COPPERHEAD – ” Copperhead “

Posted: April 1, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Copperhead was a band organized by guitarist John Cipollina after he left Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1970. Cipollina, who had been a member of Quicksilver since its formation and whose lead guitar playing was its signature sound, had grown increasingly dissatisfied after the return of band founder Dino Valenti from a prison term, when the group grew larger and he found he had less space to play. He had also grown increasingly interested in playing sessions, which the band discouraged. The early days of Copperhead were casual, with the group consisting of a loose aggregation of people playing gigs with Cipollina. Eventually it coalesced into a quartet consisting of Cipolliana on lead guitar; Gary Philippet on vocals, second guitar, and organ; Jim McPherson on vocals, bass, and piano; and David Weber on drums. The group was initially signed to the Just Sunshine label run by Michael Lang, one of the organizers of Woodstock.

Cipollina had a unique guitar sound, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. He is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco psychedelic rock sound.

But in 1972 it was signed to a major-label record deal by Clive Davis at Columbia and recorded its debut album, Copperhead, released in the spring of 1973. Unfortunately, Davis was fired from Columbia shortly after the album’s release, an action that doomed any developing band that had been signed under his aegis. The album went nowhere, and when Columbia refused to release their second album, Copperhead folded. Cipollina went on to play in many different bands before dying in 1989. 

Cipollina formed the band Copperhead with early Quicksilver member Jim Murray (musician) (who was soon to leave for Maui, Hawaii), former Stained Glass member Jim McPherson, drummer David Weber, Gary Phillipet (AKA Gary Phillips (keyboardist), later a member of Bay Area bands Earthquake and The Greg Kihn Band), and Pete Sears. Sears was shortly thereafter replaced by current Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson who played on the Copperhead LP and stayed with the band for its duration. Sears went on to play with the original Jefferson Starship and later Hot Tuna. During the 80s Cipollina performed with a number of configurations, including Fish & Chips, with Barry Melton, Thunder and Lightning, with Nick Gravenites, the Dinosaurs, and Problem Child. He was a founding member of Zero and its rhythm guitarist until his death. Most often these bands played club gigs, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Cipollina remained well-known to aficionados as among the great psychedelic guitarists. His style influenced many upcoming younger players, including Trey Anastasio of Phish.

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