a player. It’s too depressing. I hear guys that play much better than me and I want to go home and burn my bass!
Ken: Don’t say that!
Dickie: He-he! It was an expression of appreciation. Some of it is totally opposite of the kind of bass I play. I came from an old school of bass playing. I’m still part of the rhythm section.
Muddy Waters once told me, as a bass player, “Don’t play any more than you have to. All you’ll do is get in people’s way.” And this is really true. I found this out playing with guitar players over the years. Just play what you need to play to make that guitar player sound good. That’s my job.
In many ways the bassist and drummer are the canvas and the guitar and voice are the paint. If you have a really good rhythm section and the bass and drums are really cooking together, that guitarist can do anything he wants, as long as he stays in key. Behind every good guitar player is a great rhythm section.
Ken: Absolutely! Even Jimi Hendrix. The Experience were a great bunch of people to back him up.
Dickie: And so was Band of Gypsies! He knew the value of that. That’s the whole value and principle behind the trio. People keep trying to say that we’re heavy metal or grunge or punk, or we’re this or that. The reality is, we’re just a power trio, and we play ultra blues, and it’s rock ‘n roll. It’s really simple what we do.
Ken: Anything else you’d like to add?
Dickie: To all the 1%’ers (Blue Cheer fans), our deepest thanks! We’re coming to you as fast as we can.

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