Edwin Pouncey (EP), Sharon Gal (SG), Nigel Cross (NC)
SG: Resonance 104.4 FM
EP: Hi Sharon
SG: Hi Edwin
EP: Hi Sharon
SG: Hi Edwin
: Hi There
EP: How you doing?
SG: I'm good. These shows are getting better.
SG: The Mobius Strip...
EP: And boy have we, err, have we got a good one today.
SG: We do.
EP: We've got psychedelic historian and, err, man of knowledge Nigel Cross in the studio today and he's going to give us a full, um, sort of lowdown on one of the most important guitarists well, ever, I should imagine. Don't you think, Nigel?
NC: (Faintly) Absolutely, yeah, he was one of the greats
SG: Would it help if you...
EP: Yeah, yeah. As Sharon has pointed out... who the heck are we talking about, though?
NC: (Faintly) We're talking about a man called John -
SG: Although we can't hear you.
EP: No we can't hear you.
NC: (Getting louder) We're talking about a guy called John Cipollina who was in a great late 60's band called the Quicksilver Messenger Service who made two of the greatest albums of all time. They made an album called Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1968, and about 6 months later they recorded I think, for me, one of the greatest live albums of all time, something called Happy Trails which we'll get onto in due course.
EP: Good. Well what we're going to hear now we're going to play something first -
NC: OK we're going to start off with John -
EP: You've raided your archives for this show I know haven't you, Nigel?
NC: And some other people's archives as well.
EP: Excellent. Right.
NC: We're going to start off with a live thing from the 80's. John Cipollina was in a band called Thunder & Lightning with a guy called Nick Gravenites who was a guitarist. He played with The Electric Flag, he played with Big Brother & the Holding Company, wrote songs for Janis Joplin. This is a song recorded live in Europe. It's called Small Walk-In Box.
EP: That gives a flavour of Cipollina's playing, anyway doesn't it Nigel?
NC: Sure does. It shows that he still had -
EP: That distinctive style he's got. How would you describe it?
NC: Well, it's almost like sort of trumpets or something. There's some great kinda quotes... I think Bill Graham had a great description of it if I can find the right quotes. I mean it's... he said something like... got the notes here... he basically said something like that it was if you could imagine what a stallion might be like if it could sing that was what John's guitar tone was like
EP: great yeah
NC: but its I dunno its kinda of like its very sort of
EP: To me it always encapsulated the name of the group he was in... Quicksilver
NC: very metallic
EP: it had that quicksilver feel to it like mercury flying all over the place
EP: Very distinctive. I mean was this done purely by using the instrument itself without the effects pedals or what did he do? What was his technique?
NC: Well, he was one of those players that was erm could be famously out of tune. He used one of those whammy bars and so he never actually could get his guitar that well in tune but i think one of the reasons why he could be so lightning fast it could kinda contract and flow was that he always used fingerpicks.
NC: So I think people described his hand as being like a claw
EP: Any kind of claw? an eagles claw? a lobster claw?
NC: Probably more like some kind of like sort of monster claw. He was very into Batman and stuff like that.
SG: Did he have large hands then?
NC: Yeah he did have quite had very long bony the kind of things you might see in a horror movie
EP: We can see the man there behind you obviously the listeners can't but there he is sort of hunched over a microphone those claws as you say sort of wrapped round
NC: very skinny sort of tall craggy kinda guy with very very long hair
EP: Before we go any further perhaps we should really explain just why we have decided to devote the program today to John Cipollina.
NC: Yeah, sure. Well (Rebuffering) before we get onto why I think he was one of the great guitarists and why I think his band, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, were pretty important. This coming Sunday, the 24th of August, John would have been 60, had he lived. So I figured that it was time that British radio did a tribute to the man.
EP: Yeah, well, I can only agree really. although Sharon doesn't really know much about him
SG: To my shame
NC: we'll try to educate you during the next couple of minutes
EP: it's kind of a boy's folly though, in a way.
NC: it is
EP: Feel free to join in.
EP: Anyway, the next piece we're going to hear is again from an archive piece. Maybe you could explain this bit.
NC: This is certainly probably hardly anyone's ever heard this before and I apologise in advance for the poor sound quality. John was in this band as we've mentioned, called the Quicksilver Messenger Service, that started out in San Francisco in the mid 60's. In 1965 they kind of coalesced into a great line-up and they started doing a lot of shows. They played the Avalon Ballroom, and the Fillmore, and famous venues like that but their first sort of big gig was to do something for this political group called The Committee, and the Committee wanted them to they needed a recording of the Star Spangled Banner and as far as I know, back in 1965, no-one in a rock band had actually committed to tape a version of the Star Spangled Banner. This isn't Hendrix but it's quite interesting.
EP: It was considered a revolutionary act because in a way it was y'know like burning the flag or something in a way -
EP: or making the flag their own saying that -
EP: it doesn't just belong to rednecks, it belongs to us as well or something -
EP: also making a comment about it. Enough of my babbling, let's hear it... The Star-Spangled Banner
EP: Yeah well that was Link Wray. What track was that then?
NC: That was -
EP: It sounded so familiar. I've forgotten.
NC: It's called "Rumble", it's one of his sort of famous guitar instrumentals. Link Wray was like probably one of the big influences on the young John Cipollina. John wanted to go straight into playing electric guitar really and Link was his big hero. In the 70's I think they actually played together. They had a band together as well.
EP: Oh right
NC: It's the same kind of quavery sort of rough sort of sound very trebly and stuff.
EP: So do you think that Cipollina was sort of like involved y'know really that that's where his roots were coming from, like everybody else's I suppose, from 50's guitar bands things like the rock'n'roll scene the whole thing
NC: Yeah definitely
EP: Elvis and stuff
NC: He really liked those guys but he was also very very schooled in the blues I mean his big heroes were also Howlin' Wolf, and Bo Diddley.
NC: Who we'll be talking about a bit later on I suspect
EP: So electric blues
NC: Mainly electric blues
EP: As opposed to acoustic
NC: He played a lot of blues in the later part of his career as well
NC: In fact we could play the next track I think that's "Smokestack Lightning" which
EP: OK. So we'll put this on now... this is "Smokestack Lightning" then yeah?
EP: That was "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" by Quicksilver Messenger Service, and I think there we got a real flavour of what the band were all about really, from this fantastic set that came out that was called -
NC: Marin County Cowboys
EP: Marin County Cowboys: The Ultimate Anthology Volume One. Volume Two never arrived. Volume One's enough for me. We're still reeling from that when it came out.
NC: Very fine
EP: Strange that the real record companies never really get it right doesn't it? How they could never really capture this band when they were around. And it's taken all this time for enthusiasts to sort of, somehow, piece it together and make it sound as it should really.
NC: You're right there. Bands like Quicksilver and the Grateful Dead were just doing things in the late 60's which the straight record labels just couldn't really cope with, and there weren't that many independent labels around then that could put records out and so they kind of got caught out. But the band suffered as a result.
EP: Sure. We should talk really about what the San Francisco, briefly, what the San Francisco thing in the 60's was like you know if you could sort of just encapsulate for us. Obviously it all revolved around well, going to the main ballrooms and places like that, and seeing these bands play live like the Fillmore and the Avalon things like that
EP: the light shows and all that other experience and stuff like that
NC: When the San Francisco sound started in '65 people used to go and see rock'n'roll bands to dance and that's one of the big things that people go on about hippies all sitting down on the floor and stoned out of their minds and things
EP: Only at Glastonbury. [Laughter]
NC: Yeah. I think like the first few years that bands like Quicksilver and the Charlatans and the jefferson airplane wree playing people just didn't wanted to come and just sit around like some kind of night club they wanted to like participate it was like a whole kind of multimedia thing it was there was this wonder drug that had just come on the market in 64/65 LSD and that certainly enhanced the audience's enjoyment of the bands.
NC: there were 3 or 4 kind of like key venues in San Francisco there was the Avalon the Carousel the Fillmore places like that people used to go down there and hang out and, as I say, they used to dance later on I guess when the bands got more spaced out and took more mind-expanding drugs it was a little bit more a case of listening
EP: But there were hundreds an d hundreds of bands, weren't there, playing?
EP: What singled out say y'know these two? Quicksilver and the Dead, for instance?
NC: a lot of the bands had a few
EP: they played together, didn't they? The Quick and the Dead, which is really a great title for a concert
NC: they were pretty close allies as well. it was part and parcel of being in the right place at the right time. both bands kind of y'know they had a common root, they drew heavily from folk music and blues music and well roots music in general and then they just took it somewhere else. both bands were very good at improvising
NC: they'd start off just doing a kind of regular blues thing, and then they'd just take it out there. it was like Gary Duncan who was the other guitarist in Quicksilver Messenger Service was a huge Miles Davis fan. I think if you listen to albums like Happy Trails, you can really hear that kind of influence coming out it wasn't just the drugs kicking in.
EP: there was improvisation as well which is what the Dead were good at
EP: back to the old argument people bands like the ones we're talking about and people like the Allman Brothers and things they really were as improvisational as any free jazz band really that's what they were heading for really. It wasn't just rock music that's the genre they were immediately genre audience they were attracting
NC: it was a rock audience, yeah rock audience
EP: not many old jazzers would go down to see
NC: One or two Ralph Gleason who was the journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle. Don't forget that there was a really big jazz scene in San Francisco in the 50's and part & parcel of that was the whole kind of bohemian thing and the beat generation the poetry readings and stuff that were inspired by the jazz music. It was all kids who were into the Rolling Stones and stuff like that. It was a kind of mixture.
EP: another aspect that both bands I suppose in a way even more with Quicksilver was this sort of nostalgic look over the shoulder at the Old West
NC: Oh absolutely. If there's one thing that drew me in to Quicksilver Messenger Service, it was a quote I read - hope you don't mind me just re-reading it - it was in The Village Voice, in New York, in 1968. Quicksilver were a band who notoriously would not tour. They set up in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and they just maximised their enjoyment of what they did. They liked playing rock-n-roll, taking drugs, and just generally having a good time. and they just didn't want to be bothered with record labels or touring and eventually they did go out on tour they went tp play the Fillmore East in New York there's this fantastic 3 line review by somebody called Annie Fisher, it said something like: "the group raises images of white spanish missions with red tiled roofs in old California, of Wells Fargo, of 1865 San Francisco purity intact inj person Quicksilver is a musical mental movie of the history of the West." and I think that really encapsulates what they were about.
EP: Happy Trails has that iconic cover of the cowboy riding looking away from his lovely on horseback
NC: I think Quicksilver were the real thing. In the 70's everybody just got so tired of all these kind of cowboy bands. Cowboy chic became really big with the Eagles and bands like that. Quicksilver weren't just playing a kind of music that was inspired by the West, their lifestyle was the same. They lived out in various ranches in Marin County. They had a dairy farm for a while, in a place called Point Reyes Ranch. It was a commune, and it was a pretty loose way of living. and they got into conflict with the farmer next door. Cipollina had a timber wolf, who he reckoned was chasing his horses.
EP: A pet timber wolf?
NC: Yeah, a pet timber wolf. Yeah he'd raised it til it was like this huge beast but it was tame. In fact, it was very incontinent as well. The farmer didn't like this wolf, and so he decided he'd had enough and he was trying to get them off his land and stuff. there was this big confrontation and basically the whole of Quicksilver Messenger Service - they were all into guns this completely blows the image of the peace-loving hippies although most of them were very kind of pacifist - they chased the farmer back to his own farm just firing off rounds and rounds from all their Winchesters and handguns and things
EP: Colt 45's
NC: This poor old farmer was slipping in the horse shit and basically just frightened out of his wits. Cipollina reckoned he put a hundred rounds into the roof of this farmer's house and stuff.
NC: So it wasn't just some idle kind of chic thing, it was really, they really did love it. As you mentioned, this beautiful cover of the second album.
EP: The other band we should mention as well around that time the same sort of ideas was The Charlatans
EP: who used to dress up in old western gear like cardsharps. The Red Dog Saloon, isn't it? What's this story?
NC: The Red Dog Saloon. That's where people reckon that the San Francisco sound started. it was up in Nevada and everyone was like really excited by the Beatles and the Stones, and the British Invasion in '65. some bar owner up in Nevada wanted a band like the Beatles to play in his saloon he searched round San Francisco and the only band that was around, apart from the Beau Brummels, was this band called The Charlatans and they thought right y'know if we're going to go out and play this saloon we're really going to look the part so they all kind of dressed up in 1860's Mike Wilhelm looked like Wyatt Earp or something they went out there and basically just attracted every kind of bohemian and alternative lifestyle-loving person from San Francisco and they had this wild summer up there kind of firing off the guns and walking round turning it into Tombstone or somewhere like that
NC: I think that's where a lot of the bands got their ideas about what they were going to do and stuff. Later on we're going to play a track by a guy called Mark Unobsky, who was involved with John Cipollina later on, and he was the owner of the Red Dog Saloon.
EP: Right. I'll look forward to that one. Now we're gonna hear something else. We're gonna hear Mona, is that right?
NC: I really wanted to play something that encapsulated the whole spirit of the San Francisco spund, and of Quicksilver Messenger Service in particular. This is like a 10 minute improvisation that starts on an old Bo Diddley song called Mona, and they just take it out there really.
EP: OK. Here it is.
EP: Well that was the band in that were playing there Mona, Maiden of the Cancer Moon, and Calvary. That was the last track.
NC: Yeah, that was great. That was late '68, just before Gary Duncan, the other guitarist, quit. Calvary's quite an interesting track, because it was actually a bit of a concept. According to John Cipollina, when Pete Frame interviewed him in 1973, he described it as: "our interpretation of the crucifixion; it starts with the condemnation, goes through the journey to the cross, and ends with the angels coming in... we were really swacked out when we conceived that one, but I've never seen anyone review that track as we'd like to have seen it done."
EP: Really. Right.
NC: That's, I think, Quicksilver at their absolute peak.
EP: What do you think?
SG: Let me just get closer to the microphone.
EP: Oh, sorry, oh. I thought you were pointing at something that was going wrong. [Laughter]
EP: Sharon, I'd like your take on this. What did you think of Calvary, the last track we played there.
SG: Hold on. Get the microphone up.
EP: Holding microphone up. Out the basement. [Laughter]
SG: That last one we just heard I quite liked actually.
SG: I wasn't that one the one we heard before I'm not I mean I quite like old blues but a lot of music that has been inspired by blues doesn't really move me somehow not as much as y'know old originals a lot of even the acoustic stuff really early very quickly after it becomes to me kind of generic but all this stuff this music I was only exposed to it this band I've only just found out about really I think there's a lot of stuff that's gone in between that I was exposed to that maybe spoilt I dunno when you discovered this whether in the 60's you were on track when it actually was happening which is probably a totally different experience than to I dunno rediscover something later on at least in some cases, I guess.
EP: I think that a lot is said about bands from the 60's, and the sort of dewy-eyed old guys y'know going on about "oh yes they don't make music like this any more" y'know. But there were a lot of bands from the 60's that were really horrible, weren't there?
NC: Loads of them
EP: Just as there are in any decade, really terrible bands.
SG: I guess, I guess what -
EP: I think this particular band, I must admit, I did hear, say, these records when they first came out. And I still think that they have qualities in them that makes them just as exciting as when I first heard them, and not for nostalgic reasons, but on a purely musical level.
SG: Another point, I guess, is that when you actually hear it in context when it's out, or in the times of it's existence, you've got the spectrum of what else is happening to kind of really see where it's at.
EP: Except... not necessarily, because, I was in Leeds, buying it from Vallances, where I had no idea of what was going on.
SG: That must have been much more exciting actually, 'cos not only was it coming from abroad, it was coming from a different world. it was totally I guess I can only imagine i guess at the time to compare it wuth stuff that was actually happening in England the whole colour of the sound of the music just brings total different I dunno feeling
EP: Believe you me, nothing was happening in Leeds at this time. Absolutely nothing. [Laughter] It was all hip boots, and down the old social club
SG: I can relate to that moment of discovery of something that lights your world really that gives you an opening into something else I dunno anyway I'm kinda I'm not a fan of just ongoing solos and things and stuff I'm a bit jaded 'cos all this tradition of guitarists going on probably developing on what these guys'd been doing. and taking it to a show-offish type of thing or more technical it kind of leaves me a bit jaded but again just hearing those few tracks I don't think they kind of qualify, and I really liked the last one.
NC: I think you're right. I think that all that kind of stuff did develop into a rather kind of a muso mentality eventually and also you mentioned this whole thing that things have happened since that spoil your appreciation of it. Certainly blues music got so done to death, and then it just became this kind of generic pub-rock thing. I think it's very difficult I agree listening to some of the old masters like Son House, people like that it's just fantastic, and you can't really compare them. I think these guys were the first, they were the pioneers. And, like Edwin, I was lucky, I heard them pretty much in their time. I certainly don't play this stuff for nostalgia. I play it 'cos I want to be inspired I think it's still got qualities that are really original even now but thank god that they didn't really turn into Eric Clapton, or something like that.
EP: They didn't just rest on their laurels and say "Well, this is how we're going to be for the rest of our lives" or something. Not that I'm saying Eric Clapton is like that. What do I know about Eric Clapton? I haven't really followed his career since Wheel's Of Fire, when I dropped him like a brick. [Laughter] For all I know he does some sterling work in the blues field, but somehow I doubt it, if you know what I mean. I doubt if he is re-inventing the genre or something, looking for things y'know, new things that he could mine out of it, that make music more exciting to listen to.
SG: What really happened with those guys later on? Did they evolve and develop to other stuff?
NC: Yeah, but not as particularly as exciting as that.
EP: This is their peak, really.
NC: This is their peak. John Cipollina did some pretty interesting stuff in the 70's and 80's, but I think, over the last 10 years of his life, he did run himself a little bit thin because he just liked to get up and play. That was his whole thing, that he just liked to play, and I think that he really needed to have certain musicians who could bring out the best in him, and certainly in Quicksilver he had that. He had someone else who was like a lot of tension there and they were not exactly battling it out but they egged each other on and definitely brought out the best in his playing. As a sideman, we probably won't have time to really go into that, but he did a lot of really lyrical stuff on other people's records. There's talk that he actually played on the last ever sessions for Fred Neil, the now very famous American folkie. There's an unreleased album which John played on that was gonna come out on a label called Just Sunshine, which was Michael Lang who made a million out of the Woodstock thing. But sadly it never came out. He did have this whole other side, but yeah but too often it was kind of boogie music which, like you, I can definitely do without it.
EP: We're going to play now a track off the very first Quicksilver Messenger Service album, which is called The Fool. Just explain why we're gonna play this really...
NC: We're gonna play this because it features John doing something that he's become very famous for - something that people now refer to as the growl. He actually makes his Gibson guitar sound like a very malevolent beast.
EP: Timber wolf?
NC: Maybe worse than that. Yeah. Yeah.
EP: OK, here it is. Here is the growl, anyway, on The Fool.
EP: Some slight technical difficulties, there. I don't know how we're going to fix that really. The turntable's gone mad. Maybe we haven't got The Fool, but we could play something from the era.
NC: We could just play a track by a band that John was in in the 70's, a band called Terry & The Pirates.
NC: This just shows him as a kind of sideman, it's still quite nice stuff. It's kind of souped up folk rock stuff. We're gonna play something called Into The Wind, it's selection 5. This is a live recording, which again is out of Ron Sanchez's archive, and probably hasn't been heard before.
EP: Yeah well that was... finally we got the turntable working enough to play you The Fool, and that's kind of an epic really, isn't it?
NC: Yeah, it's great. It's got the spanish flavour again, and the kind of Western flavour... Morricone.
EP: Now Sharon was saying something about that just give us your impressions on that track Sharon it was interesting to me what you were saying.
SG: I'm so bad at repeating myself. I'm terrible. What was I saying? Just about the combination I thought the feel this had - you were saying this was the first album - the feel this had was totally well as i said you could obviously recognise it's the same band the touch and the sound of it was I dunno totally different to me than a lot of the live stuff we've heard. I dunno there was a certain gentleness and kind of in-depth and more introspective feel to it. I guess maybe live things have more 'hey let's have and fun get on with it'. I quite liked the combination of the western sound, and the folky bit, and a bit of flamenco that sort of mood introspective mood that they had not so much kind of extrovert but much more, I dunno, kind of internal kind of more was more captivating sound more interesting to me than the stuff before.
EP: But they fared well in the studio, don't you think, for that first album?
NC: Yeah. Yeah. For a band that y'know -
EP: For a debut album that's a pretty standout record.
NC: I think they had few problems with it but I think they finally delivered something that was really special. There's another great track, which kind of fits in with what Sharon was saying, which is called Acapulco Gold & Silver which has the same kind of feel to it with a kind of nice jazz 6/8 time feel to it. Yeah, they could be very subtle as well, I think.
SG: Yeah, which is nice it was ?
EP: interesting that on the second album they did mix that live sound really like collaged it with the studio sound in a way. It really was multi-dimensional, wasn't it, that whole record?
NC: They just took Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love and they just stretched it all over the place into like a 30-minute suite with audience participation and all kinds of things. And then they - On the other side they did more live stuff and they just did a studio version of Calvary, which we played earlier which again relates back to The Fool, that beautiful kind of spanish painting style music that they did
EP: Would you say that those first 2 albums were the penultimate[sic] really of what they did in the recording studio?
NC: Yeah, I don't think they ever really got close to it again. Partly because Gary Duncan -
EP: The later albums just sort of skimmed the surface, didn't they really? They did try to go a bit more folky and westernised on an album called Shady Grove which featured Nicky Hopkins on piano.
NC: Yeah, I think it was..
EP: It wasn't the same, was it?
NC: No. I think that replacing one innovative guitarist with a keyboard player was probably not quite the right direction. [Laughter] Although Nicky Hopkins was a great piano player. It was such a change you know, this heavy piano sound in what was primarily an electric guitar band.
NC: They got very commercial after that. They got in a singer called Dino Valente, who took it into a whole kind of more commercial direction and brought in latino influences. John Cipollina soon after walked out, although, as we were saying before, Just For Love isn't a bad album.
EP: John Cipollina died of emphysema, didn't he? Heavy smoker and...
NC: Yeah, he did. He died in 1989, 29th of May. The amazing thing was... Steve Keyser, who managed him in his latter years, told me that John smoked 2 packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes every day since he was 13, and even when he was diagnosed as having lung problems, he still carried on smoking. He wanted to just go out the way he wanted to go out.
NC: Which is kind of brave but y'know
SG: Not the nicest way to go out.
NC: No, absolutely not.
EP: We're running out of time so I suggest really. Unfortunately, we were going to play two tracks but now we were talking there a bit over the time. I thought we'd play a bit of the legacy he left behind with a Japanese band, of all things, called White Heaven. Do you think that'd be a good idea?
NC: Yeah. I think they're great. The lead guitar player with this band is just quite amazing. He's -
EP: His name is You Ishihara [Transcriber's Note: Wrong! The Cipollina-influenced guitarist is Michio Kurihara] and this track is called Blind Promise. I hope you'll hear, y'know, the effect that Cipollina's playing has sort of had on successive generations of, y'know, people who play guitar, I suppose. Anyway, Nigel, thank you for coming along, and thank you for sharing with us. Again, time has beaten us to death with a stick.
EP: You'll be back, yeah?
NC: Hope so. Wherever you are, John, I'd like to wish you a Happy Birthday for Sunday.
EP: I'm sure he enjoyed it. Thank you.
SG: You're listening to Resonance 104.4 FM