Dickie Peterson is the 59-year-old bass player for Blue Cheer, the late '60s, proto-metal band that pre-dated Sabbath and out-sludged Zeppelin. These days, though, he talks like a 20-something kid amazed by his band's newfound popularity.
Doors aren't even open during a sound check at the Magic Stick in Detroit, and Peterson's already distracted by one well-wisher after another. They all want to shake his hand or tell him a brief anecdote of how his band relates to their life.
Peterson's bandmate Duck McDonald has passed him a cell phone to talk about where Blue Cheer has been-and how their "return" has been so surprising.
"Man, it was not like this last time we went out on tour," Peterson chuckles. "We toured last, oh, sometime in the late-'80s, and I swear to you, seemed like the world couldn't have cared less."
Blue Cheer's 1968 cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" pierced the top 40 briefly, but their fuzzed-out, menacing stoner-rock was just way too heavy and ahead of its time. Until bands like The Stooges, MC5 and Black Sabbath tore the nation's earlobes apart a few years later, Blue Cheer was truly an anomaly, shunned by the taste-making machinery of pop radio for decades to follow.
But something changed when the band started playing out again in February of this year: the gigs sold out fast-and lines of fans poured seemingly out of nowhere to welcome them as heroes. Where in the hell these folks were before, Peterson apparently refuses to wonder aloud.
"Every night I do what I guess other bands call the PR part of the night," he explains. "But it's not work for me to meet these lines of people now; I'm signing basses and guitars for these guys. I mean, guys half my age, if that...."
The alt-rock revolution of the '90s may have laid the groundwork for Blue Cheer's current buzz. Add the dirty, retro-Delta minimalism of The White Stripes and another wave of Nuggets-era nods to garage rock, and maybe it's not all that surprising that the band's finally gotten its due.
"I have had more people tell me in the last few days that they brought their kid to hear us," Peterson gruffly drawls, his voice hoarse but his tone giddy. "They say things like, "Because of you, I started a band,' or "I decided I wanted to play the bass.'"
Peterson says it's amazing to see others react to him the way he reacted to his own heroes back in the day-like the time his manager had to practically shove him in front of Muddy Waters backstage.
"I'm standing there just intimidated as hell," Peterson recalls. "And Muddy says, "Whatchu want?' And I say, "Advice?'" Muddy had just one thing to tell him: "Play the gaps, and don't run all up and down on over your leads, man-they'll never give you no more work if you walk all over the guitarists, man."
Peterson says that advice stuck with him. As he tells one gushing-fan story after another, it's tempting to make a karmic connection between that humility and the amazing grace bestowed so belatedly upon his band.
"One guy surprised the hell out of me, man," Peterson confesses in a hushed, half-whisper. "He said he just wanted to thank me for writing songs that actually mean something, instead of just trying to sound cool or be outrageous. He told me that it's rare that music means that much to him, but our songs do.
"Man, he couldn't have given me a higher compliment than that."
Blue Cheer play with Goblin Cock, Earthless and Heathen Kings of Olde at The Casbah on July 21. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $15. 619-232-HELL.