There have been a number of musical scenes over the years, but perhaps the most significant of all was that of San Francisco in the late ‘60s. The city was the home to The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and many others. Although Quicksilver Messenger Service never quite reached the heights of recognition as many of their contemporaries, they certainly deserved to. To confirm this, just give the newly released double-CD Live at The Fillmore: June 7, 1968 a listen. The band was on fire that night.
Like their friends The Grateful Dead, much of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s best work was done on the stage. For my money, the lineup of Gary Duncan (guitar, vocals), John Cipollina (guitar), David Freiberg (bass, vocals), and Greg Elmore (drums) that recorded Live at the Fillmore was the definitive edition of the band.
The Fillmore might as well have been Quicksilver’s living room, as they played there so often. On June 7, 1968, they were ostensibly promoting their self-titled debut album, which had just been released. The 12-song concert features five of the LP’s six tracks, the only one not included is “It’s Been Too Long.” The show also previews songs from Happy Trails, which would come out the following year. The three Happy Trails sides are Gary Duncan’s “Calvary,” and Bo Diddley‘s “Mona,” and “Who Do You Love.”
Besides those previously mentioned, Quicksilver delivered four more covers to their Fillmore audience: “If You Live (Your Time Will Come)” (Mose Allison), “Smokestack Lightnin” (Howlin‘ Wolf), “Backdoor Man” (Willie Dixon), and “Codine” (Buffy Saint-Marie).
One of the things that made Quicksilver Messenger Service so memorable was their mastery of the blues, and “Who Do You Love” would become the centerpiece of Happy Trails. Much of that album was recorded live at The Fillmore, and the version of “Who Do You Love” on it clocks in at over 25 minutes. The June 7, 1968 take runs for “only” 12:05, but it is a smoker nonetheless. Their version of Diddley’s “Mona” is similarly powerful. The band loved nothing more than to lock into a groove, and give Cipollina room to solo. He takes full advantage of this during “Mona,” and many of the other songs as well.
They opened their set with “Pride of Man,” which was also the first track on Quicksilver Messenger Service. Sometimes Cipollina’s guitar playing tended to overshadow the contributions of his fellow band members, simply because so-called “guitar heroes” were all the rage at the time. Besides being a great tune, “Pride of Man” is also a “band” song. Outside of Cipollina’s brief solo, the cut is a very good showcase for the entire group.
What often gets lost in discussions of the Haight-Ashbury groups such as Quicksilver is the jazz influence. Just a decade earlier, jazz ruled San Francisco. This is acknowledged with the next song, Mose Allison’s “If You Love Me (Your Time Will Come).”
The story behind the involvement of Dino Valenti in the formation of Quicksilver Messenger Service is disputed and will likely always be. Since both Cipollina and Valenti are deceased, and both had differing recollections of the event, the truth may never be sorted out. One thing that is certain however is that Valenti wrote “Dino’s Song,” which appeared on the Quicksilver Messenger Service album. Thanks to the Draconian drug laws of the time, Valenti was in prison on a marijuana charge when the record was released. If nothing else, the band’s performance of “Dino’s Song” at The Fillmore was a tip of the hat to an old friend. When Valenti was released, he officially joined the band and wrote what would become their biggest hit, “Fresh Air.”
I mentioned the influence of jazz in Quicksilver’s music earlier, but nowhere is it more apparent than on Gary Duncan’s “Acapulco Gold and Silver.” On the Quicksilver Messenger Service album, the song is titled “Gold and Silver,” which was the record company’s doing. Whatever you call it though, this is the most overt jazz song I have heard by the group. Dave Brubeck fans will immediately recognize the nod to his classic “Take Five” on it. Greg Elmore takes a nice drum solo during this track as well, and unlike many of the drum solos of the day, he does not overstay his welcome.
Before George Thorogood came along in the late ‘70s, the Quicksilver version of “Who Do You Love” was the most famous, outside of Diddley’s own. It was the next to last song of the night. Cipollina’s guitar never sounded better. I think it is unfortunate that the brilliance of his playing was not recognized by a wider audience. He certainly deserved it. Cipollina’s guitar also dominates the grand finale, “The Fool.”
Unlike many “recently unearthed” live albums, this one sounds fantastic. The people at the Purple Pyramid label did an outstanding job of mastering this music. It sounds great. There are enough albums recorded “Live at the Fillmore” as to constitute a genre unto itself. Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Live at the Fillmore: June 7, 1968 is one of the best I have heard.