Quicksilver Messenger Service got off to an early start, and were one of the first bands to capitalize on interest in all things musical and chemical in San Francisco. Fueled by the unmistakable sound of John Cipollina on lead guitar, Quicksilver became one of the leading lights in a movement that captured attention and imagination from all over the world.
Quicksilver Messenger Service initially held back from committing to a record deal but eventually signed to Capitol Records in late 1967, becoming the last of the top-ranked San Francisco bands to join 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.
They 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. Like most live albums of the time, Happy Trails made extensive use of studio overdubs, and the last two songs were recorded entirely in the studio, but it has nonetheless been called the most accurate reproduction of the band’s acclaimed live performances. 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,” emphasize 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 Quicksilver Messenger Service songs include the elongated rendition of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” on Happy Trails.
But the fortunes of the band started changing in 1970 and by 1974, Quicksilver was pretty much over, with key members going separate ways.
This weekend it’s the band during their halcyon days, the days just before signing with Capitol when they were still struggling and getting good word of mouth. Here is the second set from the second night of a three night stint at The Fillmore on February 4, 1967.
Play loud. Anything else is up to you.