Quicksilver Messenger Service
|Quicksilver Messenger Service|
Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1970
John Cipollina, Greg Elmore,
Nicky Hopkins and David Freiberg
|Also known as||Quicksilver, QMS|
|Origin||San Francisco, California, United States|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, acid rock|
|Years active||1965–1979, 2006–present|
|Associated acts||The Brogues|
Quicksilver Messenger Service (sometimes credited as simply Quicksilver) is an American psychedelic rock band formed in 1965 in San Francisco. They were most famous for their biggest hit, the single "Fresh Air" (from the album Just for Love), which reached #49 in 1970.
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 an individual, innovative sound. 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 various backing musicians.
There is some confusion as to the real origins of the group. According to John Cipollina:
It was Valenti who organized the group. I can remember everything Dino said. 'We were all going to have wireless guitars. We were going to have leather jackets made with hooks that we could hook these wireless instruments right into. And we were gonna have these chicks, backup rhythm sections that were gonna dress like American Indians with real short little dresses on and they were gonna have tambourines and the clappers in the tambourines were going to be silver coins.' And I'm sitting there going, 'This guy is gonna happen and we're gonna set the world on its ear.
The next day, Valenti was arrested for possession of marijuana, and spent the better part of the next two years in jail. But Gary Duncan notes:
That’s the story Cipollina told everybody. But according to Dino, that wasn’t the case at all. When he’d been looking for a band, he’d talked to Cipollina, and everybody somehow put two and two together. He actually lived with us when he got out of prison, and while we played some music together and wrote songs, he had no interest in playing in Quicksilver; he wanted to start his own career. Well, when his own career didn’t do so well, he had more interest in playing in Quicksilver!
Whether or not Quicksilver Messenger Service was what Valenti had in mind, it appears from Duncan's recollections that he had at least talked with Cipollina about forming a band; Cipollina remembered that:
I was recommended to Dino, probably because I was the only guy playing an electric guitar, let alone lead, at the time…We talked about rehearsing one night and planned to rehearse the following night but it never happened. The next day Dino got busted.
David Freiberg, a folk-guitarist friend of Valenti's, was recruited to the group. He had previously been in a band with Paul Kantner and David Crosby but like Cipollina he had been arrested and briefly jailed for marijuana possession and had just been released. "We were to take care of this guy Freiberg," Cipollina recalled, and though they had never met before, Freiberg was integrated into the group. The band also added Skip Spence on guitar and began to rehearse at Marty Balin's club, the Matrix. Balin, in search of a drummer for the band he was organizing (which became Jefferson Airplane), convinced Spence to switch instruments and groups.
To make up for poaching Spence, Balin suggested that they contact drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist–singer Gary Duncan, who had played together in a group called The Brogues. This new version of the group played its first concert performance in December 1965, playing for the Christmas party of the Committee (improv group). Drummer Greg Elmore and guitarists George "Quick", and Jim Murray were added to fill out the original band.
It was a band without a name, Cipollina recalled:
Jim Murray and David Freiberg came up with the name. Me and Freiberg were born on the same day, and Gary and Greg were born on the same day, we were all Virgos and Murray was a Gemini. And Virgos and Geminis are all ruled by the planet Mercury. Another name for Mercury is Quicksilver. And then, Quicksilver is the messenger of the Gods, and Virgo is the servant, so Freiberg says "Oh, Quicksilver Messenger Service".
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. "Happy Trails" has a few additions to the original live performances: a studio comment at the beginning of side 2 and a completely different version of "Calvary," which was recorded in the studio just before Gary Duncan left the band; otherwise it reflects Quicksilver's live sound faithfully, and no less an authority than Jerry Garcia dubbed it "the most psychedelic album ever recorded." Happy Trails was awarded a gold album in the United States.
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 minor scale, jazzy guitar playing, resulted in a clear, 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.
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.
Dino Valenti joins Quicksilver
The next two albums, Just for Love and What About Me?, were recorded simultaneously in Hawaii. Much of "What About Me" was recorded at Pacific High Recording in SF. Both albums were mixed at PHR. The band's approach to recording was undisciplined, with new band leader Dino Valenti hiring a building without electricity to record in. The finished albums took many hours in the studio because the group had a contract which allowed unlimited studio time with no Capitol producer present unless invited. The producer was only invited to the studio to hear the playing of the finished albums. The albums are a departure from the group's earlier sound with Dino Valenti taking over as lead singer and, under the pseudonym of Jesse Oris Farrow, principal songwriter. Quicksilver were now essentially the backup band for Valenti, a folk/pop singer-songwriter. The records sold relatively well and produced the group's one legitimate hit radio single, "Fresh Air." John Cipollina and Nicky Hopkins departed soon after their experiences in Hawaii.
The band continued with the lineup of Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore, Dino Valenti and David Freiberg until September 1971 when Freiberg was jailed for marijuana possession. He was replaced by Mark Ryan (bass) and the group added Mark Naftalin on keyboards, and this lineup recorded two more albums, Quicksilver (Nov. 1971) and Comin' Thru (Apr. 1972), with "Doin' Time in the USA" as the most familiar cut (although the Quicksilver track "Fire Brothers" got unexpected but deserved exposure 15 years later, when covered by 4AD label founder Ivo Watts-Russell's goth music collective This Mortal Coil on their 1986 album Filigree and Shadow). In 1972 Naftalin departed the band and was replaced by Chuck Steaks; with second drummer Harold Aceves, formerly a roadie for the band, joining the band at the same time. Mark Ryan was fired in 1972 after missing a plane, and was replaced by Roger Stanton. Stanton had played with Aceves in a popular Phoenix, Ariz. band known as Poland. Stanton remained with the band until 1974 when he was replaced by Bob Flurie, who was a well known east coast virtuoso guitar player (the trio of Aceves, Stanton and Flurie were later to be found in another great San Francisco band formed by ex-Country Joe and the Fish guitar player, Barry "the Fish" Melton). This lineup disbanded the following year.
In 1975 Greg Elmore, Gary Duncan, and Dino Valenti were rejoined by Dave Freiberg and John Cipollina, and recorded the album, Solid Silver; featuring performances by Nicky Hopkins on a couple of tracks, plus contributions from various San Francisco area musicians, including Jefferson Starship's Pete Sears. By this time Freiberg had become a member of Jefferson Starship; he had worked with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick to form a trio on the album Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun, leading to full-time membership in the dying days of Jefferson Airplane as the band evolved into Jefferson Starship. Following the Solid Silver album both Freiberg and Cipollina departed the band again and a lineup consisting of Duncan, Elmore, and Valenti, along with new recruits keyboardist Michael Lewis and bassist Skip Olsen continued performing together until the band finally dissolved in 1979.
Remnants and reunions
After leaving Quicksilver in October 1970, Cipollina formed Copperhead, which was initially a loose "aggregation" of people, before settling on Cipollina, Gary Philippet (vocals, guitar and organ), Jim McPherson (vocals, bass and piano) and David Weber (drums). Cippolina also played with many other Bay Area acts. In 1974 Cipollina guested with Quicksilver-idolizing Welsh progressive rock group Man, playing with them at their 1974 Winterland concerts and guesting with them on a subsequent UK tour, which resulted in the 1975 live album Maximum Darkness. Cipollina died in 1989, at the age of 45, from emphysema, probably attributable to his heavy smoking habit.
Hopkins continued his career as a studio musician, including playing with Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock. He died in September 1994. Dino Valenti died in November 1994.
In the 1980s Gary Duncan resurrected the name and released the albums Peace By Piece in 1986, Shapeshifter Vols. 1 & 2 in 1996, Shapeshifter Vols. 3 & 4, and Strange Trim in 2006, along with several live albums and a website, quicksilvermessengerservice.com. He toured on and off for the next decade or so under names Gary Duncan's Quicksilver and Quicksilver '96.
In 2006, Gary Duncan and David Freiberg launched a 40th-anniversary Quicksilver celebration tour as Quicksilver Messenger Service. They still perform as of 2010, often opening for Jefferson Starship.
In 2002, there was a Quicksilver tribute band formed called Quicksilver Gold. They performed the music of the Quicksilver Messenger Service and members included Dino Valenti's son, Joli Valenti, as well as John Cipollina's brother, Mario Cipollina, and some members of Zero. This band broke up in 2004.
- Current members
- Gary Duncan – guitar, vocals (1965-1969, 1969-1979, 2006-present)
- David Freiberg – bass, guitar, vocals (1965-1971, 1975, 2006-present)
- Former members
- John Cipollina – guitar (1965-1971, 1975; died 1989)
- Greg Elmore – drums (1965-1979)
- Jim Murray – guitar, vocals (1965-1967; died 2013)
- Nicky Hopkins – keyboards (1969-1971; died 1994)
- Dino Valenti – guitar, vocals (1969-1979; died 1994)
- Mark Naftalin – keyboards (1971-1972)
- Mark Ryan – bass (1971-1972)
- Harold Aceves – drums (1972-1975)
- Chuck Steaks – keyboards (1972-1975)
- Roger Stanton – bass (1972-1974)
- Bob Flurie – bass (1974-1975)
- Michael Lewis – keyboards (1975-1979)
- Skip Olsen – bass (1975-1979)
- Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968)
- Shady Grove (1969)
- Just for Love (1970)
- What About Me (1970)
- Quicksilver (1971)
- Comin' Thru (1972)
- Solid Silver (1975)
Gary Duncan's Quicksilver
- Peace By Piece (1986)
- Shape Shifter Vols. 1 & 2 (1996)
- Three in the Side (1998)
- Shapeshifter Vols. 3 & 4 (2006)
- Strange Trim (2006)
- Six String Voodoo (2008)
- Smokin' Sound (1968)
- Happy Trails (1969) (Certified Gold-US).
- Live at Fieldstone (1997)
- Live at the 7th Note (2007)
- Live 07 (2008)
- Reunion (live at The Sweetwater, Mill Valley, CA, June 7, 2006) (2-CD, 2009)
- Maiden of the Cancer Moon (2-LP, 1983)
- At the Kabuki Theatre (2-CD, 2007)
- Live at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, 9th September 1966 (CD, 2008)
- Live at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, 28th October 1966 (CD, 2008)
- Live at The Fillmore, San Francisco, 4th February 1967 (2-CD, 2008)
- Live at The Fillmore, San Francisco, 6th February 1967 (CD, 2008)
- Live at The Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, 4th April 1968 (2-CD, 2008)
- Live at the Quarter Note Lounge, New Orleans, LA, July 1977 (2-CD, 2009)
- Live at the Fillmore, June 7, 1968 (CD, 2013)
- Live at the Winterland Ballroom, December 1, 1973 CD 2013
- Revolution (movie soundtrack) (1968) with Steve Miller Band & Mother Earth
- Sons of Mercury 1968-75 (1991)
- Quicksilver Anthology (1995) BGO CD 270
- Unreleased Quicksilver Messenger Service - Lost Gold and Silver (2-CD, 1999)
- Classic Masters (Remastered, 2002)
- Castles in the Sand (studio jam 1969/70) (CD, 2009)
- 1968 - "Dino's Song" (#63)
- 1969 - "Who Do You Love" (#91)
- 1970 - "Fresh Air" (#49)
- 1971 - "What About Me" (#100)
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- Spin CDs
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- Spin CDs
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