Quicksilver Messenger Service gained wide popularity in the San Francisco “Bay Area” and through their recordings, with psychedelic rock enthusiasts around the globe, and several of their albums ranked in the Top 30 of the Billboard Pop charts. Though not as commercially successful as contemporaries Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver was integral to the beginnings of their genre. With their jazz and classical influences and a strong folk background, the band attempted to create a sound that was individual and innovative. Member Dino Valenti drew heavily on musical influences he picked up during the folk revival of his formative musical years. The style he developed from these sources is evident in Quicksilver Messenger Service’s swung rhythms and twanging guitar sounds.
Quicksilver Messenger Service released their eponymous debut album in 1968. It was followed by Happy Trails, released in early 1969 and largely recorded live at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West. According to David Freiberg, at least one of the live tracks was augmented with studio overdubs and the tracks “Calvary” and “Lady of the Cancer Moon” were recorded in the studio just before Gary Duncan left the band.
These albums, which have been hailed as “…two of the best examples of the San Francisco sound at its purest,” define the classic period in the group’s career and showcase their distinctive sound, emphasizing extended arrangements and fluid twin-guitar improvisation. Cipollina’s highly melodic, individualistic lead guitar style, combined with Gary Duncan’s driving rhythm guitar, feature a clear jazz sound, a notable contrast to the heavily amplified and overdriven sound of contemporaries like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. In 2003 Happy Trails was rated at No. 189 in the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums survey, where it was described as “…the definitive live recording of the mid-Sixties San Francisco psychedelic-ballroom experience…” Archetypal Quicksilver Messenger Service songs include the elongated, continually re-titled suite based on Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?, featured on Happy Trails.
Performing at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967