Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service

1969

Once the Zoom calls started in earnest last year, I was very careful to arrange my computer/laptop/phone/camera to arrange the backdrop to show off my musical tastes. I spent a long time manoeuvring the devices so that anyone looking at the background, rather than looking at me, would be impressed by the number and quality of my vinyl collection or library of Beatles’ books. I think this was “inspired”, (if that’s the right word), by David Hepworth’s impressive backdrop when he presents “Word In Your Attic”.

My vanity can be traced back to the thrill I got by walking into the Sixth Form Room at Judd in 1970 with a copy of “Shooting At The Moon” by Kevin Ayers And The Whole World. The admiring glances and favourable comments I received were uncountable (Is zero actually a number? Greek mathematicians would say that it isn’t).

However, my vanity and determination to be seen to have excellent musical taste hasn’t deserted me. It’s why I ignored all Pink Floyd albums after “Umma Gumma” and all Fleetwood Mac albums after “Then Play On” – I wanted to appear too cool, too cultured, too considered, to go with the majority. I wanted to show off that I know about good music that other people have never heard of.

Unfortunately, this personality flaw hasn’t left me. There’s a Facebook group for Samaritans who share their tastes in music. I don’t know anyone in this group – members live all over the U.K. In December, one of the members invited us all to contribute one song each day that represented a specific feeling. For example, Day 1 was for a song we liked with a colour in the title (I suggested “Blue” by Joni Mitchell). Day 7 was a song to drive to (“I Like Trucks” by Kendel Carson). Day 19 was for a song that made us think about life (“For A Dancer” by Jackson Browne). Day 20 was for a song that has many meanings to us (“The Worst Day Since Yesterday” by Flogging Molly). I put far too much thought into my responses. I didn’t want to be too obvious but I knew that if I always put an obscure song or artist, I would be ignored. Most people would simply answer the challenge but I had to complicate things by thinking about my image.

It’s interesting that for someone who pays so little attention to his appearance and has never given a second’s thought to dressing fashionably, I am very concerned about how others perceive my musical taste. I guess that anyone who has read any of these posts is well aware of my snobbishness and disdain for the obvious. Apart from The Beatles. Oh, and David Bowie. Oh, and Townes van Zandt.

Seventeen weeks ago, another member of this Facebook group started a weekly activity called “Feel Good Friday”. It was very simple: week 1 was the letter A, week 2 was B (“Add Some Music To Your Day” by The Beach Boys), week 7 was G (“Head To The Rodeo” by Guadalcanal Diary), week 8 was H (“Depressed Beyond Tablets” by Half Man Half Biscuit), week 16 was P (“Sphagnum Mass For A Dead Queen” by Karine Polwart) and so on. Excitingly, one member of the group told me that he had bought the Karine Polwart album on the basis of hearing that one song. Obviously, everyone in this group regards me as a musical guru in the same way that the middle class Sixth Form boys in a Kent grammar school did, 50 years ago.

This week, the letter was Q. Obviously, quite a challenge and contributions from other members of the group include Queen Chimera, Queer’d Science as well as Queen and Queens Of The Stone Age. I went for Quicksilver Messenger Service and, not having played “Happy Trails” for 20 years or more, I retrieved my vinyl album and was blown away by it.

“Happy Trails” was the second album released by Quicksilver Messenger Service. There have been many different lineups of the band but, on this record, they consisted of John Cipollina and Gary Duncan on lead electric guitars, David Freiberg on bass and Greg Elmore on drums. All four of the band sung although Gary Duncan and David Freiberg were the main lead vocalists. They all looked fantastic. Being from San Francisco and performing in the late Sixties, they all had great hair, brilliant clothes and a super cool attitude.

John Cipollina, the 32nd best guitarist of all time (according to Rolling Stone in 2003) was born in Berkeley, California. After leaving QMS in 1970, he formed a number of bands and, in 1975, he played a gig with Welsh rockers, Man, at The Roundhouse, which was released as an album, “Maximum Darkness”. He died in 1989, aged 45, from a lung disease. He looked like a lead guitarist should look. Tall, handsome, a little aloof, long hair and groovy clothes.

Gary Duncan was born in San Diego and played with QMS for fifty years until his death, aged 73, in 2019. He had a very soulful voice, a 1969 Beatles haircut and also looked like a super cool guy. He’d definitely appreciate my choice of songs on Facebook.

David Freiberg shared lead vocals with Gary Duncan. He was born in Boston and before joining QMS, he shared a house with David Crosby and Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane) before, inevitably, being jailed for possession of marijuana. He left QMS because of another prison sentence and, on release, joined Jefferson Airplane in 1972 and their reincarnation as Jefferson Starship (whose album, “Deagonfly”, is one of the greatest albums of the 70’s. Ooops. There I go again.). I consider his perm to be one of the few successful examples of a hairstyle that normally gives the impression of someone trying too hard to impress. David Freiberg doesn’t have to try and the way he holds his bass guitar in this photo is beyond cool.

Greg Elmore simply looked like a drummer. He had long hair, a droopy moustache and a hangdog expression. He was born on a naval base in California and was introduced to the rest of the band by Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane who had just poached original drummer Skip Spence to join his band.

“Happy Trails” is a strange album because the whole of Side One is taken up with a 25 minute live version of “Who Do You Love”, the Bo Diddley song. The track is a continuous piece but can be considered in six parts. 1) (“Who Do You Love Part One”). A great introduction played by John Cipollina followed by Gary Duncan’s impassioned singing of the main song. 2) (“When You Love”). A jazzy guitar solo by Gary Duncan. 3) (“Where You Love”). Improvised guitar and bass with whoopin’ and hollerin’ from the audience. 4) (“How You Love”). Fantastically exciting and exhilarating guitar playing by John Cipollina – the epitome of loud 60’s West Coast electric guitar based rock music. There is no finer example than this. 5) (“Which Do You Love”). Bass guitar solos are never that interesting but after the last part a gentle comedown is necessary. 6) (“Who Do You Love Part Two). A reprise of the main song leads into a manic conclusion with every member of the band playing to excess. If anyone wanted to argue that this is self-indulgent or overblown, I wouldn’t put up a strong defence. I just happen to love it. That’s all.

Side Two consists of three songs with a short coda (a short, ridiculous country rendition of the Roy Rogers song, “Happy Trails”). “Mona” is another Bo Diddley song with spectacular guitar solos by both Gary Duncan and John Cipollina. “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon” and “Calvary” are instrumentals with more astounding lead guitar. The three songs were recorded live as one piece but a studio version of “Calvary” was substituted.

Here is an unbelievably exhilarating performance of “Mona” from 1970. It may be that original member, Dino Valenti, is the fifth member of the band.

Great hair. Great clothes. Great musical taste. If only….

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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