New! Improved! Blue Cheer
01. When It All Gets Old 2:51
02. West Coast Child Of Sunshine 2:35
03. I Want My Body Back 3:12
04. Aces 'N' Eights 2:43
05. As Long As I Live 2:18
06. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry 3:13
07. Peace Of Mind 7:17
08. Fruit & Iceburgs 6:05
09. Honey Butter Lover 1:21
Dickie Peterson – bass guitar, vocals
Paul Whaley – drums
Bruce Stephens – guitar (tracks 1–6)
Ralph Burns Kellogg – keyboards (tracks 1–6)
Randy Holden – guitar (tracks 7–9)
New! Improved! is the third album by Blue Cheer, first released in March 1969 on Philips Records. It was re-released in 1994 by Repertoire with two bonus tracks, in 1999 by Italian indie label Akarma Records and in 2007 in Japan within a mini-LP sleeve. The album features Randy Holden on guitar on side B (tracks 7-9). This is the only studio recording of Holden with Blue Cheer.
Like a musical tsunami swallowing everything in sight, San Francisco’s Blue Cheer submerged all of those happy-go-lucky denizens of the Age of Aquarius with the chaotic soundwaves, howling feedback and sheer deafening volume produced by their seismic 1968 debut album, ‘Vincebus Eruptum.’
But after extensive touring and recording their sophomore album, ‘OutsideInside,’ founding guitarist Leigh Stephens abruptly quit. His bandmates, Dickie Peterson and Paul Whaley, responded by hiring not only a six-string replacement in Bruce Stephens (no relation) but a full-time keyboardist in Ralph Burns Kellogg.
As a result, the first half of the retooled band’s third album, ’New! Improved! Blue Cheer,’ which was released in March 1969, bore little resemblance to the eardrum-rupturing, amplifier melting power trio of old. Although astonishingly civilized new offerings like ‘When it All Gets Old’ (featuring Latin percussion), ‘As Long as I Live’ (swerving into country-rock) and ‘I Want My Baby Back’ (which anticipated the Allman Brothers Band’s southern rock) were anything but subpar, they were nonetheless unrepresentative of previous sonic holocausts.
In fact, far more confusing than these unexpected musical developments was the fact that the second half of ‘New! Improved! Blue Cheer’ dispensed with both Stephens and Kellogg so that Peterson and Whaley could renew their power trio formation — now with the help of another guitar wizard named Randy Holden (formerly of the Other Half). This arrangement still didn’t entail a return to more familiar, bruising form on the leisurely tripped out ‘Peace of Mind,’ but they came close on the heavy and foreboding ‘Fruits & Icebergs.’
Sadly, most fans did not know what to make out of so much musical experimentation and Holden’s passage through Blue Cheer would also prove frustratingly brief. After touring in support of ‘New! Improved! Blue Cheer’ he moved on to record his cult masterpiece, ‘Population II,’ with the help of drummer/keyboard player Chris Lockheed, leaving Peterson and Whaley in a lurch, once again.
Seemingly, the duo’s best recourse was to bring back Kellogg, find yet another six-string replacement (first Tom Weisser, then a returning Bruce Stephens) and attempt to carry on. But their persistent lineup instabilities and increasingly unfocused musical direction did the Blue Cheer brand no favors, and, by 1972, the band had officially disintegrated (though future reunions would follow).
Still, for all its musical inconsistencies and almost unprecedented “tale of two halves” recording scenario, ‘New! Improved! Blue Cheer’ at least managed to deliver some ingredients of the gale-force proto-metal originally conjured up by this influential rock combo.
Guitarist Leigh Stephens quit Blue Cheer after touring in support of their second album, Outsideinside, but he may have been amused by the fact it took three men to replace him when the band cut their next LP. There are two different and distinct bands at work on New! Improved! Blue Cheer; on the album's first six tunes, founding members Dickie Peterson (bass and vocals) and Paul Whaley (drums) are joined by Bruce Stephens on guitar and Ralph Burns Kellogg on keyboards, and this lineup bears little musical resemblance to the wildly over-amped power trio that cut Vincebus Eruptum less than two years before. This new edition of Blue Cheer was still strongly influenced by the blues, but the raw physical impact of the band had been significantly buffered, and Bruce Stephens' rootsy guitar work was in a completely different league from the old band's bone-crushing onslaught. The gentle country-rock of "As Long as I Live" and the dynamic, percussive boogie of "When It All Gets Old" would have been inconceivable coming from Blue Cheer Mk. One, and while the notion of comparing them brings to mind that old cliché about apples and oranges, Peterson's vocals do reveal a lot more nuance on these recordings, and Whaley's more tightly controlled drumming gives the band a lean groove they didn't have before. On side two, Blue Cheer return to power trio format with Randy Holden (formerly of the Other Half) on guitar, and while his style is also considerably different from Leigh Stephens', his fondness for overwhelming volume and fierce, extended solos makes his contributions feel a lot more like the group's formative work; Peterson and Whaley also sound a lot more like their old selves here, calling up a thunderous report to match Holden's thick but graceful leads, and if Blue Cheer are a more subtle and artful band with Holden on guitar, his contributions suggest an evolution from the towering proto-metal of Vincebus Eruptum and Outsideinside, rather than the dramatic stylistic departure of the album's first half. Unfortunately, the possibilities suggested by Holden's material went unrealized when he quit the band shortly after making New! Improved! Blue Cheer; with him they might have made another album that, unlike this mixed bag, would have lived up to the boast of the title.