John Cipollina, David Freiberg, Greg Elmore, Gary Duncan
QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE PHOTO COLLECTION
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Phoenix Municipal Stadium – 8/17/68
Appeared with The Who
Quicksilver Messenger Service gained wide popularity in the San Francisco “Bay Area” and through their recordings, with psychedelic rock enthusiasts around the globe, and several of their albums ranked in the Top 30 of the Billboard Pop charts. Though not as commercially successful as contemporaries Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver was integral to the beginnings of their genre. With their jazz and classical influences and a strong folk background, the band attempted to create a sound that was individual and innovative. Member Dino Valenti drew heavily on musical influences he picked up during the folk revival of his formative musical years. The style he developed from these sources is evident in Quicksilver Messenger Service’s swung rhythms and twanging guitar sounds.
After many years, the band has attempted to reform despite the deaths of several members. Recently, original members Gary Duncan and David Freiberg have been touring as the Quicksilver Messenger Service, using different musicians to back them up.
Jim Murray left the group not long after they performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. The band began a period of heavy touring on the West Coast of the United States where they built up a solid following and featured on many star-studded bills at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West. Sound engineer (and infamous LSD chemist) Owsley Stanley regularly recorded concerts at major San Francisco venues during this period, and his archive includes many QMS live performances from 1966–67, which were released on his Bear Recordings label in 2008-2009.
QMS initially held back from signing a record deal at the time but eventually signed to Capitol Records in late 1967, becoming the last of the top-ranked San Francisco bands to sign with a major label. Capitol was the only company that had missed out on signing a San Francisco “hippie” band during the first flurry of record company interest and, consequently, Quicksilver Messenger Service was able to negotiate a better deal than many of their peers. At the same time, Capitol signed the Steve Miller Band, with whom Quicksilver Messenger Service had appeared on the movie and soundtrack album Revolution, together with the group Mother Earth.
Quicksilver Messenger Service released their eponymous debut album in 1968. It was followed by Happy Trails, released in early 1969 and largely recorded live at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West. According to David Freiberg, at least one of the live tracks was augmented with studio overdubs and the tracks “Calvary” and “Lady of the Cancer Moon” were recorded in the studio just before Gary Duncan left the band.
These albums, which have been hailed as “…two of the best examples of the San Francisco sound at its purest,” define the classic period in the group’s career and showcase their distinctive sound, emphasizing extended arrangements and fluid twin-guitar improvisation. Cipollina’s highly melodic, individualistic lead guitar style, combined with Gary Duncan’s driving rhythm guitar, feature a clear jazz sound, a notable contrast to the heavily amplified and overdriven sound of contemporaries like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. In 2003 Happy Trails was rated at No. 189 in the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums survey, where it was described as “…the definitive live recording of the mid-Sixties San Francisco psychedelic-ballroom experience…” Archetypal QMS songs include the elongated, continually re-titled suite based on Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?, featured on Happy Trails.
Duncan left the group not long after the recording of Happy Trails; according to David Freiberg, this was largely because of his escalating problems with opiates and amphetamines. His ‘farewell’ performances were the studio recordings that ended up on Happy Trails and a final live performance with the band on New Year’s Eve 1969. Duncan recalled 18 years later:
“Well, let’s put it this way, at the end of 1968, I was pretty burned out. We’d been on the road for, really, the first time in our lives. I just left for a year. I didn’t want to have anything to do with music at all. And I left for a year and rode motorcycles and lived in New York and L.A. and just kind of went crazy for about a year.”
Freiberg later recalled that Duncan’s departure shook the core of the band: “Duncan was the ‘engine’ man, it just didn’t WORK without him … for me. I was really … I was devastated…”
For their 1969 album Shady Grove, Duncan did not participate, replaced by renowned English session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who had played on scores of hit albums and singles by acts like The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who and Steve Miller, among many others. Hopkins’ virtuoso piano boogie dominates the album, giving it a unique sound within the Quicksilver catalog.
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Discography
- Original band:
Revolution (soundtrack) (1968)
- Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968)
- Happy Trails (1969)
- With Nicky Hopkins:
Shady Grove (1969)
- Hawaiian Albums:
Just for Love (1970)
- What About Me (1970)
- Quicksilver Under Dino Valente:
- Comin’ Thru (1972)
Solid Silver (1975)
- Gary Duncan’s revival:
Peace By Piece (1986)
- Shape Shifter (1996)
- Live at Fieldstone (1997)
Quicksilver Messenger Service – All I Ever Wanted To Do – 1967
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Links