It's hard to tell the story of psychedelic pioneers, San Francisco's own Quicksilver Messenger Service. The jam band passed around as many different members as its members passed around joints, and even stints in "the joint." Quicksilver Messenger Service, spored in 1965 from the prodigical guitarist and folksinger Dino Valente (who is accredited with writing the iconic "Hey Joe" and the Youngblood's "Get Together"), began as a quintet. It was Valente who inspired guitarists Jim Murray and John Cipollina to form Quicksilver Messenger Service. Valente intended to be part of the band but was picked up by the fuzz for possession of marijuana, the day after he pitched the idea to Murray and Cipollina, and would be incarcerated for the next two years. But guitarists Murray and Cipollina didn't hesitate to gather 'round guitarist and vocalist Gary Duncan, bassist and viola-strummer David Freiberg, and drummer Greg Elmore to form Quicksilver Messenger Service. With instrumental ballads such as "Gold and Silver" and "The Fool," Quicksilver Messenger Service's first album paved way for their emergence onto the 1960s music scene and distinguished them from their contemporaries like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. These acid-rock giants challenged the Grateful Dead's improvisational antics and fast-forwarded Jefferson Airplane's down-tempo rhythms; they carved a nook of their own in the Haight-Ashbury era. And they were in demand: Two of their songs landed onto the movie soundtrack for Revolution (1968), alongside tracks from the Steve Miller Band and Mother Earth.
Despite their smooth trip to the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, turbulence caused Murray to abandon Quicksilver Messenger Service for an opportunity to study the sitar—he didn't even stick around long enough to see the release of their first album. But, Quicksilver Messenger Service cranked out their second album, Happy Trails (1969), only a year after their first and without Murray. With half of the songs recorded live at rock-haven, the Fillmore (East and West), the second album is easily Quicksilver Messenger Service's most acclaimed: Rolling Stone posted the album at #189 in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. With obvious jazz and classical influences (as the album wraps around the band's reinvention of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?"), Happy Trails showcases Quicksilver Messenger Service's frenetic angst yet free-flowing harmony.
But Murray's leave triggered a series of gains and losses for the band: Their members fluctuated between four and six, peaking in 1971 (with the additions of Dino Valente and Nicky Hopkins) and, again, in 1975 (with Valente, keyboardist Michael Lewis, and the original cast, sans Murray). Despite these rounds of musical chairs, Quicksilver Messenger Service remained prolific, with 10 albums to boast. One of the last Haight-era bands signed to Capitol Records is, sadly, one of the first forgotten bands of their era.
John Cipollina and Dino Valente now rest in peace, but Gary Duncan and David Freiberg are still spreading Quicksilver's message. In 2006, Duncan and Freiberg resurrected Quicksilver Messenger Service for its 40th anniversary. To date, in 2009, the remnants of Quicksilver Messenger Service now open for Jefferson Starship.
Read more about Quicksilver Messenger Service in Crawdaddy!:
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Read "Classic Vantage: The Golden Road: A Report on San Francisco" in Crawdaddy!