Blue Cheer's Leigh Stephens

Article excerpt

WHEN IT COMES TO RAW DISTORTION, LEIGH Stephens' visceral power chords and vibrato-inflected solo lines on Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum in 1968 took the proverbial cake--and then smashed it against the wall. Featuring the band's now-classic cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," that album--along with the follow-up Outsideinside--opened, in Stephens' words, "the door for heavy metal rock music." The guitarist coerced his tortured tones from a stock Gibson SG, three 100-watt Marshall stacks, and "a Fuzz Face with the distortion turned to zero, and used just for drive." The only other effects he used during that period were a wah pedal and an Echoplex.

According to Stephens, he was asked to leave Blue Cheer in 1969 by bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson and drummer Paul Whaley because he "was the only one in the band who was not chemically challenged." Almost immediately, Stephens relocated to England, where he recorded with artists such as drummer Mickey Waller and pianist Nicky Hopkins, and released two solo albums, 1969's Red Weather and 1971's And a Cast of Thousands. Stephens was even briefly signed to Motown in 1974, and recorded several tracks for a proposed album entitled Foxtrot, which was abandoned by the label before completion. The guitarist continued to work with various artists and record (mostly demos) throughout the '70s and '80s, and, in 1998, he released Ride the Thunder as a member of the band Chronic With a "K."

Blue Cheer briefly reformed to play the Chet Helms Tribal Stomp memorial in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on October 30, 2005. …