John Cipollina - guitar, vocals; David Frieberg - bass; Nicky Hopkins - piano; Greg Elmore - drums
Presented here is an extraordinary half hour reel of tape recorded at Fillmore West following the show on June 18, 1970. The bill that night featured an eclectic roster of Rockwell, Don Ellis & His Orchestra, and hometown heroes Quicksilver Messenger Service headlining. Just days before, QMS had returned home from an extended stay in Oahu, Hawaii, where they were rehearsing new material. This was a pivotal time for the group, with Dino Valenti taking on the frontman role of lead vocalist and primary songwriter. The result would be QMS's breakthrough What About Me and Just For Love albums, which would bring the band several underground radio hits and a legion of new fans.
This recording actually begins around 2:00 a.m. in the morning on June 19th, when following the conclusion of the Quicksilver Messenger Service's June 18th set, four of the band members still had an itching to play. The recording is quite unusual in that it is an extremely rare live quartet performance led by guitarist John Cipollina and pianist Nicky Hopkins, ably assisted by the QMS rhythm section of bassists David Frieberg and drummer Greg Elmore. During this post-show jam, Dino Valenti and Gary Duncan are not involved. With the exception of the first song, this recording contains rare material previously undocumented.
In several respects, this unique recording sounds like the 1969 Shady Grove configuration of the band (when Gary Duncan departed and Nicky Hopkins first came on board). That lineup didn't tour but these four musicians prove that it would have been quite interesting if they had! Never circulated or heard before now, this high quality stereo soundboard master recording from Bill Graham's archive presents listeners with an opportunity to enjoy high caliber jamming and a unique version of QMS never heard in a live context before now.
The recording begins with Nicky Hopkins' signature instrumental, "Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder," already in progress. (Although initially released on QMS's 1969 Shady Grove LP and featuring Cipollina on guitar, this would subsequently be rerecorded for Hopkins' first solo album in 1972, with George Harrison featured on guitar. It was also a common set closer for the Jerry Garcia Band in 1975, during Hopkins tenure with that group.) This number was always a pinnacle moment in whatever band Hopkins was contributing to, and this version is no exception, with Hopkins running up and down the piano keys with remarkable speed and precision. With just these four musicians contributing, this version has essentially the same musicians as the studio version recorded for the Shady Grove LP the previous year, with Cipollina skillfully weaving his guitar in and around Hopkins frenetic piano work to great effect. Under normal circumstances, "Edward" would serve as a show-stopping conclusion to any set, but the quartet has a few more tricks up their collective sleeve.
Following some requests from the audience, Cipollina explains, "this is a new band with a new thing going on." To emphasize this fact, he then delivers a new song. Seemingly titled "It's Yours (Take It)" from what little vocals are present, this number was likely still in the process of being created but shows great potential. There is little doubt that this is a Cipollina creation, sounding stylistically similar to his instrumentals of that era and propelled by his great idiosyncratic guitar work. It was likely still being written at the time, but must have been rehearsed extensively as this performance is tightly executed and concisely played in a little over three minutes. This song isn't on any other known live recordings and seems to be unique to this recording.
At this point Cipollina announces that it is "10 after 2" in the morning and that they are going to wrap things up with a jam. The spontaneous instrumental that follows is quite remarkable, as they take off into pure improvisation for a full 17 minutes. Hopkins leads the way, with the other three musicians giving it their all, and the result is quite captivating. At times, this jam even recalls the most exploratory moments on Happy Trails," despite featuring only one guitar player. Although this occasionally meanders, the vast majority is an exhilarating jam of the highest caliber. An excellent stereo mix allows listeners to hear all four of the musicians clearly, and the vast majority of this exploration is a rewarding listen featuring remarkably fluid jamming and fantastic interplay between Cipollina and Hopkins.
This is certainly one of the most surprising Quicksilver Messenger Service-related finds to turn up in Bill Graham's vast archive and is unlike any other live QMS performance from 1970. Longtime followers of the group will find this much like a missing link between the Shady Grove era lineup and the more popular Dino Valenti-led version of the group. Fans of either lineup will immediately recognize the blazing creativity of Cipollina in his prime. To any QMS fan, this should prove a delightfully surprising listen, and the more fervent followers of John Cipollina and/or Nicky Hopkins will find this unusual recording both fascinating and musically satisfying.