Two and a half years after exiting Quicksilver Messenger Service, of which he had been the primary instrumentalist, lead guitar player John Cipollina resurfaced at the front of a new rock quartet, Copperhead. The group had come together slowly, but by the time of their debut album, they were ready for action. Second guitarist Gary Philippet contributed the more straight-ahead rockers, like leadoff track and first single "Roller Derby Star," while bass player Jim McPherson tended to write more discursive numbers, though he was capable of strong rock & roll shuffles such as the Rolling Stones-like "Wing-Dang-Doo." But both players took a back seat to Cipollina, whose distinctively high-pitched, slightly dissonant lead guitar work defined the band's sound, just as it had in Quicksilver. One should perhaps amend that to say "early Quicksilver"; Copperhead recalled the earlier band's heyday of the late '60s on their own self-titled debut and the gold-selling Happy Trails more than the early-'70s edition of the group, especially on the extended instrumental passages in songs like "Pawnshop Man" and "They're Making a Monster." By rights, then, Copperhead should have taken off to become one of the major second-generation San Francisco rock bands of the '70s, but it was not to be. In the wake of Columbia Records president Clive Davis' firing shortly after this album's release, his signings were given the company's lowest priority, and few people ever found out there was a band and an album called Copperhead. The 2001 CD reissue on the British Acadia label adds the non-LP B-side of the "Roller Derby Star" single, another good Philippet mid-tempo rocker called "Chameleon." Copperhead also recorded an entire second album for Columbia that the label never released, leaving these recordings and a hard-to-find live LP as the only evidence of their existence.

- William Ruhlmann

JC Home - Articles, etc

Last updated: 26-Mar-2005