just a quick reminder that a black man invented heavy metal
(since it’s the last day of Black History Month and all)
There are those who will tell you that metal was born with Vincebus Eruptum,
the 1968 debut album from San Francisco’s Blue Cheer. This is a
favorite position of music snobs because the odds that you’ve actually
heard Vincebus Eruptum are reasonably low, and thus so is the likelihood that you will challenge them on it.
It’s bullshit. Blue Cheer was nothing more than routine mid/late ‘60’s psychedelic rock, played–badly–at
high volume, with as much distortion as was available at the time. One
could almost argue that they gave birth to punk rock, if the attitude weren’t completely wrong, but metal, it is not.
Metal was first forged later that year in the form of “Voodoo
Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix. All the elements are present.
Thunderous riffs, screaming solos, vaguely occult subject matter, driven
by an unstoppable Juggernaut of a groove. But the primary reason I give
this song the nod is the guitar sound. Razor sharp on the high end,
heavy enough to crush bone on the low. Hendrix was not the first to use
distortion, but before him, it all sounded thin and frayed, like playing
through a ragged-out speaker (in fact, slicing up the speaker cone in
the amplifier was how distortion was achieved before the proliferation
of effects pedals). Hendrix was the first to make it sound solid, and with this song, he gave us the first instance of a true metal guitar tone. Before him, nobody had any idea you could get that kind of noise out of a guitar.
images: Moebius (top) and Bill Sienkiewicz (bottom)