Quicksilver Messenger Service Biography

Of all the bands that came out of the San Francisco area during the late 60s Quicksilver typified most the style, attitude and sound of that era. The original band in 1964 comprised Dino Valenti (Chester Powers, 7 October 1937 (1943 is also cited), Danbury, Connecticut, USA, d. 16 November 1994, Santa Rosa, California, USA; vocals), John Cipollina (b. 24 August 1943, Berkeley, California, USA, d. 29 May 1989; guitar), David Freiberg (b. 24 August 1938, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; bass/vocals), Jim Murray (vocals/ harmonica), Casey Sonoban (drums) and, very briefly, Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence (b. 18 April 1946, Windsor, Ontario, Canada; guitar/vocals), before being whisked off to join the Jefferson Airplane as drummer. Another problem that later proved to be significant in Quicksilver’s development was the almost immediate arrest and imprisonment of Valenti for a drugs offence. He did not rejoin the band until late 1969. In 1965 the line-up was strengthened by the arrival of Gary Duncan (b. Gary Grubb, 4 September 1946, San Diego, California, USA; guitar) and, replacing Sonoban, Greg Elmore (b. 4 September 1946, San Diego, California, USA). Murray departed soon after their well-received appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

The quartet of Cipollina, Duncan, Elmore and Freiberg recorded the first two albums; both are important in the development of San Francisco rock music, as the twin lead guitars of Cipollina and Duncan made them almost unique. The second collection, Happy Trails, is now regarded as a classic. George Hunter and his Globe Propaganda Company were responsible for some of the finest album covers of the 60s and Happy Trails is probably their greatest work. The live music within showed a spontaneity that the band was never able to recapture on subsequent recordings. The sidelong suite of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’ has some incredible dynamics and extraordinary interplay between the twin guitarists. Duncan departed soon afterwards and was replaced by UK session pianist and ex-Steve Miller Band member, Nicky Hopkins (b. 24 February 1944, London, England, d. 6 September 1994, California, USA). His contributions breathed some life into the disappointing Shady Grove, notably with the frantic ‘Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder’. Just For Love showed a further decline, with Valenti, now back with the band, becoming overpowering and self-indulgent. ‘Fresh Air’ gave them a Top 50 US hit in 1970. Cipollina departed, as did Freiberg following his arrest in 1971 for drug possession (he found a lucrative career later with Jefferson Starship). Various incarnations have appeared over the years with little or no success. As recently as 1987, Gary Duncan recorded an album carrying the Quicksilver name, but by then old fans were more content to purchase copies of the first two albums on compact disc.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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