Posts Tagged ‘Quicksilver Messenger Service’

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David Crosby’s now classic debut solo album “If I Could Only Remember My Name” featured members of CSN&Y, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana on the illustrious guest list. If I Could Only Remember My Name was regarded as one of the best sounding albums of the early 70s but this is some of the coolest Crosby you’ll ever hear.

What is Perro Sessions? : The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra is a nickname given to artists who recorded together in the early 1970s. They were predominantly members of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Their first album recorded together was “Blows Against the Empire”, when they were known as Jefferson Starship. The name changed to Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra for the next album, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

During the sessions for Crosby’s album at Wally Heider Studios, the musicians of each band were invited to the sessions and rehearsed hours of material, and everything was recorded. Material played during these recorded sessions in 1971 was used for Crosby’s album (the “Perro Chorus” is credited on the song, “What Are Their Names”) and several other solo albums after Crosby’s . The name Jefferson Starship was later used for Paul Kantner and Grace Slick’s new band formed in 1974. Paul Kantner recorded a solo album in 1983 as a tribute to this time, Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.

The material on the Perro tapes was very interesting, but had nothing to do with CSNY. There were 4 reels of 2 track mixes made in 1971 during the sessions (obviously there is more that has never been mixed). The tapes were put into storage in Nash’s vault. Paul called Nash in 1992 and requested DATs of those tapes. This was the first time they had been outside of the CSNY organization. They were copied at A&M Post Production audio and my personal DAT was made at that time. The roots of Perro go back a lot further than 1971. 1 guess it had its inception in the early years of the ’60s (prior to the Airplane, the Byrds et al) when Kantner, Crosby and Freiberg used to hang out, play music, get high and rap together around Venice Beach. That was the initial bond, the start of it all.

The “PERRO Chorus” is credited on Crosby’s song, “What Are Their Names” and several other solo albums after Crosby’s. The name Jefferson Starship was later used for Paul Kantner and Grace Slick’s new band formed in 1974. Paul Kantner recorded a solo album in 1983 as a tribute to this time, Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.

Later, when they were in bands of their own, there were occasional points of interaction – like Garcia sitting in on the ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ sessions, like Crosby giving “Triad” to the Airplane when he couldn’t get the Byrds to record it, like Kantner, Crosby and Stills writing “Wooden Ships”.

Then, as the ’60s drew to a close, two sets of circumstances combined to bring the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Dream a whole lot nearer. One was the opening of Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco – because now the local SF musicians (Airplane, Quicksilver, Dead) had a place on their doorstep where they could record. This gave item freedom from the corporate studios to record and produce as they saw fit, to come and go more as they pleased and to invite the musical neighbourhood in if they chose. (It hadn’t been so easy when they were holed up at RCA’s or Warner’s studios in Hollywood.) The other catalyst was the state of flux that a lot of bands were falling into by 1969/1970, for Crosby had left the Byrds, the Airplane was a less cohesive force with Dryden out and Hot Tuna splitting off, and Dino Valenti’s arrival had unsettled QMS.

Things had come pretty much full circle by the end of the decade. Kantner was again hanging out with Crosby (quite often on the latter’s yacht) and with David Freiberg – and, when Paul came to assemble musicians to record ‘Blows Against The Empire’, it wasn’t just to his Airplane cohorts that he turned but also to Crosby and Garcia and even Graham Nash – who’d just bought a house in Frisco and ended up producing the whole second side of the ‘Blows…’ album at Heider’s studio. ‘Blows…” was the first album by that collection of musicians whom Paul liked to term the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra.

The fact that he billed the album as being by Jefferson Starship shouldn’t mislead anyone. Kantner, Crosby, Slick, Freiberg, Nash, Garcia, Kaukonen, Lesh, Casady, Kreutzmann, Hart – these people were the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra, supporting each other on key projects.

Blows Against The Empire

As Grace recalls, “These sessions were like ‘Uh, do you wanna play guitar on this one?’ ‘No, man, I have to go to the bathroom.’ ‘Okay, David, you wanna play?’ ‘Sure’. Whoever felt like doing something did it. Parts interchanged, people interchanged.”

Graham Nash says “They asked me my opinion and I just jumped right in. Grace, Paul, David – they let me do whatever I heard. I was searching for this kind of environment when I came to America and when I was mixing in the studio our imaginations were running rampant. We were creating virtual kingdoms with music.”
The second such PERRO project was David Crosby’s debut solo album, ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, which features all of the above-mentioned Planet Earthers plus the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Greg Rolie and Mike Shrieve from the band Santana.

They come from sessions at Wally Heider’s San Francisco studios in 1971. Crosby had sailed his boat up to Sausalito harbour. Nash was resident in the Haight. Kantner and Slick had moved out to Bolinas and the Dead were in Mill Valley but they would all head for Wally’s of an evening to work on PERRO songs. Some of these things ended up on Crosby’s solo, a couple on Garcia’s solo, one on Grace’s album, one on Paul’s 1983 ‘Planet Earth...’ album – and some have never seen the light of day, in which case we’ve had to guess at what they might be title.

“Walkin’ In The Mountains” (1′ 47n): A Crosby composition featuring typically attractive chordings, but little in the way of finished lyrics. “All the words we got so far are just ideas of places we’d like to go,- he tells Garcia at the start of this…

> “I went walkin’ out last summer> Tryin’ to find a breath of air.> I went walkin’ in the mountains> A friend had told me I’d find you there”

comprises just about all the words he has, but the feel is so airy and open you can almost smell that mountain air. The sequence makes a surprise reappearance later in the tape, as an intro to version four of ‘The Mountain Song’.

Barncard: Two of the versions are actually the same performance, the second remixed a little better.

Is It Really Monday?” (4′ 55″): Crosby again, and this one begins with his acoustic guitar and the composer scat-singing the abstruse melody. When the lyrics arrive, he asks:

> “Is it really Monday? > I must have been here before. > Is it really Monday? > I think the walls begin to speak.”

The tempo is very slow, in a country blues vein and Garcia adds some restrained picking. The lugubrious bass sounds like that of Phil Lesh.

“Under Anesthesia” (5′ 14″): The timing includes a false start of about 45 seconds, after which Crosby calls a halt and announces ‘No, that’s not it. Started too slow, it’s outta time and I didn’t get the right words!” When he does, it’s another hugely impressive song, the lyrical angle of which is to bemoan the inertia of the common man – who is portrayed as stupefied by beer and TV. At the conclusion, Crosby launches into a brief sequence on guitar and comments ‘I thought I’d try something original…if I write another song in E Minor, man, I’m gonna get fired!’

*This song is actually called “You Sit There”

“Loser” (8′ 41″): The timing includes several restarts and Jerry explaining – and indeed demonstrating – the chord progression to his colleagues, who could well be Crosby, Lesh and Papa John*. There’s certainly a violin in here and it works especially well, counterpointing the three guitars most effectively. *Papa John never hung out in PERRO sessions. Possibily David Freiberg on viola.

It’s obviously an early run through the song as Jerry doesn’t have much more than the first verse written. The second crack has more audible vocals, but Garcia still resorts to “da da das” from the second verse on. The bridge is there, at least intact musically, even if the only line Jerry seems sure about is the closing “Don’t let that deal go down” The genesis of a great song.

If I Could Only Remember My Name

“Over Jordan” (3′ 30″): Another Crosby song, replete with a beautiful structure, but short on completed lyrics. It begins with David’s rippling acoustic guitar which is soon joined by that of Garcia for some impressive picking.

> “I’m only going over Jordan, > Just a-goin” to my home”

sings Crosby, but after a couple of minutes he declares that he’s forgotten the changes, so restarts the performance at the bridge. This is a delightful half-song which the composer should really have completed and recorded at some stage. *Also called “Wayfaring Stranger”

“The Mountain Song – 1″ (5′ 11″): This is the first of several attempts at what would eventually become a slice of classic Airmachine. However, at this stage, the only fragment of the song they had to work with was the line “Gonna make the mountains be my home” and the chord-sequence that supported it, so it’s quite amazing that from such a meager base Kantner, Slick, Crosby and Garcia (possibly with Casady and Hart) are able to conjure 23 minutes of undulating beauty. There’s a banjo featured prominently, plus two acoustic guitars and Grace’s distinctive piano. The banjo is Paul K.& the touches are so accomplished, it’s Kantner on the five- string with Garcia and Crosby on guitars. Surprisingly, there’s no trace of Paul’s vocal – though the other three take care of that handsomely enough.

Early on, it’s Jerry singing the line in orthodox fashion, while Grace embellishes with some improvised lyrics around the theme. Then Crosby takes Grace’s place and scats around Jerry’s vocal for a while. As you’d expect, the playing is loose and slightly tentative on this first version, but no less affecting for all that.

“The Mountain Song – 2″ (5′ 17″): Grace is back providing an improvised descant to Jerry’s straight vocal at the start here, and she’s singing about the sky and the river as he eulogizes the mountains. After a minute or so, Crosby introduces his scat and Grace leaves the chorus to concentrate on her keyboards. Her vocal chords are re-engaged towards the close.

“The Mountain Song – 3″ (3′ 44″): This version begins with Jerry and David singing the line and Grace gliding around them. Briefly, Crosby supersedes her in this role but soon the two of them are improvising around the structure as Jerry perseveres in the middle. At the end of this effort, Paul is heard to remark “It sounds like everybody’s going in and out of time” to which Crosby responds “No, no, no, it’s all working – and it works perfectly.” The listener is strongly inclined to agree with him.

“The Mountain Song – 4″ (8′ 20″): As you’ll see, this is the longest version and undoubtedly the most satisfying of the four. This is where Crosby’s embryonic “Walkin’ In The Mountains” suddenly reemerges and he goes through the verse and various chord sequences as an introduction to “The Mountain Song,” to which it bridges seamlessly and beautifully. It’s a remarkable segue which makes the listener keenly aware of how the song could have developed in a very different direction had Crosby stayed to contribute throughout its evolution. Speculation aside, what we do have is a return to the familiar pattern of banjo, guitars, bass, piano and percussion. Crosby reverts to his scatted counterpoint before it slips into a stunning instrumental section. Herein, the music weaves a genuinely hypnotic spell as it rolls effortlessly along the bed of Paul’s banjo and Grace’s piano, with Garcia picking exquisitely. After several minutes of this, the vocal pattern is re-introduced, now in a more restrained vein against instrumentation which has become subdued, with Grace and the Crosby gently dancing around Jerry to the finale of a wonderful excursion.

A definite high point on this portion of the tape Mountains v. 4 reaches its apex (a phenomenal passage in it’s own right), when the band led by Jerry starts coaxing out a proto version of  Loser and a brief reprise of Deal including a pause to recapitulate the chords.  Then there is a cold cut in the tape and Jerry plainly recounts the chord progression: C-Em-Am-G-Am.  At which point they go into Deal proper.

“Wild Turkey” (4′ 20″)(AKA “Leather Winged Bat”): An interesting improvisation with Jorma and Jack at the controls, this may or may not be an early styling of what became the dynamic duo’s “Bark” instrumental. It certainly starts off that way, with Kaukonen roaring out some aggressive electric noise and Casady on a familiar rumble. But soon it settles into something much gentler, employing a more reflective chord progression. Jorma’s playing rises and falls in a fairly relaxed manner – until the finale, when he stirs it back towards the “Turkey” structure with some more  combative lead guitar. It could well be that Jack and Jorma decided the split-mood approach didn’t work and restructured the number as the wholly aggressive strut we encountered on ‘Bark’. Whatever, it’s a nicely balanced piece and a pleasure to hear.

“Jorma & Jerry’s Jam – 1″ (14′ 22″): If the previous outing was a pleasure, this jam is a sensation! As readers will be aware, there’s little recorded evidence of Kaukonen and. Garcia essaying their remarkable skills together, so this is a rare chance to hear the fruits of one such collaboration. Backed up by the supple bass of Jack Casady plus solid percussion (Mickey Hart?), this is a quarter-hour of incisive and responsive musicianship – intuitively structured and beautifully realized. Jorma leads it off on electric guitar, his playing funky and rich in wah-wah, whilst Jerry complements it with a more subdued style. Casady is well mixed and excellent, but it’s Jorma’s sprawling mass of notes which take center stage in this section; hot, handy and winding all over the soundscape in unfettered rampage. Having played a disciplined supporting role for the first half of the jam – his accomplished touches providing the perfect foil to Jorma’s aggression – Jerry assumes control for the second phase. Initially calm after the Kaukonen storm, this movement gradually builds over several minutes into a fabulous jam, delightfully evolved and transfixing the listener as it develops. Jerry’s playing gets less lyrical, more earthy, until it is stylistically much closer to his partner’s earlier contribution. Naturally, Jorma then resumes the lead and steers the ensemble to a nicely judged conclusion. It would be perfectly reasonable to hail this example of superlative sparring as San Francisco jamming at its very finest.

“The Wall Song -1″ (6′ 00″): After a waggish intro from the composer, we’re into a captivating version of a Crosby song which appeared in 1972 on the LP ‘Graham Nash David Crosby.’ On that take, the duo were backed by Garcia, Lesh and Kreutzmann and there’s no reason to suppose that the same trio isn’t in support here. The real distinction between the released version and this is the absence of Nash – though this is more than ably compensated for by the double-tracking of Crosby’s wonderful voice, which provides an imaginative and memorable harmony. But there’s a bonus. Just when listeners familiar with the 1972 record expect the track to finish, there’s a lovely instrumental excursion with Garcia in winning form, shuffling percussion from Bill and a gentle ripple from Lesh. Really, this is so good it eclipses the official release by some distance – and should clearly have been included in the CS&N box of 1991.

“The Wall Song – 2″ (4′ 27″): Again, David is doubly tracked, but this time there’s only his own acoustic guitar in support, and the performance is generally a little lazier than before.

“Eep Hour” (4′ 44″): A very dissimilar reading from the one which appeared on ‘Garcia’ and which had keyboard and pedal steel dominating the sound. This is just the acoustic guitars and bass and has a very Spanish ambiance. Presuming that Jerry isn’t multi-tracked and playing everything himself – as he did on his album – we might take the other participants to be Lesh and either Kantner or Crosby. *Jack Casady plays bass on EEP HOUR

At the close, there’s a whoop of triumph from somebody and what sounds like Kantner’s voice saying ‘everybody just have a little break from their guitar strings!’

“Shuffle” (2′ 20″): Two guitars (one electric), bass and drums glide effortlessly down a four-chord structure for a couple of minutes. The drums shuffle effectively but nothing much happens and the piece sounds more like an intro to something more substantial than an entity in itself.

“Jorma & Jerry’s Jam – 2″ (14′ 29″): This has a slightly longer introduction than its earlier incarnation (i.e. it starts a few seconds before) but is otherwise identical to the first version.

These tapes are a fabulous find, showing as they do the formative stages of some classic songs and hinting at others, notably by Crosby, that could have been among the best things he never recorded.

Personal: David Crosby — guitars, vocals Laura Allan – autoharp, vocal Jack Casady – bass David Freiberg – vocal Jerry Garcia — guitars, pedal steel guitar, vocal Mickey Hart — drums Paul Kantner – vocal Jorma Kaukonen – guitar Bill Kreutzmann — drums, tambourine Phil Lesh — bass, vocal Joni Mitchell – vocals Graham Nash — guitar, vocals Gregg Rolie – piano Michael Shrieve – drums Grace Slick – vocal Neil Young — guitars, bass, vibraphone, congas, vocals

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On August 9th, of 1968, Quicksilver Messenger Service, with Ace of Cups and Congress of Wonders played the first of two weekend shows at the Sound Factory in Sacramento. The art features a photo of what appear to be a winged angel presenting a naked man-soul to God in the mist of the clouds. The photo is somewhat amorphous. I like the combination of black and orange on a silver background. The artist is Tad Hunter, aka San Andreas Fault. I can’t imagine this poster was ever reprinted.

Mention the San Francisco rock scene of the 1960s and most people think of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Company. But, for anyone who either took part in that scene or paid it any heed, a fourth name holds equal sway: Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Quicksilver Messenger Service never achieved the same level of fame as the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane, the definitive San Francisco bands, but their late-decade run is equally distinctive. The most lauded of the band’s three ’60s LPs is 1968’s ‘Happy Trails,’ which draws from heavy guitar jamming (25-minute opener “Who Do You Love Suite”), symphonic-scale psychedelia (“Calvary”) and atmospheric blues (“Mona”).

Like the Dead and the Airplane—and nearly a year before Janis joined her band Quicksilver devised a sound in late 1965 that established the new San Francisco esthetic. Anchored on guitar-driven jams, the San Francisco sound refracted blues, folk, and jazz through the trippy lens of psychedelia.

The abstraction, duration, and explorative nature of the music offered a kaleidoscopic soundtrack to a new culture—one which Quicksilver represented more purely than any band on the scene save The Dead. Quicksilver made instrumental work their raison d’etre. For them, playing was the thing, making them more a live band than a studio-driven one. If that focus gave them spontaneity and rarity, it also helps explain why they ended up the least commercially successful of the top San Francisco bands. They sold far fewer records, and had a much lower media profile than their peers, let alone that of the biggest Bay Area bands. Quicksilver never had a great singer, though they did manage to hire a divisive one, Dino Valenti. To make matters more challenging, they changed their line-up with the speed of their name-sake, losing key members, while gaining new ones who strongly affected their direction.

While all the band members boasted admirable chops, the most prized player had to be guitarist John Cipollina. He got a shivering, quavering sound out of his instrument that was wholly his own. To achieve it, he employed an eccentric arrangement of amplifiers and equipped his Gibson SG with special effects, allowing him to achieve a tremolo as singular as a human timbre. On the low end, he hammered his strings hard while, on the high, he could make them shudder or sting. Better, Cipollina found a powerful foil in Quicksilver’s other axe man, Gary Duncan. Their one-two punch paved the way for all the double lead guitar acts that came in their wake.

‘Quicksilver’

Despite Quicksilver’s instrumental concentration, they also crafted some important studio recordings, including FM staples like their bold cover of Hamilton Camp’s “Pride of Man,” Nicky Hopkins’ piano masterpiece “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder” and Dino Valenti’s political anthem, “What About Me” later covered, to perfection, by Richie Havens. To boot, they scored a pop hit with their stoner-anthem “Fresh Air” and finessed four of their albums into The American Billboard’s Top 30. Though Quicksilver hasn’t had the staying power in the public consciousness that they deserved, they had a strong impact on more progressive rock listeners of the day. And they were hugely respected within the San Francisco underground they helped found.
The group’s genesis began towards the end of 1965 with a casual conversation between Cipollina and Valenti (ne Chet Powers). The latter already had a career as a singer/songwriter on the Greenwich Village folk scene. An early song he wrote, “Get Together” was later recorded by everyone from The Kingston Trio and the Dave Clark Five to San Francisco acts like the Airplane and The Youngbloods, whose 1967 version became a classic.
Unfortunately, one day after Valenti and Cipollina talked about playing together, the singer was busted for marijuana possession, resulting in a two-year jail term. In the meantime, Cipollina started a band with bassist/singer David Freiberg (who previously played in a group with David Crosby and Paul Kantner), and guitarist Skip Spence (who would soon switch to drums and ditch the proto-Quicksilver configuration to join Kantner in the just forming Airplane). As a result, Cipollina and Freiberg hooked up with drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist Gary Duncan, who’d played together in a local group named The Brogues. Rounding out the first incarnation of Quicksilver was Jim Murray as third guitarist and singer.In their five-man incarnation Quicksilver became a regular draw at San Francisco’s hippest new venue, the Avalon Ballroom during 1966. Yet, by the next June, Murray quit, an unfortunate move considering the band had just played the history-making Monterey Pop Festival. (Luckily, Murray’s fleeting time with the group is captured for posterity in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about the storied festival). Monterey energized the major labels to sign nearly anyone in the Bay Area with a guitar, but RCA beat everyone to the punch by inking the Airplane in the year before. By ’67, Warner Brothers signed The Dead and Big Brother made a rotten, though brief, pact with Mainstream Records. Inspired by the excitement at Monterey, Columbia Records swept in to give Janis’ band a far better deal, resulting in her stardom.

That left Quicksilver as the last major SF band to sign a contract, theirs with Capitol Records in 1968. That May, their self-titled debut appeared, by which time the Airplane had already released three albums, including their Top Five smash, ‘Surrealistic Pillow’. Quicksilver’s debut turned out to be a less commercial affair, though they did make some musical concessions. Taking their cue from main vocalist, Freiberg, they leaned towards folk-rock, most effectively in “Pride of Man,” an apocalyptic warning that culminated in an apt shiver on Cipollina’s guitar. Cipollina put his vibrato to even more poignant use in “Light Your Windows,” stitching fine pings around its graceful melody. Though Valenti was incarcerated at the time, he appeared by proxy in a cover of his sashaying piece “Dino’s Song.”

Another notable track, “Gold and Silver” borrowed its composition from Dave Brubeck, without credit. The song’s main riff translated Brubeck’s piano part in “Take 5” to electric guitars. Still, the purest representation of Quicksilver’s axe work came in “The Fool,” a twelve-minute instrumental epic. The guitars at the start imitated the quaver of a sitar, leading to a melody that showed-off Freiberg’s classical background via his august viola work. As the song progressed, the guitarists supported each other and sparred, culminating in a Cipollina solo so pure.

‘Happy Trails’

If “The Fool” captured Quicksilver instrumental focus, the band took that all the way on ‘Happy Trails’,” their second release. This time, jamming ruled, but with a purpose. Though the album cover promised a spontaneous document, “recorded live at the Fillmore East and West,” much of it was actually scripted and overhauled in the studio. That bait-and-switch approach mirrored a similar move by Big Brother on ‘Cheap Thrills’, which likewise claimed, erroneously, to be cut entirely in concert. Regardless, ‘Happy Trails’ nailed the verve of a live Quicksilver show, especially in the 25-minute take on Bo Diddley’s’ “Who Do You Love.” Divided into six parts, this side-long track featured showcases for each guitarist in separate sections, providing the ultimate game of compare and contrast. Duncan demonstrated his approach in a section titled “When You Love,” with a long, jazz-influenced lead as methodical as it was melodic.

For over five minutes, he wove a series of blues licks, jazz lilts, psychedelic filigrees and hard rocking riffs into a fluid story. Meanwhile, the “How You Love” section demonstrated the wilder style of Cipollina. Drawing on the highest end of his tremolo, his guitar sounded like a flock of mad birds cackling in air. Bassist Freiberg’s got his own, jaunty solo stint in “Which Do You Love,” while the “Where You Love” section operated as an abstract center piece, suggesting Quicksilver’s answer to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” Together, “Love” represented as potent an acid-rock document as The Dead’s “Dark Star,” though it never received parallel awe.

For another run at Bo Diddley, the band opened side two with a spacey cover of “Mona,” before moving into two instrumentals blended into a fifteen-minute suite. The first, “Maiden of the Cancer Moon” bounced Duncan’s trenchant fingerings off Cipollina’s cackling cries, while “Calvary” drew on everything from classical music to proto-metal to boleros, cementing a psychedelic classic. While ‘Happy Trails’ sold well, going gold.

‘Shady Grove’

Exhausted by the pressures of impending success, Duncan abruptly quit and, instead of hiring another guitarist to replace him, Quicksilver brought in celebrated piano wiz Nicky Hopkins, fresh from a stint in the Jeff Beck Group. The result radically altered the band’s direction, evidenced by their highly uneven third album, ‘Shady Grove’, which came out in 1969. It drew on more country music and psychedelic-pop, often unconvincingly. Freiberg struggled to sing the oddly conceived songs, leaving the album’s highlights in Cipollina’s all-too-brief guitar parts and Hopkins’ commanding piano. In places, it seemed like Quicksilver had become Hopkins‘ backing band, especially the title track, which was driven by his rippling keyboard, or the nine-minute showcase, “Edward.” A mix of classical, boogie-woogie, and psychedelia, “Edward” stands as one of most exciting, piano-led instrumentals in rock history.

‘Just For Love’

If the jarring shift in style threw some fans, they had to endure another big one in 1970. A newly sprung Valenti was finally free to join the band as frontman, changing their essential dynamic. The wayward Duncan also returned to the fold. Together, the moves definitely had some positive results. They restored the band’s double guitar draw and added a strong songwriter in Valenti, who wrote under the pseudonym Jessie Oris Farrow. At the same time, Valenti proved an eccentric, sometimes irritating, front-man, over-singing in many sections, an effect worsened by the heavy echo they threw around his voice. By all accounts, the sessions for the band’s next two albums, ‘Just for Love’ and ‘What About Me’, couldn’t have been less disciplined, with no firm producer in sight. The albums, both drawn from the same sessions, were released within six months of each other during the latter half of 1970.

But, despite their flaws, they make one very good album together. Stand outs from ‘Just for Love’ included the instrumentals, “Wolf Run,” which featured Valenti’s haunting flute, and “Cobra,” which boasted a fiery run from Cipollina. The album also featured “Fresh Air,” known for its invitation to “take another hit,” a druggy encouragement Quicksilver fans hardly needed.

Besides the killer melody, ”Air” introduced roiling Latin music to the band. Better, it featured stoked solos from both guitarists—a stuttering one from Duncan, and a high-flying one from Cipollina—with an extended piano break from Hopkins as a bridge between. The ‘What About Me’ album boasted its own striking instrumentals—Cipollina’s “Local Color,” which showcased his slide-guitar work for the first time, and Hopkins’ “Spindrifter,” as lovely a piano instrumental as rock has produced. Despite such draws, the band was already in the process of falling apart again. Hopkins left during the sessions, replaced by Marc Naftalin of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on half the cuts, and Cipollina split soon after recording was completed to form his own group, Copperhead.

‘Quicksilver’

Given so much tumult, it’s remarkable how well the band rebounded for their next album, simply titled ‘Quicksilver’, in 1971. Their hardest rocking record to date, it boasted consistently catchy songs, mostly penned by Valenti. The frontman even managed to keep his undisciplined singing in check. Better, Duncan proved capable of handling all the guitar parts himself, offering sterling double leads on the folk-rock marvel “Hope,” and the country-blues-rocker “I Found Love.” Despite its many strengths, ‘Quicksilver’ was the band’s first release to miss the Top 30. The disappointment helped inspire another change for their follow-up album, ‘Comin’ Thru’, in ’72. It introduced a charging horn section, a la Blood, Sweat and Tears or the Electric Flag. An under-rated, and highly energetic, effort, ‘Comin’ Thru’ still failed to click with critics or fans, leading to an extended hiatus for the band.

‘Solid Silver’

It took a full three years for Quicksilver to return, but this time with an added draw. ‘Solid Silver’, released in 1975, reunited every one of the core members, including Cipollina, Duncan, Elmore, Freiberg, and Valenti. It even featured guest work from Hopkins. Ten years into their career, the reconstituted band sounded more in synch than they had since the start. Nearly all the members contributed to the singing and the writing. More, they added a soul element, amplified by the backup vocals of Kathi McDonald. Nearly all the songs were upbeat, from the R&B rocker “Gypsy Lights,” penned by Duncan, to Valenti’s county-tinged “Cowboy on The Run,” which sounded like a lost Gram Parsons song. A blues-rock barn-burner, “Worryin’ Shoes,” found both guitarists playing so swiftly, it suggested the Allman Brothers on speed. Sadly, the neo-psych-rock sound wasn’t a big commercial draw amid the soft-rock world of 1975, so the album tanked, taking the reunion with it.

‘Not Quite The End Live at the Winterland Ballroom – December 1, 1973’

If that failure brought the active era of Quicksilver to an end, Duncan took it upon himself to keep the name alive for decades after. He issued many albums under their banner, though they were, essentially, solo works. More encouragingly, he oversaw the release of scores of great live recordings from the vintage period. No fewer than twenty-two are currently available on streaming. Of those, three stand out most. The first, ‘Live at the Fillmore June 7th, 1968′ (cut one year after Monterey) captured the band in their ‘Happy Trails’ prime. It’s a pure live document of what ‘Happy Trails’ had earlier simulated. Cut two years later, the ‘Live at Winterland Ballroom 1970’ album captured the band’s rapport with Hopkins. It’s amazing how well his piano integrated with the two guitars. More, the set boasted a nearly half hour version of “Who Do You Love” that features guitar pyrotechnics from Cipollina right before he left the band for the first time. Even more exciting is “Live at Winterland December 1, 1973,” cut on a special night. Though Cipollina had left the group three years earlier, his band, Copperhead, were the opening act for that show, so he agreed to play with the mother act as well. Freiberg, who had left in ’71, came back for the ride too. By adding a Latin percussionist and a surging organ, Quicksilver ended up sounding a bit like their fellow SF band Santana. The feverish new arrangements put a fire behind the two guitarists, who avoided their most trippy forays to center on hardcore blues-rock. It’s an air-guitar player’s dream come true.

Over the years, documents like these have gained greater meaning for a sad reason: Most of the band’s key members have died. The losses began with Cipollina, in 1989 at just 45, followed by Hopkins and Valenti, both felled in 1994, and Duncan, just this past June. With their passing went a sound as fast, and uncontainable, as Quicksilver itself, leaving a legacy that richly deserves a fresh hit of attention.

John Cippolina was a founding member and the lead guitarist of this prominent San Francisco band Quicksilver Messenger Service. After leaving Quicksilver he formed the band Copperhead and then later played with numerous other bands, and is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco psychedelic rock sound. He had a unique guitar sound all his own, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. His one of a kind massive amplifier stack was loaned, along with one of his customized Gibson SG guitars, and effects pedals, for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995.

John Cippolina passed away on 29th of May 1989 the age of 45 after a career in music that spanned twenty five years. Quicksilver Messenger Service fans and countless friends paid tribute to him the following month in San Francisco at an all-star concert at the Fillmore Auditorium which featured Nicky Hopkins, David Freiberg, John’s brother Mario, and a host of others.

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Quicksilver Messenger Service – 1968 – The original band formed in 1965 featured revered lead guitarist John Cipollina, Gary Duncan (guitar), David Freiberg (bass), Greg Elmore (drums) – (with Jim Murray and Skip Spence added on guitars). Dino Valenti, who may have had a hand in the band’s formation, was arrested on marijuana possession and spent two years in prison. Spence left to drum on Jefferson Airplane’s debut album in 1966 and was co-founder of Moby Grape, and Murray left after the Monterey Pop Festival. Quicksilver Messenger Service was the best Acid Rock dance band of the 60s honing their skills at the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West.

Quicksilver Messenger Service  eventually signed on with Capitol Records in 1967. The core group made only two albums together, its finest: “Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968), and “Happy Trails,” (1969) with stellar songs such as “Pride of Man,” “Dino’s Song,” “The Fool,” “Who Do You Love,” and “Mona.” Cipollina’s ravishing improvisations on “The Fool,” and “Who Do You Love,” for example, set him apart from most other guitarists of the late 1960s. If you ever saw the band live at the Avalon or Winterland, you know that Cipollina could slay you with his spires of tremolo. He had a unique tone that could not be duplicated… Duncan left in 1969 owing to substance abuse issues and general exhaustion and was replaced by ace British session man Nicky Hopkins who contributed masterful piano work on the band’s third and most successful album” Shady Grove,” (1970). Valenti and Duncan returned in 1970 playing on “Just for Love,” (1970) with Valenti taking lead vocal on Fresh Air,” the group’s biggest hit single, and “What About Me,” (1971).

After Cipollina and Nicky Hopkins departed later in the year, Quicksilver carried on with Duncan, Elmore, Valenti, and Freiberg, adding Mark Naftalin (Freiberg was replaced by Mark Ryan when the former was arrested for illegal possession of marijuana).

There were two less successful albums with this configuration: “Quicksilver,” (1971)) and “Comin’ Thru,” (1972). A reunion album “Solid Silver,” (1975) included Cipollina and Hopkins and a host of other Bay Area musicians. The band made one final appearance at Winterland in late December – Cipollina’s last hurrah with the band he founded. Quicksilver Messenger Service carried on for another four years before disbanding… But the band will be remembered for its first two albums – and the wonderful chemistry sparking Cipollina and Duncan’s sublimely beautiful guitar improvisations.

In 1967 – “Dino’s Song,” Live unreleased version recorded at the Fillmore. One of the finest, achingly beautiful, love songs ever written (by Dino Valenti), Originally on the band’s self-titled 1968 debut, one of the finest of the era. This band had few peers and it’s, always a delight to hear Gary Duncan and john Cipollina play in tandem. But a little sad now with their passing.

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QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE” Live At The Old Mill Tavern ” March 29th 1970

QMS are/were a great guitar band, the first three albums are a guitarfest but 1970 QMS are not that band. While I accept Dino Valenti was a good singer here he definitely dominates the main parts of this set. A lot of this album is material which was still to be released but on the band’s standard track “Mona” Cippolina does not get enough chance to shine (the band was down to one guitarist). Nicky Hopkins plays as good as ever on keyboards.
The last tracks are two jams with James Cotton on harp which at 15 mins is a classic West Coast work out. It is worth it for that alone.

The Quicksilver line up during this era was: Dino Valenti, Gary Duncan, John Cipollina, David Freiberg, Greg Elmore and Nicky Hopkins. This is the line up that recorded “Just For Love” and “What About Me”.

The sound quality is actually rather good for a 40 year old soundboard reel to reel tape recording. It does take a few minutes for the bass to get dialed in the mix. There were a few audio gremlins happening that night on stage as well. These are discussed in the booklet accompanying the release. The recording could also use a bit more low end. Still, this is definitely one of the best sounding Quicksilver archive releases. It pretty much blows away the Bear label releases.

The total playing time is just over 65 minutes. The majority of songs are from the Dino era so if you don’t like those, you might want to look elsewhere. Most of the songs are very well played versions with the exception being the first version of Baby Baby. There is a reference to Edward during one of between song breaks. It’s a shame that something from Shady Grove isn’t among the song lists. Blues legend James Cotton joins in the the last two jams. There were three jams on the circulating copies. All in all, a cool performance from the Old Mill .

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QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE –  Live At My Father’s Place Rosyln NY January 31st 1976

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QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE – Fillmore Auditorium: 5th February 1967

One of the very earliest known live recordings by this psychedelic jam band, legends who conquered San Francisco and later the world, Quicksilver Messenger Service! 
Features the rare Jim Murphy-led 5 piece line-up laying down the acid blues grooves the band would follow throughout their career with tracks such as Suzy Q, Smokestack Lightnin, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,Hoochie Coochie Man, and more! .  The performance is typically good from that period. QMS was like other bands (Steve Miller Blues Band, Santana Blues Band  as they were originally named) early on during that time–heavily indebted to the blues–but the blues songs are played with excitement with several good guitar solos/duels. Murray’s vocals and harp playing don’t distract from the performances. And Freiberg plays his viola on a couple of tunes. And with songs that appeared on their first album, this is a real time machine before the Dino Valenti era and the band’s sound changed.
Available on both CD and gorgeous 2LP vinyl set!

The band that became Quicksilver Messenger Service originally was conceived as a rock vehicle for folk singer/songwriter Dino Valenti, author of “Get Together.”” Living in San Francisco, Valenti had found guitarist John Cipollina and singer Jim Murray. Valenti’s friend David Freiberg (joined on bass, and the group was completed by the addition of drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist Gary Duncan As the band was being put together, Valenti was imprisoned on a drug charge and he didn’t re-join Quicksilver until later.

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QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE  – Fillmore Auditorium:  5th November 1966

Nice package of good quality recording from 1966 of embyronic Quicksilver Messenger Service, then formed less than a year and already a bay area favourite.

This is absolutely terrific and a must for fans of Quicksilver Messenger Service especially their earlier pre-Dino Valenti days. There’s been a glut of live QMS CD’s lately, and a few have been “OK” but this is the best yet. Jim Murray’s excellent vocals really make you wonder what they would’ve been like if he stuck around. The songs are shorter than their later lengthy explorations, but there’s enough classic Cipollina guitar solos to satisfy his disciples. It comes is a nice digipak with an insert. There was a superb 2LP set back in the day called “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon” that was a terrific performance by the four piece line-up that recorded their first album, housed in a beautiful jacket with decent sound for the day. I had been hoping and praying that someone would release those tapes on CD one day. Well that day has come with the excellent 2CD digipak set “Live At The Fillmore June 7, 1968′” the best live document of that era since “Happy Trails” .Greatly expanded with far better sound, except for a rough “Pride Of Man” opener where the sound mixer was getting his bearings. Both of these recent archival releases are essential for any fan of QMS.

Jim Murray – vocals, percussion; John Cipollina – guitar, vocals; Gary Duncan – guitar, vocals; David Freiberg – bass, vocals; Greg Elmore – drums

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Along with contemporaries Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service were among the earliest of the San Francisco “Summer of Love” bands who frequented the Avalon, the Fillmore and other area venues. Originally conceived as a band to back San Fran folk-rocker Dino Valenti (best known for writing The Youngbloods’ classic “Get Together”), the band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, had to go on without their frontman in 1965, when Valenti got busted for drugs and sent away to prison. He was in and out of jail for the next two years, and after a failed attempt at forming a band called the Outlaws with Gary Duncan, Valenti officially rejoined Quicksilver in 1970. By then, the group had already built a sizeable following as one of the Bay Area’s hottest club bands.

This is probably the earliest known professional live recording of the band, made in 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium. Less than a year old at the time of this recording (though some of their members had begun working together in 1963), the band was still finding its way through a maze of old blues tunes, early psychedelic drug influences and originals they were writing at the time.

Their musicianship is remarkably strong on this early recording, especially considering other popular bands breaking through the Bay Area club scene at the time could barely play. Quicksilver’s version of “Susie Q” was completely lifted almost note for note some years later by another Bay Area-based band: Creedence Clearwater Revival. There was an obvious interest in Muddy Waters‘ music, with the band performing two covers of his songs at this show: “I Got My Mojo Working” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” But not everything here works. The band’s attempt at a pop ballad, “Stand By Me,” lacks cohesive direction and suffers from horribly off-key vocals and out of tune instruments.

Guitarist John Cipollina (whose younger brother would become the bassist in Huey Lewis and the News), spearheaded the band’s idea to use dual lead guitars and would eventually leave Quicksilver in 1970 to form his own band, Copperhead. In 1989, he died at the age of 45 from emphysema, aggravated by years of respiratory problems. Bassist David Freiberg eventually left to join his friends in the Jefferson Airplane in 1972, morphing into the Jefferson Starship around the same time.

During this unique time in the history of American rock music, there were few groups that played as prominent and formative a part in developing the “San Francisco sound.” Here’s a chance to experience the band in all their early, unvarnished glory – indispensable.

QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE  –  Live at the Fillmore: 7th June 1968

Songs from “Unreleased Gold and Silver” and the superiorly recorded “Maiden of the Cancer Moon – originally on Psycho Records. Also some from a bootleg called “Smokin Sound” its nice to hear “Pride of Man” despite the huge drop out in sound after Cipollina’s solo. All of this is pretty well recorded, I have to say. Not bad for tapes of the age they are. Duncan is too loud in the mix, as another viewer remarked. However one can appreciate this if one remembers how Duncan used to live in the shadow of Cipollina. Of course the reason that is was that Cipollina had “that sound” which distinguished him from so many other players of that time. Duncan, the great player that he was, could not compare to that. Its widely know too that Cipollina’s amplification live was a fearsome beast,

This recording, taken from a two-night, four-show run, with Quicksilver opening for Electric Flag and Steppenwolf, is essential concert listening. Fans of the quartet lineup that recorded the first QMS LP and Happy Trailswill love these sets, as they took place right between the production of those first two LPs.

On this set, the first LP material is represented both by their cover of Hamilton Camp’s “Pride Of Man” and their own “Dino’s Song.” These were both regional hits in California at the time, and easily accessible for new audiences, which New York City was for QMS in 1968. We’re also treated to a cover song, “Back Door Man,” that was recorded during the first album sessions, but rejected in favor of original material. Here it is played with aggressive enthusiasm. Even though the setlist is relatively tame, the band is obviously giving it their best in order to win over the NYC audience.

They return to the first album for their set closer, “Gold And Silver.” This number is one of the finest performances by the original band ever captured on tape. this song is just as infectious. With blazing guitar solos interweaving, powerful counterpoint bass playing and the unusually swinging drum rhythms, this tune truly smokes. If the audience wasn’t convinced of QMS’ originality prior to this song, this final number must have finished the job – and this recording stands as proof.

They close with another tour de force, Bo Diddley’s “Mona,” which includes some inspired jamming with hints of “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon” and “Calvary”, clocking in at twelve minutes altogether. This is not only another hot performance, but gives one great insight into where they would be heading musically on their next album, Happy Trails.

John Cipollina – guitar, vocals; Gary Duncan – guitar, vocals; David Freiberg – bass, vocals; Greg Elmore – drums

QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE   – Live At The Winterland Ballroom 1st December 1973

Previously unreleased live recording of a gig from around the band’s ‘Coming Thru’ album. The show clocks in at over an hour, as I soon there realized that I was definitely getting the most out of this disc’s four tracks (of a total of eight) that ran over the eight-minute mark. The suitable opener – the nine-minute “Losing Hand”, “Mojo”, [always like hearing QMS play this tune], one that I’m vaguely familiar with “The Hat” and the wailing “Who Do You Love”.

This performance was taken from a December 1st, 1973 concert at Winterland in San Francisco, which had Quicksilver Messenger Service headlining a bill that also included the Sons of Champlin and John Cipollina’s Columbia label recording group, Copperhead. There is some extant film footage of the Copperhead and QMS sets, which can be found on the expanded, two DVD reissue of the documentary John Cipollina: Electric Guitar Slinger. The film of QMS performing “Who Do You Love?” is also posted on Youtube.

The live performance itself is stunning. One of the complaints leveled by some reviewers of the Valenti QMS lineups, is that his frontman act reigned in the jamming facet of the band. Not so here. Perhaps it was the energy of the double drum kits, or the challenge of playing before a large Winterland audience with promoter Bill Graham cracking the whip, but Duncan and Cipollina take no prisoners here, pushing the music higher and higher. The band is tight and the playing is energetic and focused. The highlights include an excellent take on the blues standard, “Losing Hand”, done in a Latin jazz rock arrangement similar to “Fresh Air”, a scorching version of Valenti’s “Mojo”, and a 19 minute jam up on “Who Do You Love” that includes a spacy psychedelic section.

The Band of John Cipollina – guitar, Dino Valenti – lead guitar flute, congas, & vocals, David Freiburg – keyboards, Mark Ryan – bass and Greg Elmore – drums.  a tandem drum kit battery, and Harold Aceves in the drum seats. Gary Duncan – bass, guitar, vocals;

Headlining a bill that featured Sons Of Champlin and John Cipollina’s band, Copperhead, this Quicksilver Messenger Service recording proves that even at the tail end of their years on Capitol Records, this was a band that was far more compelling onstage than they ever were in the studio. Few QMS live recordings are known to exist from the 1972-’73 era and this one, recorded in December of ’73, captures the band just before they initially split up. By the early 1970s, Dino Valenti was essentially the bandleader and was providing the vast majority of their material. However, on this performance, the original members, Gary Duncan, John Cipollina, David Frieberg and Greg Elmore are all on board, maintaining a strong link to their past. The core band is augmented by a second drummer and a percussionist. Mark Ryan takes the bass responsibilities, allowing Frieberg to concentrate on piano and keyboards. Although Gary Duncan was often ill during this era, his distinctive guitar playing is often full of fire and John Cipollina is also in fine form. On many of these songs, they bring an improvisational approach to the instrumental sections that are quite captivating, lending a balance to the groups more song oriented sound. The band still has plenty of creativity here and this set is remarkable and surprising in a number of ways.

The first surprise is the opening number, where they apply a prototype Quicksilver-style arrangement to “Losing Hand,” a piano based blues written by Ray Charles. Never recorded by the band, this rarity is a very impressive performance that finds a nice balance between the raw aggressive feel of Happy Trails era material and the more polished rock oriented sound of the later albums. Another rarely performed tune, “Play My Guitar,” a song from the 1971 Quicksilver LP follows, featuring trademark psychedelic guitar from Duncan and Cipollina that smokes the studio version. At this point, everyone is fully warmed up, so they sink their teeth into “Mojo,” the strongest rocker on the band’s final Capitol album, Comin’ Thru. The sparks fly as they burn through this number for nearly 10 minutes, allowing Duncan and Cipollina to fully flex their impressive guitar chops. They may have been nearing the end, but onstage Quicksilver still had tremendous energy.

To close the set, they deliver a nearly 40 minute continuous sequence that begins by coupling one of their most beloved songs, “What About Me” with an intriguing take on the Just For Love album track, “The Hat.” The crowd roars its approval in all the obvious places during “What About Me,” which features plenty of Valenti’s penetrating vocals. Midway through its dreamy flow, the band drops way down while Valenti improvises. Although no recordings have ever surfaced of Valenti’s early years on the folk circuit, this little sequence gives one a fleeting glimpse of his root sound and style. Eventually the group transitions into “The Hat” – 10 delightful minutes revolving around a relaxed infectious groove. They might not be recognized for it, but this same groove and nearly identical guitar riffs fueled several mid-’70s hits by other artists. Just when one expects them to end this remarkable sequence, Duncan starts veering off, with the rest of the group following his lead. As they continue the familiar sound of “Who Do You Love” emerges and they are suddenly blazing into a ferocious jam.

After several minutes, Duncan takes the lead vocal and it sounds as if we have journeyed back to 1968. With two drummers, as well as a percussionist, the rhythm section provides a strong foundation so that Duncan and Cipollina can cut loose. And cut loose they do with blazing guitar solos and plenty of improvising for the next 5 or 6 minutes. This is a cosmic performance in every sense of the word, with blazing guitar solos and a pummeling rhythm that must have convinced any doubters that this band could still pull it off.

Following this initial onslaught, the band heads into a spacey vamp with the guitarists adding creepy processed guitar effects, which build into a barrage of controlled noise, before unexpectedly, they stop! However, they are not finished and begin slowly building back up. Right before the 15-minute mark, they rip back into “Who Do You Love” proper, still blazing with energy. They are playing so furiously, that Duncan forgoes singing on the reprise and instead lets the guitars do all the talking, before bringing the night to a close with a big crescendo-style ending. It’s a remarkable performance that shows this final incarnation of the original group in a most positive light.

California Dreaming

The Quicksilver Messenger Service were a wild quartet of jamming longhairs whose finest hour would come on the album released in 1969 Happy Trails. With an evocative cover designed by the Charlatans’ George Hunter, that live album caught the intense and almost dangerous quality of San Francisco’s late Sixties sound. Grounded in the primitive stomping of drummer Greg Elmore, the interplay between Gary Duncan’s chugging rhythm guitar and John Cipollina’s quivering lead lines was thrilling and hypnotic.
From the seeds of the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield – the hipper LA representatives at Monterey – came a new scene in Southern California, one that would dominate the sound of the LA canyons for several years.

They put off signing with a label for years to avoid the pressures of touring and consequently getting rushed by record companies into making albums not up to their own standards. Living on a ranch north of San Francisco in high style with their ladies, grass, guns and living out their space cowboy trips, QMS also benefited greatly from an abundance of local gigs they picked up in the absence of The Airplane or The Dead, whose unavailability was due to national tours and out of town engagements. And it was through this constant stream of live performances that afforded them the opportunity to tighten up every loose end in their repertoire while stretching out musically and evolving their sound beyond any reasonable set of expectations.

One of the most revered psychedelic bands from the 1960s and 1970s the great Quicksilver Messenger Service bossed the Bay Area as a live act in the hazy daze of acid rock. Alongside their friends and rivals the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver epitomised the free form sound of a heady era with the twin guitar attack of Gary Duncan and John Cippolina mixing up vibrato, reverb, finger picking and some of the most influential experimental passages in Californian rock – both men being West Coasters through and through. Co-founding member Dino Valenti (from Connecticut) brought in his own unique folk bag style, learnt in the coffee houses of Berkeley and New York City, and he introduced a blend of gothic traditional and beatnik poetry that made the group unique. With the added bonus of a dynamic rhythm section – David Freiberg’s sonorous bass welded to Greg Elmore’s metronomic punchy tom tombackbeat, this bunch of sharp looking hombres became regulars in Bill Graham’s Fillmore Scene as well as the Carousel and Avalon and slayed crowds at every major club and ballroom and outdoor festival they graced. They also left behind a quite splendid body of recorded work and also used the studio to mix live and pieces into their sound – especially on the classic Happy Trails – which gave them a wraparound sonic groove that has never dated.

Their career spans 1965 to this very day since Freiberg and Duncan still go out to thrill crowds as QMS. Always an outfit for the West Coast aficionado they have never really received the appropriate accolades, bells, gongs and whistles of others but that doesn’t matter because their music reigns supreme.

Quicksilver Messenger Service Find A ‘Shady Grove’

The original Quicksilver Messenger Service was a project dreamt up by Dino Valenti (aka Chester Powers among many alter egos). He wanted them to perform with then revolutionary wireless guitars and all manner of gizmos and female backing singers. Unfortunately Dino was busted in 1965 and the other members kicked their heels and rehearsed awaiting his release from Uncle Sam’s clutches. The original band included guitarist Jim Murray who can be heard on various unofficial and posthumously released live discs but our story should start with the self-titled debut (1968) which follows hard on the heels of their contributions to the movie soundtrack for Revolution. Boasting the classic quartet line-up Quicksilver Messenger Service consists of some gorgeously elegiac acoustic and electric pieces like the opener ‘Pride of Man’ (penned by London born Buddhist folkie Hamilton Camp) and ‘Light Your Windows’ as well as brilliantly conceived jam work outs, ‘Gold and Silver’ and ‘The Fool’ where the Duncan/Cippolina axis swap and trade lead lines with a jazzy fluidity.

Firmly entrenched in the San Francisco counter culture – they rarely strayed over the State line in fact –  Quicksilver won a reputation as hard living rascals with a penchant for firing off rifles at their nearby neighbours the Dead’s ranch squat. This rough image readily translates to the amazing Happy Trails (1969) and its deliciously kitsch cowboy artwork  for Globe Propaganda by George Hunter (a member of The Charlatans he) which references Dale Evans out on the range tune penned for Roy Rogers TV show. Side one of Trails consists of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’ taken down so many avenues that it threatens to explode. Divided in to ‘Who’,  ‘When’ Where’  ‘How’ and ‘Which Do You Love’ with a mind-boggling return to the main theme, the band involve walking bass lines, Fillmore West audience participation and avant garde passages that are expertly cut up and edited to Dada effect – not to mention lung busting guitar lines like nothing else on earth.

Side 2 is more measured but equally inventive. Diddley’s ‘Mona’ kicks things off now and white boy blues doesn’t come any sharper.  Duncan’s ‘Maiden of the Cancer Moon’ and ‘Calvary’ are atmospherically charged and comparable to Ennio Morricone. All manner of percussive devices are employed and the vocals are damn fine to boot. Long considered a must have classic of the era we see or hear nothing wrong with that judgement. Fact, we love this album so much we’ve just stuck it on again!

Shady Grove finds Britain’s very own keyboards legend Nicky Hopkins involved in proceedings while Just For Love heralds the overdue return of Mr Valenti. There is also the fine reunion period of Solid Silver to consider. We can offer a brace of terrific compilations. The introductory Classic Masters is a 24-bit remastered 12-track set that will have you hankering for the period of the Human Be-In and the lysergic fresh air of those sizzling sixties. Masters of Rock: Quicksilver Messenger Service (2003) is another fine way to discover these fleet-footed acid rock pioneers with well known gems fixed next to epics like ‘California State Correctional Facility Blues’ and the hipster head anthem ‘Joseph’s Coat’.

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As the 1970s signalled changes in personnel and a new mood in the air Quicksilver took stock and branched out with both Duncan and Cippolina embracing solo projects like the magnificent offshoot band Copperhead and Freiberg throwing in his lot with his old pals in Jefferson Airplane and then Jefferson Starship, although they all continued to play impromptu shows with their kindred soul brothers in the Dead. Often described as hippies with rifles this lot knew about image but their music flowed organically. They still sound like Messengers from the gods.

The late 1960s and early ‘70s were golden years in the history of San Francisco rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service. 45 years later, they were following up the album that would, much later, be certified as their one gold disc in America, ‘Happy Trails.’ They did so with a record that would continue their run of four US top 30 placings in a row with a US chart debut on January 24, 1970, ‘Shady Grove.’

It’s an album that’s also of interest to Rolling Stones fans, because from this third studio release onwards, the band’s personnel was enhanced by the arrival of one of the most in-demand keyboard players of his generation, the late Nicky Hopkins. His presence, which also included work on harpsichord, cello and celeste, was an admirable addition to the band’s existing sound, based on the guitar and vocals of John Cipollina and the viola, bass, guitar and joint vocals of David Freiberg. Greg Elmore added percussive inspiration.

QMS had debuted with a self-titled album in 1968 that complemented the experimental rock milieu of the day, and made some chart inroads, peaking at No. 63. Their first top 30 showing came with that ‘Happy Trails’ follow-up at No. 27. ‘Shady Grove’ went a little higher, at No. 25, after which ‘Just For Love’ peaked at No. 27 and ‘What About Me’ No. 26. It was a remarkably consistent run, all achieved by four releases inside a two-year span.

‘Shady Grove’ was, again, the work of a band confident that their audience would make an adventurous sonic journey with them, even if they were in the process of moving from their psychedelic beginnings into a more pop-oriented sound.

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A key influence on QMS (along with countless others) at this time was Bo Diddley, whose amplified cigar box and ever-shifting shuffle beat lent itself easily to interpretations of extended electric guitar-based improvisations with its simplicity, buoyant consistency and hard, sawn-off jagged primitivism that allowed itself to be employed as if it were some new aural material which was highly conductive to electricity and malleable enough to stretch out into spaced-out plasticity. And in the hands, heads and hearts of QMS, two of his numbers would turn into sprawling epics. A cover of his “Who Do You Love” (credited on the original album as “Who Do You Love Suite” and comprised of six separate ‘movements’) spanned the entire first side of “Happy Trails.” The entire album was recorded live at The Fillmore East and West in 1968, and the sparks just flew all over the place.

Cipollina and Duncan exchange solo and rhythm duties on “Happy Trails” so effortlessly that despite the production’s extreme stereo separation (Duncan on the left channel, Cipollina on the right) it’s never anything but a seamless series of intuitively placed fits of opposing forces with an undying attraction to each other. At times Duncan’s rhythm is a fat, toned-down punk buzzsaw working as a wash against Cipollina’s agile counterpointing and sometimes Cipollina’s solos are the smallest of strategic rhythmic strokes while Duncan’s rhythm playing at times appears more like solos rendered in shorthand. These free-flowing qualities were accented with carefully controlled, soaring feedback and stinging arpeggios of the purest tones. These numerous and spectacular displays of twin guitar exchanges are supported by the impeccably synchronised rhythm section composed of David Freiberg on bass (and accompanying brusque vocals) and the perfectly restrained drumming of Greg Elmore. This backing was uncluttered and tough enough to allow the group’s paces to ebb or flow at a single moment’s notice: as gracefully evident in the manner in which “Who Do You Love” constantly shifts, unfolds and turns into passages both reflective and active. By the time they reach the middle passage (subtitled “Where You Love”) they’ve brought it all the way down to so the guitars are now more a cross-stitching of muted, across the bridge picking approximating the tinkling of mechanical chimes. Volume control knobs on guitars are tweaked to neatly stagger the otherwise feedbacking sound signals into blocks of zapping noise. A wafting current of slight feedback tilts into the near-quietude as the appreciative Fillmore audience starts clapping along in time with the bass drum, and soon it’s all panning from speaker to speaker: yelps and cries from the stage and audience until what was once Bo Diddley has now been reduced to the simplest elements of communal grooving and joy AND the group are in no hurry to fall back into the song until the last grunt, handclap and cry has been squeezed out. But they do when Cipollina tears a single, screaming note outta his SG with a twist of Bigsby whammy bar to signal the lurch into the breakneck pace of “How You Love”: a showcase of his quickly incisive and multi-directional arpeggio’d notes that scatter and flee to all four corners of the Fillmore but always regroup back into the ever-ascending main riff. After they cool off during Freiberg’s bass solo spot, they’re quietly circling back over “Who Do You Love” proper. All is simmering until they finally decide to go for broke one final time. Before they hit a final cluster of building crescendos, Freiberg and at least two other members have been vocally going for it by yelling bits of the lyrics over the tumult of guitar riffs and Elmore’s now constant swish of cymbals. But after a series of short solos and heat-generating noise and whining feedback, it elegantly drops off…to roars of applause.

The announcement “This here next one’s rock’n’roll” begins side two with the other Bo Diddley interpretation, “Mona.” Thudding tom-toms and Freiberg’s throb/pulse bass line propels the track as ringing feedback trails off from Cipollina’s amp and juxtaposed against Duncan’s rhythm riffing grind-outs. Eventually dropping down in volume so that an amp hissing like a street sweeper in the distance is audible, Cipollina switches to wah-wah and adjusts his loose guitar cord and the energy is crackling just as sharply. The tom-tom heavy main refrain returns and the band jumps in, only to see things halt and head immediately into “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon.” The two solos that erupt on this track are nothing short of volcanic and although this was a Duncan composition, it appears that the solos are pure Cipollina in full flight/total heat complete with hallmark whammy bar, distortion and howling feedback. It continually returns to a shaded riverbank at dusk where cool respite is found — but the calm is soon interrupted by an irritable scratching guitar pick run up against the grain and full length of a guitar neck with accompanying swooping, sonorous feedback. There’s a final low throttling of guitar that’s about the nastiest sound on the entire album, falling into the quiet whistling down the desert winds of the live in the studio instrumental, “Calvary.” For years I always misinterpreted it as “Cavalry” because its near-Morricone spaghetti western instrumental feel creates instant vistas of adobe villages, Spanish tiled rooftops and horse charges under the burning desert sun (But a cry of “Call it anything you want!” towards the end was probably an auto-suggestive incentive.) But the scope and depth of its impressionism of “Calvary” does intimate a musical interpretation of SOME vast human struggle in the desert. This epic sweeps across the deserts as much as the howling winds and droning dust/freakstorms of dark conflict that build and rage throughout with ever-reoccurring dark squalling of feedback as vibrato’d, piercing feedback like teams of whinnying, ghostly steeds. Some eons later, the dense clouds finally subsist and dissipate and guitar playing from an indefinite past age emerges as gentle scratchings of acoustic guitar, wood and flints are picked up from the scattered debris, before the final gusts blow it all away…

The lazy western campfire of “Happy Trails” ends the album on a heartwarming note as clip-clop percussion, piano and drawling vocals from Greg Elmore bids the listener farewell. Whistling takes us down the dusty trail, as jingling spurs head into the distance of a brightly setting sun on the plains, closing a unique album that was like no other.

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.

Quicksilver Messenger Service Find A ‘Shady Grove’

The late 1960s and early ‘70s were golden years in the history of San Francisco rock bands Quicksilver Messenger Service. On January 24th, 1970, they entered the American charts with the follow-up to the album that would, much later, be certified as their one gold disc there, “Happy Trails”. They did so with a record that would continue their run of four US top 30 placings in a row with a US chart debut, “Shady Grove”.

Quicksilver’s personnel was enhanced by the arrival of one of the most in-demand keyboard players of his generation, the late Stones alumnus Nicky Hopkins. His presence, which also included work on harpsichord, cello and celeste, was an admirable addition to QMS’ existing sound, based on the guitar and vocals of John Cipollina and the viola, bass, guitar and joint vocals of David Freiberg. Greg Elmore added percussive inspiration.

The band had debuted with a self-titled album in 1968 that complemented the experimental rock milieu of the day, Their first top 30 album showing came with that Happy Trails follow-up. Shady Grove and with a remarkably consistent run, the band released “What About Me” and “Just For Love” all four releases inside a two-year span.

“Shady Grove” was, again, the work of a band confident that their audience would make an adventurous sonic journey with them, even if they were in the process of moving from their psychedelic beginnings into a more pop-oriented sound.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

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You can find plenty of other live recordings on the band’s streaming catalogue, but among the most potent was one cut, Live At Winterland 1973, which captures a special night. Cipollina left the band back in 1970 but he reunited with them for this show (as well as some later incarnations). It’s a very different sound for Quicksilver by this point, a fatter, harder style, which the two star guitarists made the most of. Some of their toughest, and tightest, work can be found on this live recording.

Quicksilver’s distinctive guitar player, John Cipollina, had left three years earlier to form Copperhead. But since that band was to open for Quicksilver on this bill, Cipollina agreed to play with the mother group as well. Quicksilver’s original bassist and singer, David Freiberg, also came back for the ride.

The lineup re-created the band’s best, and initial, configuration, with the addition of Dino Valenti. He was supposed to be the band’s singer from the start, but a drug bust put that off for four years. The Winterland show went so well, it led to a formal studio reunion for the band on the 1975 album “Solid Silver.”

The opening track Losing Hand  gives both axe men plenty of room to blow. With an added Latin percussionist and a surging organ, Quicksilver inches closer to the style of another great psych-San Francisco band, Santana. Their near nine-minute run at the classic Bo Diddley “Who Do You Love”  featured more dense and frantic solos from the two guitarists than the ’69 take, reproving, along the way, the equal power of the players.

The show highlights a band that never got its due, performing in a configuration that allowed it to sound better than it did on any other recording. It’s an air-guitar player’s dream come true, as well as a reminder of what a live band can sound like when everyone’s in ideal sync.

Limited numbered 12″ x 12″ box set containing seven original albums on hi-def CDs in cardboard mini LP sleeves: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Happy Trails, Shady Grove, Just For Love, What About Me, Quicksilver, and Comin’ Thru. The boxset also includes an LP size luxury 28 pages booklet with liner notes by Richie Unterberger, rare photos and memorabilia, reproduction of the original eight LP’s album art in a 12” format and original Art 1′ x 2′ tour poster designed exclusively for this boxset by legendary graphic and poster designer Dennis Loren.

12’’ x 12’’ LP SIZE BOXSET FOR COLLECTORS ONLY !
NUMBERED super deluxe & Limited Edition of 1 000 units WORLDWIDE
INCLUDES 7 ORIGINAL ALBUMS IN PAPERSLEEVE DELUXE CD VINYL REPLICA

– Quicksilver Messenger Service,  Happy Trails,   Shady Grove,  Just For Love,  What About Me,   Quicksilver,  Comin’ Thru

LP SIZE LUXURY 28 pages booklet with:
· liner notes by by Jeff Tamarkin
· Rare photos And memorabilia
· Reproduction of the original LP artwork in a 12’’ format.

INCLUDES original Art 1’ x 2’ tour poster