On the stony path that leads from ’60s garage rock to the apocalyptic sounds unleashed by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin at the dawn of the ’70s, there’s a void where Blue Cheer’s Randy Holden’s pavestone ought to lie. And though he’s contributed much to the development of heavy guitar music, his many brushes with success span from baffling to devastating.
By 1968, Holden had already supported the Rolling Stones with The Fender IV, played in bands with members of Buffalo Springfield, and nearly joined the Yardbirds—and yet, he is best known for his just-shy-of-a year-tenure with heavy metal pioneers Blue Cheer. If only they made their collaboration last a bit longer, the age-old arguments about who invented heavy metal would be soundly settled.
“I was right,“ he says over the phone. “[Heavy Metal] was gonna be big. And I felt like, damn, I got short changed here because I invented that. I should not be broke!"
Holden was making a living as a teen musician while the Beatles were still cutting their teeth in Hamburg. In the early ’60s, he instinctively strung his guitar with heavy gauge strings and tuned down a whole step. (The man usually credited for this innovation—Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi—didn’t start recording in drop tunings until 1971.) In 1969, at the peak of Holden’s original career, he was using a backline array of sixteen 200-watt Sunn amplifiers long before bands like Manowar, Sunn O))), and Jucifer became famous for their own ridiculous speaker walls.