Friday, January 1, 2010

Q - Quicksilver Messenger Service - "Happy Trails"

As a musician, I.....

Sorry, I crack myself up sometimes - gotta start over.

As someone who has created noise with a musical instrument, I understand the attractiveness of "jamming". Playing music with another person or people can sometimes be a very rewarding & entertaining experience, especially when you encounter those happy mistakes or missteps that deviate from your normal playing and lead you someplace totally new. Though with my band, the legendary "Plastic Experience", we did our darndest to play cover versions as close to the original as possible; more often than not, we lacked the talent & musical knowledge to do so, and, in failing to play "correctly", what came out was something quirkier and often a lot more fun. So, yes, truth be told, I do like "jamming" (and hope YOU like "jamming", too!)

That said, as someone who has listened to "jamming" as a third party, there is seldom anything more boring in the galaxy than the song that never seems to end (even if it's only 5 minutes long). I understand that the "jammers" are discovering some of the same enthusiasm I described in the paragraph; for them, it's a rush of creativity and wonder. For me, it's time out of my life that is pretty much wasted. (I'm not saying the Plastics' "jamming" is any better; in fact, it would be best described as "can you put on something else, please?") Come on, give me a melody, a good chorus, solo, and end. All killer, no filler - say whatcha came to say, and get the hell out - that's my idea of a good tune.

Quicksilver Messenger Service came out of the San Fransisco scene that spit out the Dead, Big Brother, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, etc. An standard 4 piece band who were just alright at best (just like Jesus!) with a lineup that fluctuated regularly, the most notable player was guitarist John Cipollina, whose tone & whammy-bar use stood out among other SF players. He was a much more methodical player, not particarly flashy or speed oriented, but his solos had dramatic impact and made a point. But you can't build a band on a dramatic guitar - you gotta have songs. Quicksilver weren't much at the writing game, so what did you get? Jamming. Lots and lots of jamming. Ugh.

So "Happy Trails" is their second record and is mostly live. Side One is nothing but an extended version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love". TWENTY FIVE AND A HALF MINUTES, which is WAY too long. HOWEVER -'s not that bad. Really. First off, instead of Bo's hard fast beat, they slow the groove down, perfect for hippie dancing. I'M not dancing, but I dig this alot more than the more often played hard rock version that George Thorogood recorded 10 years later. Second guitarist Gary Duncan sings lead - not all that well, he's got a very limited range and does that annoying white-soul guy holler too often, but, as the vocal portion of the 25 minutes is maybe 3 minutes, you don't have to tolerate it too much. Cippolina plays some stinging punctuations before Duncan takes a solo over jazzy backing. His playing is fine but fairly non-descript, and goes on, as you may have guessed, a bit too long. Then the music dies down to a beat, and they start farting around, making pops & scratchy noises on their guitars while the audience starts clapping and yelling, either out of boredom or because the drugs have finally kicked in. Finally the drums lead back into a screaming Cipollina solo which, ironically, is far too SHORT. All the more unfortunate, because bassist David Friedberg is up next with a 3 & a half minute plod that destroys all the momentum they just built up. Luckily, they return to the song before everyone falls asleep (and before drummer Greg Elmore takes a solo), and the song finds its way to an ending (even the ending drags on and on. Come on, it's Bo Diddley - just go "duh duh duh...duhduh" and finish, already). So yeah, it could've been cut by half and still been too long, but I've sat through way worse Grateful Dead nonsense, and, unlike the Dead's epics, I can appreciate this without being high.

Side Two begins with 7 minutes of "Mona", ANOTHER Bo Diddley song! If they had just marketed themselves as a stoner version of a Bo cover band, I'd like them so much more, because judging on these two tries, they did it pretty well. Sure, the vocals are still boring, and the beat's a little too lazy on this one, but it's got a good feel to it otherwise, with Cipollina's guitar being reverbed from here to Hades (but, again, why is Duncan getting more solo time than Cipollina???) At some point, "Mona" ends and segues into "Maiden of the Cancer Moon", which segues into "Calvary", both songs by Duncan that are simply excuses for "jamming". As a Gary Duncan cover band, Quicksilver are awful, as both of these "tunes" go nowhere and stay there. A useless tuneless cover of the Dale Evans title track (only 47 seconds! They DO know restraint! or at least someone knows how to edit!) finishes out the side.

VERDICT: shave and a haircut - this sucks! Well, not totally. Don't go out of your way for it, though.
VIDEO: this catches Quicksilver right after original lead singer and super tool Dino Valente rejoined, which ended up taking the band in a much more commercial, but not necessarily better, direction. Lots of stoned hippies dancing, eh?


  1. Joe - curious about your comment that Gary Duncan was lead singer. How do you know that?

    This is one of my favorite albums. I purchased it new in '69 and have been listening to it since.


  2. Gary sang lead on the majority of the first 2 quicksilver LP's, and left soon after the release of "Happy Trails". he returned with Dino Valenti after their 3rd record, but Dino basically took over & changed the band. if you click the link at the end of the post, that's Gary singing "Mona".
    also did you know John Cipollina's brother Mario played bass for Huey Lewis & the News? true dat.