Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Fri 24 Aug 01 23:19
[*Love* that it had to be a Buffalo nickel!] I never saw the band play, as so many people here on the WELL did, and I never met the man, but the band was part of that enticing landscape of forbidden music of my youth... What was he like to be around? Offstage as well as on, I mean. How did he stand, how did he move? What was a quintessentially *him* thing to do? What made him happy, and did anything ever startle him?
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sat 25 Aug 01 10:20
Elise - may I suggest ordering the video (find information about ordering the video at http://www.johncipollina.com) to see a little John action. Words would not begin to describe how he stood or moved. Offstage he seemed frail at times - unbelievably thin. He really expressed himself best through his playing. If one were trying to get him to answer a question, he wouldn't refuse to answer but he would talk as long as you'd let him, leaving you wondering if *somewhere* in the soliloquy there was an answer. I'll have to think about the rest of your questions - anyone else?
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sat 25 Aug 01 11:00
I'm interested in the interaction between gary and him. Two very different players. You mentioned that Gary played bass in a "Las Vegas Show Band" Those are four words that would get a mixed response from people when I first moved to the bay area in 67. The Las Vegas show band represented music as a career. You played what you were told and you played tight and good. Of course, all of us hippies used to look down our noses at that sort of thing. We were "artists" who did it for love, and didn't dare let on that we were looking to get money out of this. Was there any tension in Quicksilver around issues like that? And to echo (woodman)'s question from earlier, how did their playing differ, and how did your playing mesh. We can get a little technical here if you want. I suspect there will be enough drugs and sex involved to satisfy the masses.
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sat 25 Aug 01 11:28
Actually, Gary played bass for a while with the Merced Blue Notes, an otherwise black R & B band, as well. He seemed overjoyed at the oportunity to play whatever he felt like playing. You gotta remember, he was still a kid, barely 18 years old. All the bass I played in the early days of Quicksilver I learned from licks Gary would toss me from his bottom 4 strings when he sensed I couldn't figure out what to play, being a 12 string finger-picker who'd never touched a bass before. He loved playing with John and they were great foils for each other until late 1969 when Gary felt John was stuck in a rut and playing the same licks over and over again. Gary's playing was more "chops" oriented and John's more tonal and effects oriented. There were a few years where it was obvious that they enjoyed the hell out of playing together. Later, Gary started doing a lot of speed and practicing for days on end which (this is only MY opinion now) turned him a little paranoid and down on John's chops and he left the band to go to New York with Dino and start a new band. The great thing about this was that, during that time, Gary quit doing speed, John and I were forced to write a lot of new material and there was an opening for Nicky Hopkins. You just can't hold quicksilver in your hand ... it always slips through your fingers :-)
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sat 25 Aug 01 12:35
About what year was that? And would you say that speed was a major factor in the breakup?
the System Works (dgault) Sat 25 Aug 01 13:14
I remember watching John and Gary play and it was the height of guitar duet. And then it did start to get a little predictable. And it seemed like this vast lesson in life, which was repeated in other bands, and Mr. Freiberg says it right there "you can't hold Quicksilver." You can't pull that stuff out of a hat on demand. Or can you?
John Covell (senator) Sat 25 Aug 01 13:34
This is interesting. I never saw QMS during my days of visiting the ballrooms--just missed 'em, I guess--but I sure did love their records, and I just saw the video the other night (thanks). As to the video, my only criticism might be that there wasn't enough of John's playing on it; I would trade some of the reminiscences for more footage of music without voice- overs. But a very nice retrospective, nonetheless. I have hosted various radio shows over the years at one or another Bay Area public radio station, and mixing in some of Quicksilver's tracks has always been fun. The first two LPs are standouts, "Happy Trails" epitomizing for me the "San Francisco Sound" that used to be talked about. As noted by David, when Gar left the band things changed, which seems to have been what led to the very different sound of "Shady Grove." Of course, "Happy Trails" was a nearly impossible act to follow. That consistency was never achieved again. There are a couple of rare tracks on the soundtrack LP to a film titled "Revolution," which I have never seen. The production is thin, but they're worth hunting up: "Babe I'm Gnna Leave" and "Codine" (the Buffy St. Marie song). It would be interesting to have David's comments on how that deal came about.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sat 25 Aug 01 14:21
The problem we had with including video of John playing is the shortage of same. There's a goodly amount of more recent stuff - Dinosaurs, some of his later European tours with Nick, etc - but very little usable material from the 60's and 70's. Much of the early stuff was amateur film, and the quality was pretty spotty. We tried, as much as possible, to have a reasonable amount of film of every era - to tell the whole story, not just the 80's story. ALso - this isn't a concert video, it's a biography. We tried not just to cover his playing, but to put it in context. To show a more rounded version of the man.
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sat 25 Aug 01 14:34
It's interesting in that you can definitely see the progression in his music over time. And I just LOVE the Muddy Waters story.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sat 25 Aug 01 14:47
To return to <lioness>s question: I knew John from 1982 until his death - seven years. For perhaps half that time his emphysema was seriously slowing him down, but it didn't really change his essence. Physically he was, as David said, incredibly thin. His looks didn't change all that much as he aged - we used to joke that somewhere in his house there was a portrait of John which was aging in his stead. He was the distilled quintessence of laid-back cool, but I think a large part of that was a basic shyness. His brother, Mario, and sister, Sheesh, are voluble, outgoing, people; real contrasts to John. When the Dinosaurs played the grand reopening of the old Fillmore East in New York City, my wife and I had made some noises about going, but hadn't really committed to doing so. At the last minute we decided to fly out there, arriving the afternoon of the gig. When we walked into the back room it produced a lot of surprised faces and shouting. Except for John. As surprised as the rest, he calmly strolled over and said "Heyyyyyyy" as if we'd been there all along. Unflappable. He was a driven musician. At one point he was in six active bands at the same time, playing somewhere almost every night. There was a festival named Ranch Rock out in Nevada in the summer of '86 or '87. All of John's bands were scheduled to play on the same day. So he stood in the Nevada sun, in August, in a brown leather suit, playing and singing -- all day long.
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sat 25 Aug 01 15:13
Now that brings up another question. I always thought the "six bands" thing meant one, or maybe two, managed business partnerships, and a number of ad hoc jam bands that had overlapping books. I figured they probably all did "Mona". But if they all played on the same day, they had to have very differerent set lists. Or did they?
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sat 25 Aug 01 15:37
There were no repeats in the Nevada desert, but I'm sure that the books had overlaps. Off the top of my head: John was playing in Dinosaurs (SF rock/blues/folk), Thunder & Lightning (blues), Zero (jazz/rock fusion), Terry and the Pirates (stright out rock), and a couple of others I can't remember. "Mona" was a consistent Dinosaurs feature, but seldom showed up in the others. "Managed business partnerships"? I dunno - in spite of regular bookings even Dinosaurs was pretty ad hoc. The other bands weren't one-shot jam bands, though, they booked irregularly, but reasonably often. The man simply loved to play music.
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sat 25 Aug 01 19:50
What kind of life did he have outside music? Nick Gravenites mentions carvings and designing guitars, though I have to say they all looked a lot like variations on the Gibson SG. Oh yeah, and a pet owl? This is way before Harry Potter.
John Covell (senator) Sat 25 Aug 01 20:55
From the video, it looked like Gary Duncan did most of the lead vocals for QMS. Is this correct? I was always a bit surprised that no one was credited with the vocal work on he LPs; they were quite good, I thought.
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sat 25 Aug 01 22:32
Rik - the breakup was in '69, I think ... the cause was lack of communication .. of course the speed couldn't have been a big help. (senator) - Babe and Codine were recorded from beginning to end on one morning in LA - thus the thin production. The producer promised us that he's have something for us in the studio so we could work so early in the day. We thought he meant drugs, of course. He showed up with doughnuts.Don't think I ever saw the movie "Revolution", either. Let's see - On the first album, I sang lead on Pride of Man, Light Your Windows, It's Been Too Long and The Fool. Gary and I sang Dino's Song together. On Happy Trails it was all Gary, except for Happy Trails which was Greg Elmore's vocal. After that it's probably obvious.
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sat 25 Aug 01 22:49
Hal- "The man simply loved to play music." He also NEVER knew how to say "NO"
John Covell (senator) Sun 26 Aug 01 05:22
Thanks for the vocalist info, David. Much appreciated. What is Gary Duncan doing these days, do you know? BTW, your bass solo in the Who Do You Love Suite was great. I played lots of air bass to that one when I was in college and intoxicated!
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sun 26 Aug 01 09:24
Duncan's still playing - actually I think he's playing today in the Poconos - a band called Gary Duncan's Quicksilver 2001. I'll always sit in on vocals if I can get away from the studio and it makes fiscal sense. I thank you for your kind words, John.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Sun 26 Aug 01 10:38
That was you singing "It's Been Too Long"? That's my most vivid memory of when you guys played my college cafeteria back in '66... It made me buy the record, which of course had all this OTHER stuff on it...
radiantly surreal imagery (rik) Sun 26 Aug 01 10:44
David, when did you guys first go on the road, and what was touring like in those days?
David Gans (tnf) Sun 26 Aug 01 12:00
I was ona bill with Duncan a couple of years ago. And I liked that double CD is did -- was it "Quicksilver '99"? Interesting character: seemed to still be living the rock star lifestyle on some level.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Sun 26 Aug 01 12:30
Hal or David, can you comment on this? Aside from that Quicksilver gig in the cafeteria,the main time I saw John was during the Dinosaurs period, in some of the different bands he was in. And I seem to recall a discussion with various people as we sat in the Chi Chi (Aiyee!) one night, that whereas here John and Nick, say, were doing well to get a couple hundred people in at the Chi Chi they did much, much better in Europe, which was why they spent so much time touring over there. (I've heard the same thing from zydeco musicians...) True? False? Comments?
John Covell (senator) Sun 26 Aug 01 14:11
David, were you and John there that day back in the 1980s when the Dinosaurs played a free street show to "celebrate" Jim Gabbert's acquisition of KKCY in San Francisco? I think I remember Roy Rogers being there. Of course, it didn't take Gabbert more than about twenty minutes to start screwing around with KKCY, ruining it completely. The last really good radio station the City ever had, R.I.P.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 26 Aug 01 15:06
John has a strong following in Europe, mainly in Germany. Nick does as well (mainly in Greece), so they were able to put together some very successful European tours. Europeans have a long history of recognizing and appreciating America's best. Chaplin, for example. Hemingway. Otis Redding hit big in Europe long before the US. Innumerable jazz musicians from the 20's onward. [Jerry Lewis' popularity remains an inexplicable anamoly]. There was a memorial concert in San Francisco after John's death, and several European fans flew over on short notice just to attend. America, on the other hand, seems obsessed with the moment. We will dump millions on any current fad - Air Hoo-Haa running shoes, dot-com companies, boy bands - while ignoring genuine cultural treasures, like John and Nick. Six months later, some new shiny object comes along to distract us, and we'll go chasing after it. Fortunately, we're big enough, and rich enough, that even the crumbs we have for real artists will sustain them. Unfortunately, we don't seem interested in supporting them in any style. Am I too cynical? Digression: We do have a PAL (European) version of the video available. Though we've never adversited in Europe, word of mouth among John's fan base has produced a surprising number of sales.
that's two votes for gratuitous (lioness) Sun 26 Aug 01 15:16
Cynical or not, I agree with you.
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