Monday, December 13, 2010

I'd Love To Turn You on #24 - Quicksilver Messenger Service - Happy Trails

When one thinks about the music of the 1960’s several different locales come to mind; London, New York City, Dee-troit, Memphis and of course, San Francisco. Of the San Francisco bands, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and Santana seem to get the most attention, yet the work of Moby Grape, The Charlatans and most importantly Quicksilver Messenger Service deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. In fact, if push came to shove I might have to name Happy Trails the most compelling argument of the Bay Area’s impact on rock. There is no better illustration of the potency of jamming wildly while on LSD than this incredible album.
The first side is just one song; Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, recorded live at The Fillmore and stretched to the limits of psychedelic imagination. Guitarists Gary Duncan and the great John Cipollina elongate the song to its artistic and sonic limits, intertwining their similar, yet always distinguishable styles into a snake of many heads. They play with such sympathy and telepathy that at times one can’t believe this is improvised music. They seem to know exactly where the other is going at all times and the result is a guitar freak’s wet dream. There is no other album that will drive a normally sedate 50-something man into such a frenzy of air-guitar as to worry his family. “I haven’t seen him this amped up over an album since the last time he listened to Quicksilver.” For me, there is no more distinctive and criminally under-appreciated guitar player than John Cipollina. Listen to the part of the song subtitled “How You Love” and hear Cipollina wrench vibrato and note bending out of his guitar like nobody this side of Hendrix. His practice of wearing a pick on each finger of his right hand combined with his completely muscular and manic left hand attack make him sound like no other player. He is the definition of day-glo guitar. Flower Power given body.
Side two is also largely taken up by one Bo Diddley song. This time it is “Mona” whose pounding, archetypical rock and roll beat opens up and lets Cipollina again ride a multi-colored beast around the Fillmore like nobody’s business. I have always considered Jerry and Jimi and Mick Taylor to be the tops, but I hold a completely special and unique place in my musical heart for John Cipollina. He burned so brightly and produced such a recognizable, stinging sound from his customized Gibson SG that he is just hard to beat. Check this picture out. It is his guitar and amp stack on permanent display at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I always loved seeing him live up until his untimely death in 1989, but I have to admit that he never topped the playing he did on the first two Quicksilver albums.

After “Mona” romps through the Elysian Fields for about seven minutes, side two continues with Gary Duncan’s gorgeous instrumental “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon” before a sly edit takes us from the live milieu to the studio for another beautiful, feedback-laden guitar workout titled “Calvary.” At about three minutes in, when Duncan is majestically strumming acoustic and Cipollina is wringing the neck of his guitar within an inch of its life…bliss. “Calvary” might be the definitive acid-guitar instrumental. Happy Trails ends on an upbeat, funny note by winking at the freaks ou
t there andthe band singing the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans classic “Happy Trails.” I guess trails can be taken to mean several things.
When I first got the idea for this ongoing column, I’d Love To Turn You On, this was precisely the kind of album I had in mind. Something that I would give friends or customers that they were unfamiliar with, then, without fail, a month or two later I would see them; “wow, how did I not know about this album? This is the greatest thing I’ve heard. Who is this guitar player? I gotta hear more.” That type of reaction is what we, here at the record store, live for. In addition to the awe-inspiring music, Happy Trails is also blessed with one of the most pastoral and iconic covers of the 60’s. It perfectly captures the heady blend of modern thinking and a respect for an older sense of style that San Francisco has always embodied. Put on Happy Trails and it IS 1969.
Paul Epstein

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