Parchman Farm

Mining San Francisco's psych-rock past to forge a bright new future

A Bud draft will cost you six fucking dollars at Conversations, the thoroughly unspectacular cocktail lounge tucked inside the Holiday Inn on Eighth Street between Market and Mission, not that this is an article on San Fran's hotel-bar scene or anything. I'm simply killing time and sipping suds before I call up this affable little skater dude, Eric Shea, and ask for directions to his band's rehearsal space, which is supposedly buried inside some cavernous South of Market warehouse by the name of Rocker Rehearsal.

Shea, who is quite soft-spoken when his lips aren't pressed to the head of a microphone, is the gruff soul-shouter for one of this city's better hard rock outfits, the 2-year-old quartet Parchman Farm -- a name taken from a blues tune penned by pianist Mose Allison in 1957 but made famous (for hard rockers, that is) when the San Francisco psych-rock power trio Blue Cheer recorded an explosive proto-metal version for its canonic 1968 debut, Vincebus Eruptum.

Apparently, Parchman Farm's compact yet potent live show (which I have yet to catch, but that is about to change) is totally fun, totally killer, and chock-full of churning, classic-flavored rock riffage. Lucky for me, three nights earlier -- when I was hanging out and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm with the band over at the pad of guitarist Allyson Baker -- the members agreed that I could stop by their "gross" practice space and watch them run through their live set, which is where I'm heading now, as soon as I figure out where it is.

"Parchman Farm, they are a great bunch of kids, just great," the ragged voice of Dickie Peterson gushes over the telephone. For the uninitiated and those of you too fried to remember, Peterson is the bassist and vocalist for that band I was just telling you about, Blue Cheer, a thunderously loud band that -- without question -- has influenced nearly every single punk, metal, grunge, and hard rock act to kick out the jams since '69. If you are stillin the dark, Blue Cheer is the group that released that feedback-soaked version of "Summertime Blues" in 1968, which is generally considered the birth of heavy metal and which was featured on those mid-'80s Freedom Rock commercials wherein two stoner dudes dressed as hippies played air guitar in front of a VW bus and explained just how indispensable this two-record set was to the "real" rock fan.

Peterson knows Parchman Farm because back in February, as the finale to a reportedly kick-ass gig at Café Du Nord, they jammed together. Actually, let me rephrase that. After Parchman Farm finished its regular set, Peterson, with four-string in hand, climbed onstage to replace Shea and bassist Carson Binx. With just Baker on six-string and the gangly Chris LaBreche pounding his skins, this one-off power trio -- encompassing a 37-year history of chunky riffage and bludgeoning rhythms -- descended into a Blue Cheer chestnut, the relentless psych-blues jam "Babylon."

"Our mutual friend Royce Seader said there is this band out of San Francisco that I gotta hear called Parchman Farm," Peterson explains from where he now resides, on a winery in Cloverdale, Calif. "He hooked us up. I came up for the last song, which was really special because that was the first time I was on a San Francisco stage in 13 years. After the song, I said, 'You guys were on top of that song. You didn't let me down.'"

"After the gig was set up, he first came to our practice space so we could work something out," Baker explains a few days earlier at a generic sports bar on Valencia Street, excitement emanating from her large glass-marble eyes. "He came into our grosspractice space. We were all freaked out."

"Then he lit up a really big joint. We all got really high except for Allyson. She doesn't drink or smoke," Shea cuts in smoothly, picking up the story like the lifelong Californian he is. "So, he asks us, 'What do you want to play?' We were like, 'Babylon.'"

"I got to hang out and watch them play," Binx confesses with a mixture of humor and melancholy. Of the four, Binx most fits the image of the archetypal rocker, having formerly blown the saxophone for garage-soul outfit the Deadly Snakes.

"Yeah, Binx and I really didn't do anything," Shea says. His relaxed voice reveals the irony of the situation.

"I will tell you what happened. It was really intense," Baker, with a beaming smile, pipes up, letting me know that this was her moment. Baker's personality throughout the interview gives me the impression that it's her gravity the other musicians orbit around. Her mannerisms are fueled by an anxious, buzzing energy, whereas the dudes are pretty laid-back characters. "So, we start playing the song and I am supernervous, and I'm just playing it cool. But there is this poster of Blue Cheer up on our wall. I was trying to get the band to take it down before Dickie arrived because it seemed lame, but we didn't. So, I'm playing, and I look over and see this poster and it all clicked: Chris and I are really standing in for the original members of Blue Cheer."

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