Quicksilver Messenger Service Follow The ‘Happy Trails’

March 17, 2017

On 17 March, 1969, San Francisco rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service unveiled their finest hour, at least in commercial terms. That day marked the release of Happy Trails, their second album for Capitol and their one LP to win gold certification in America.

Quite unusually for a sophomore record, Happy Trails was a live album, taken from performances by the band at the famed Fillmore East and Fillmore West venues. Even more ambitiously, the first side of the disc was a suite of songs, running more than 25 minutes in total, based around the theme of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’, in no fewer than six episodic interpretations.

The first and last of these were versions of the song itself, with notable roles for the band’s guitarists John Cipollina and Gary Duncan. The first even nudged into the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 91. But the middle passages were all written by the members of QME themselves, titled (with a hint of humour) ‘When You Love, ‘Where You Love,’ ‘How You Love’ and ‘Which Do You Love.’

QMS“Quicksilver goes into it at full speed,” wrote Greil Marcus in his Rolling Stone review at the time, “John Cipollina's guitar alternately harsh and sweet, clashing with Gary Duncan's rhythm, Greg Elmore's drumming simple and solid, never an iota of sloppiness, not a note missed.”

The second side of Happy Trails started with another gem from the Bo Diddley catalogue, ‘Mona,’ and three more band compositions including Duncan’s 13-minute instrumental ‘Calvary.’ The album entered the Billboard chart at No. 139 at the end of March, peaking at No. 27 seven weeks later.

The album artwork was designed by Globe Propaganda, described by Billboard in May 1969 as “an advertising agency specializing in hip, progressive material.” Soon afterwards, Globe designed covers for the Charlatans and It’s A Beautiful Day.

23 years after its release, in 1992, Happy Trails went gold, testament to the lasting contribution of Quicksilver Messenger Service — as was the fact that it landed at No. 189 on Rolling Stone’s all-time top 500 album list of 2003.

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16 comments

  1. Rash

    One of my favorites.
    Listen to the “EROC at the Ranch” mix (or remix) of “Happy Trails” for jawdroppingly accurate sound. Sounds like it was recorded yesterday using state of the art equipment!

    All other versions pale by comparison.

    Search this version out out

    1. Rash

      The legendary “EROC at the Ranch” mix of Happy Trails has Two more octaves of sound in the bass and one more in the treble, Very Three dimensional sound, especially Cipollina’s solos.

      Much much much better than the Capitol mix!

      Find it

  2. Rash

    To get his unique sound, John Cipollina used a guitar with two pickups. The high pickup went to a huge stack of transistor amplifiers and middle pickup went into a stack of Vacuum tube amplifiers and he would dial back and forth from one pickup (and amp stack) to the other and change the timbre of the sound

    this is very noticeable in the “EROC at the Ranch” mix of “Happy Trails”

  3. Billy Prine

    One of the best live records ever released.I had coffee and cigarettes with John ..Cippolina in1980 at his home in Marin County California.RIP John.

  4. Ivica

    I lke too much record,this record for me as magic,picture on sleeve,music,sound,and I have this record,American press,not too much people who live in Croatia,know for Quick silver messenger service band,It was cult band in this era,I mean 60 ies,and 70 ies,WEST COAST…and sometimes,I feel why I wasn,t born about 47 year in America?that,s sadly for me

  5. Mitchell

    I went to the Fillmore East about 50 times and my favorite show was Quicksilver in the Spring of 1970. Nicky Hopkins and Dino Valente were in the band at that time.

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