Before there was Black Sabbath, there was Blue Cheer, a San Francisco band that helped pave the way for metal with its heavy psychedelic blues-rock sound. Sadly, the band’s classic and longtime drummer, Paul Whaley, passed away Monday at the age of 72.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the cause of death was heart failure, according to Eric Albronda, who once co-managed the band and briefly played drums for Blue Cheer prior to Whaley.
Whaley was a member of Blue Cheer during their formidable years of 1967 through 1969, then again in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, until the band ended with the death of vocalist Dickie Peterson in 2009.
Blue Cheer’s debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, came out in 1968, and contained a heavy blues-rock sound highlighted by a hit cover of “Summertime Blues”, a proto-metal track powered by Whaley’s thunderous drumming. Whaley would play on the band’s next two albums, 1968’s OutsideInside and 1969’s New! Improved!, before leaving the group prior to their fourth disc, a self-titled effort also released in 1969.
The drummer rejoined the band for their 1984 reunion album The Beast Is Back, leaving again shortly thereafter, only to rejoin them for their last three albums, 1990’s Highlights and Lowlives, 1991’s Dining With Sharks, 2007’s What Doesn’t Kill You, the last of which he only played on half the tracks.
In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2012, Eric Clapton was asked whether he thought his band Cream were the fathers of heavy metal, to which he replied, “There was a band called Blue Cheer, who I think were probably the originators of heavy metal because they didn’t really have traditional roots in the blues. They didn’t have a mission. It was just about being loud.”
Whaley was living in Regensburg, Germany, at the time of his death. He is survived by his longtime partner, Elke Kandlbinder, and his daughter, Jana Indiana. Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and bandmates during this difficult time.