Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Quicksilver Messenger Service-Happy Trails

In the mid 1960's there was a strong music scene developing in California from San Francisco back down to L.A and everywhere in between. This music scene was fuelled by a love of classic blues, a keen ear for the freedom and improvisation of modern jazz, the influence of the beat poets and the mind expanding opportunities presented by LSD. Bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention and The Quicksliver Messenger Service had a unique music aesthetic. It was in many cases loud, brash and ragged, played with great freedom and complete disregard for what was accepted as being commercially viable.

Quicksilver Messengers origins lay in San Francisco the band was initially formed by Dino Valenti (Chet Powers) who was more famous for writing the Youngbloods hit Get Together, alongside guitarist Jim Cippolina. Bassist David Freiberg who had previously played alongside David Crosby and Paul Kanter from the Airplane was the next addition. Valenti was soon out of the band due to a drug bust, originally the second guitar role was filled by Skip Spence and this incarnation played regularly at Marty Balin's Matrix club in San Francisco. Spence was soon recruited to played with Jefferson Airplane, Balin helped the band recruit two new members from local outfit The Brogues, with guitarist/vocalist Gary Duncan and drummer Greg Elmore rounding out the lineup alongside guitarist Jim Murray who left the band in early 1967. The band found their niche as a live band with sets that interspersed hard rocking wild guitar riffing alongside Gary Duncan's more intricate jazz inspired wanderings.

Their classic live album Happy Trails was recorded at both the Fillmore East and West during residencies at those venues during 1968, the album was released in March 1969 and made an immediate impact. Side 1 is taken up with the Who Do You Love Suite which is basically broken down into 6 individual segments. Who Do You Love (Part 1) stays true to the Bo Diddley original with that funked up jungle rhythm, Cippolina fires of cascading riffs with Freiberg pounding out that familiar ominous bass riff. When You Love is definitely a nod towards the work of Mike Bloomfield on The Butterfield Blues Band classic East West from 1966. This time it's Gary Duncan morphing out the jazz influenced licks. Where You Love returns to the more funky rhythmic pattern, both guitarists bouncing chords off one another, lots of slide tones and ambiguous patterns. How You Love has Cippolina bringing the song back to life with some dynamic fretwork, Which Do You Love has a powerful bass solo from Freiberg who would later ply his trade with Jefferson Starship. Who Do You Love Part 2 brings things back to life starting off as a real slow burning slow blues number before the band crash on through to the end.

Side 2 starts of with a percussive rendition of another Diddley classic Mona, taken along the same lines as Who Do You Love with some great distorted slide work from Cippolina. Maiden Of The Cancer Moon sees the band take a more progressive turn, a great mix of loud distorted blues courtesy of Cippolina then the song stretches out with Gary Duncan supplying guitar notes that bend and twist alongside Cippolina's more clipped precision playing. The song then morphs into the thirteen minutes Calvary which is a classic piece of West Coast psychedelia with it's distortion and feedback. Somewhat incongruously the album closes with the country classic Happy Trails but the band sound like a drunken cabaret act. Like many bands from the era Quicksliver Messenger Service never really broke through to large mainstream success although they put four albums into the U.S Top 30, once that initial period of popularity for psychedelic music petered out so did the band. Gary Duncan and David Freiberg continue to front a new version of the band which continues to play live, especially on the West Coast of the United States.

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