Blue Cheer's Paul Whaley's Last Thunderous Beat
by John Diliberto 1/31/2019
Paul Gene Whaley (January 14, 1947 – January 28, 2019)
In 1968, there was no one heavier in music than Jimi Hendrix. No one heavier, that is, except Blue Cheer. I’m not saying they were better, but in the wake of Hendrix’s first two albums, they created a sound that laid the blueprint for Heavy Metal. And now one of the members of that original trio, drummer Paul Whaley, has left the planet.
Whaley was the overdrive engine of this band, rocketing them through a darker and heavier version of psychedelia. “Blue Cheer” was their favorite brand of LSD. Guitarist Leigh Stephens, the only surviving original member, laced his feedback-screaming solos to Whaley’s pounding drums. And I mean pounding. He used to wear golfing gloves because his hands were bleeding after every show. Great drummers will say you don’t have to hit ‘em that hard, but he did. And he had to, because Stephens and bassist Dickie Peterson played in front of a wall of Marshall amplifiers whose bludgeoning volume would probably be much more effective at the southern border than any wall President Trump might devise.
Whaley’s dad was a country and western singer, Paul Edward Whaley. His son could not have come up with a more rebellious sound, driving through psychedelic vortexes of “Doctor Please” and Bukka White’s via Mose Allison’s “Parchment Farm” (a miss-spelling by Blue Cheer, of “Parchman Farm.”) I can still sing every feedback note of those rave-up instrumental odysseys.I think Blue Cheer was underrated in their prime. They weren’t as sophisticated as other power trios, like The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, but they had a visceral sound that would send you joyously into the abyss. I didn’t do any drugs in the late-sixties, but Blue Cheer always took me on a trip. Their version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” along with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” were the metal-drenched outliers of Top 40 radio in 1968.
I stopped listening to Blue Cheer after their second album, Outsideinside. Guitarist Leigh Stephens, who provided their signature sound, left the band over supposed musical differences and I can believe that, because Blue Cheer went into a much more mainstream rock direction after that. Paul Whaley, however, was the drummer for most of their run. Dickie Peterson, who also sang lead and wrote or co-wrote their best known songs, died in 2009.
On the back of the silver and textured cover of Vincebus Eruptum, a faux-Latin phrase that Google translates as “Blue Cheer,” acid guru Augustus Owsley Stanley III wrote a poem.
Paul Whaley, who died of heart failure at the age of 72, is now drumming to the eternal Om.