QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE – ” Happy Trails ” Classic Albums Released 17th March 1969

Posted: January 28, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Quicksilver Messenger Service Follow The ‘Happy Trails’

This was the day 49 years ago that San Francisco rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service unveiled their finest hour, at least in commercial terms. March 17th, 1969 marked the release of ‘Happy Trails,’ their second album for Capitol Records and their one LP to win gold certification in America. When it comes to groups graced with two lead guitarists, one often earns more ardor than the other. Sometimes that’s understandable, like when one player takes more of the solos. But in a case like Quicksilver Messenger Service, it’s a mystery. In their heyday, John Cipollina tended to get more attention than Gary Duncan, though they both made dazzling contributions to their albums and concerts.

Cipollina’s distinctly ringing tremolo, a kind of sonic special effect that achieved a shivery resonance on the highest notes. In fact, Duncan has his own distinct tone and his overall work showed nearly as much invention and scope as his partner’s. You can hear their interplay best in the band’s oceanic jams,

Quite unusually for a sophomore record, ‘Happy Trails’ was a live album, taken from performances by the band at the famed Fillmore East and Fillmore West venues. Even more ambitiously, the first side of the disc was a suite of songs, running more than 25 minutes in total, based around the theme of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’, in no fewer than six episodic interpretations. Quicksilver’s version divided into seven sections, with different sub-titles. One dubbed When You Love, featured a long, and highly creative, five-minute jaunt from Duncan that drew from jazz as well as psychedelia, underscored by a Latin-influenced bass line. It’s forceful and ruminative at once. Cipollina took the reins during the How You Love segment, letting his chilling tremolo spin through loop-de-loops, broken by distinct cries phased to shoot back and forth between the speakers.

The first and last of these were versions of the song itself, with notable roles for the band’s guitarists John Cipollina and Gary Duncan. The first even nudged into the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 91. But the middle passages were all written by the members of QMS themselves, titled (with a hint of humour) ‘When You Love, ‘Where You Love,’ ‘How You Love’ and ‘Which Do You Love.’

Quicksilver goes into it at full speed,” wrote Greil Marcus in his Rolling Stone review at the time, “John Cipollina’s guitar alternately harsh and sweet, clashing with Gary Duncan’s rhythm, Greg Elmore’s drumming simple and solid, never an iota of sloppiness, not a note missed.”

Who do you love and Mona are excellent examples of QMS live , the audience interaction is exciting and enervating, Cipollina’s guitar playing is ecstatic and moving. Calvary is like a psychedelic spaghetti western and is quite in place and a good ol’ boys yippee ay yay ending in Happy Trails means a great trip is guaranteed for all you heads out there

This is simply the San Francisco live,’acid rock’, sound at its best. Obviously comparisons with the Dead will be made but for reasons well expressed by the other reviewers here they are pretty meaningless. I can understand why opinions are divided over this album, It is one of the great, maybe the greatest, guitar album(s) flowing in a way that no other has ever equalled. Don’t look for structured songs here just, to quote the Airplane,”ride the music”. One of the two or three albums that would be in my top ten whenever you asked me.

The second side of ‘Happy Trails’ started with another gem from the Bo Diddley catalogue, ‘Mona,’ and three more band compositions including Duncan’s 13-minute instrumental ‘Calvary.’

The album artwork was designed by Globe Propaganda, described as “an advertising agency specializing in hip, progressive material.” Soon afterwards, Globe designed covers for the Charlatans and It’s A Beautiful Day. 23 years after its release, in 1992, ‘Happy Trails’ went gold, testament to the lasting contribution of Quicksilver Messenger Service as was the fact that it landed at No. 189 on Rolling Stone’s all-time top 500 albums.

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