Quicksilver Messenger Service - Biography
By J Poet
Quicksilver Messenger Service, along with the Grateful Dead, planted the seeds of what would become the jam band movement of the 90s. Quicksilver was know for its sterling musicianship and free form jamming, second only to The Dead in the hearts and minds of pyschedelic music lovers in the 60s. Although their albums seldom caught the fierce sparks that blew off of the stage in live gigs, they did capture many of the band’s best tunes at their peak.
In 1964, Dino Valenti was already a legend in New York songwriting circles for penning “Get Together”, one of the seminal hippie anthems as well as the murder ballad “Hey Joe.” He moved out to San Francisco, with the idea of combining folk and rock into a new kind of music. He found folk guitarist John Cipollina and together they put together what was to become Quicksilver with singer Jim Murray, David Freiberg on bass, drummer Greg Elmore and third guitarist Gary Duncan. The idea was to turn the folk songs of Valenti into rockers, but from the first the guitar interplay between Cipollina and Duncan blew people away. They were already building a buzz in 1965, when Valenti was busted for marijuana possession the band kept on, building a loyal local following and headlining the Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom. Major labels wanted to sing them, but the band wanted to build up their reputation first. They knocked out the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival. They signed to Capital, but Jim Murray left the band before they cut their debut Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968 Capital). The album included the 12-minute epic “The Fool” and got great reviews. The band hit the road, but felt that the record didn’t really capture them at their best. Fir album two, Happy Trails (1968 Capital). It’s side long (on the LP) “Love Suite” combined Do Diddley’s “Who Do You Love’ with love songs by the band, and the free flowing guitar work is a defining moment in the history of psychedelic music. The album shot up the charts and went gold.
1n 1969 Valenti was out of jail and convinced Duncan to move to New York to start another band. Quicksilver recruited keyboard ace Nicky Hopkins, famous for his work with the Rolling Stones, to fill his shoes. Shady Grove (1969 Capital) showed a slight refocus with a folk/rock version of the title track and some country influenced tunes as well as the expected long jam “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder” which featured Hopkins flashy keyboard work.
Duncan and Valenti returned to San Francisco and rejoined the band in 1971. They relocated to Hawaii to record Just For Love (1970 Capital), a collection of Valenti’s tunes. It was more pop than their previous albums, with only one extended jam. The first singe, “Fresh Air” was a hit and the album hit #27 on the Billboard charts. Some band members were grumbling about Valenti’s role, forgetting that it had been his band in the beginning. Cipollina and Hopkins split; Freiberg got busted for pot and had to do jail time. (He joined Jefferson Starship later on.) What About Me ((1970 Capital) was cut be the remaining trio with session players and included out takes from the Hawaiian sessions. It was a pop album, with little of he band’s psychedelic flair evident.
When the Fillmore West closed in 1971, Quicksilver was on the bill and their tracks on Fillmore: The Last Days (1972 Columbia) showed that they could still pull out the stops on stage. Down to a trio, with side men coming and going, Quicksilver made two more albums Quicksilver (1971 Capital) a strong psychedelic folk rock album and Comin’ Thru (1972 Capital) a funky horn driven set. The band didn’t officially break up, but they played few gigs and wrote no new material until the delivered Solid Silver (1975 Capital). The album had the classic Quicksilver sound, but music had changed and their free form folk rock sounds slightly dated. They finally called it quits. John Cipollina died in 1989, Nicky Hopkins passed in 1994 and Dino Valenti died that same year.
In 1986 Duncan revived the Quicksilver name for the albums Peace by Piece (1986 Pymander), a blend of rock, jazz, funk, and folk and Shape Shifter (1996 Pymander) a similar excursion. He continues to tour under the Quicksilver and has released several albums in the 2000s including Live 07 (2008 Global Artists), Six String Voodoo (2008 Global Artists) and At The Kabuki Theater – Live 1990 (2008 Global Artists)