Quicksilver Messenger Service was one of the most acclaimed San Francisco psychedelic rock groups from the 1960s. At its best, the band's bluesy flights of fancy were propelled by the interplay between guitarists John Cipollina and Gary Duncan.Their origins lie in the folk and rock and rol lscenes in San Francisco during the early 1960s, two musical circles that rarely mixed. Cipollina recalled in Guitar Player, "The folk scene was going strong in San Francisco in the early 60s, and rock and roll and electric guitars were pretty much identified with greasy hair, beer, and teenage trauma." Folk singer and guitarist David Freiberg, intent on forming a band with New York folk singer Dino Valenti and singer Jim Murray, began playing with rock guitarist John Cipollina. Drummers came and went, and Freiberg switched to bass guitar. After Valenti was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965, he was replaced by two members of the San Francisco rock group The Brogues, drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist Gary Duncan.
Freiberg explained the origin of the band's name in Rock Names. "Originally there were four Virgos in the band, and one Gemini. Of the four Virgos, there were only two birthdays: John andI were born on August 24, and Gary and Greg were born on September 4.... The ruling planet for Virgo in astrology is Mercury, and it is for Gemini also. So in searching for a name, we said, 'Well,let's see - mercury's the same as quicksilver, right? Mercury's the messenger god? Quicksilver Messenger Service.'"
Late in 1965, Quicksilver began rehearsing and playing live gigs. It opted, however, not to record immediately. The band had a strong local reputation, playing the Monterey Pop Festival and an appearance in the film Revolution in 1967 spread it's name nationally. That year, Quicksilver finally signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. At that point, Murray left, tiring of the hours of rehearsal time.
Quicksilver's self-titled debut album, released in 1968, opened with a scorching version of folksinger Hamilton Camp's "Pride of Man" and closed with the extended instrumental, "Gold and Silver." Although the album was generally well received, the band felt that its best work occurred on stage. Quicksilver Messenger Service recorded its second album Happy Trails live at theFillmore West in San Francisco and the Fillmore East in New York.
Releases Classic Live Album
Revered as a classic American psychedelic album, Happy Trails displayed the individual bandmembers' strengths on the sidelong version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love", while Quicksilver's ensemble playing was showcased on "Mona". It became the first of four consecutive Quicksilver records to reach the top 30 of Billboard's Album Charts. Following its release in 1969,Gary Duncan left the band.
In an interview on the Quicksilver Messenger Service web page, David Freiberg explained the effect of Duncan's departure, "We were trying to find a replacement for Gary.... Of course nobody showed up that could [replace him].... Duncan was the 'engine' man, it just didn't work without him ... for me." The band soldiered on with recording sessions, aided by veteran English pianist NickyHopkins, famous for his work with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Hopkins got along so well with Cipollina that he was invited to join the band. Those sessions resulted in Shady Grove, a new sound for Quicksilver. Gary Von Tersch commented in Rolling Stone, "The old Quicksilver was immediate, instrumentally flashing, and frenzied. The Quicksilver on Shady Grove has had itscollective head turned around by Nicky Hopkins. The result is a more precise, more lyrical, more textured Quicksilver. But they pull it off quite well."
Two Founding Members Return
Gary Duncan returned to Quicksilver for its New Years Eve, 1970 Fillmore West show; he also agreed to return to the band provided Dino Valenti could join as well. The band agreed and relocated to Hawaii to record its next album Just For Love. On the runway just prior to the band's departure, bullets were found in one of the entourage's luggage. Further search revealed marijuana, resulting in the arrest of David Freiberg. Freiberg recalled about the conditions during that trip, "We picked a place to build a studio that doesn't have electricity ... So we gotta get a generator for thee lectricity and it was THREE weeks before we even got started on [the album]." Just For Lovefeatured Quicksilver's highest charting single, "Fresh Air".
The title track to Quicksilver's 1971 album, What About Me, with its socially conscious lyrics was a minor hit single. Due to Valenti's increasing domination of the band, Cipollina and Hopkins left. Freiberg was arrested once again for possession of marijuana and also left the band; following his jail sentence, he joined Jefferson Starship.
Closes the Historic Fillmore
On July 3, 1971, Quicksilver Messenger Service participated in the closing week concerts at theFillmore West in San Francisco. Judging by the two songs which appeared on the album commemorating the event, Fillmore: The Last Days, Quicksilver had a harder edge in live performance than in its studio albums of that period. Throughout 1971 and 1972, a period of high bandmember turnover, Quicksilver recorded two disappointing albums Quicksilver and Comin'Thru, after which the band was inactive for almost two years. In 1975, the original lineup of Quicksilver, including Valenti, reunited for an album and tour before officially disbanding.
Gary Duncan reunited Quicksilver briefly in 1986 for the album, Peace by Piece. He has bee leading a band called Quicksilver 98, playing in the spirit of the band's classic material. John Cipollina was involved in many musical activities following his tenure with Quicksilver, though he never again enjoyed as high a profile as he had with the band. He died of heart failure related to asthma in 1989. Quicksilver Messenger Service's improvisational style of its early years, the embodiment of the psychedelic San Francisco sound, as well as the folk-pop styles of later albums,assures the band of its place in rock history.
by Jim Powers
Quicksilver Messenger Service's Career
Group formed in San Francisco,1966; played at Monterey Pop Festival, 1967; appeared infilm Revolution, 1968; released first album Quicksilver Messenger Service, on Capitol Records,1968; disbanded, 1975; reformed, 1986; disbanded, 1986; reformed as Quicksilver 98, 1998.