Jim Murray - vocals, guitar
John Cipollina - vocals, guitar
Gary Duncan - vocals, guitar
David Freiberg - bass, vocals
Greg Elmore - drums
This run of five shows opening for Jefferson Airplane offers a fascinating glimpse into early Quicksilver Messenger Service. The band was still a quintet, with Jim Murray as primary lead vocalist. Although they had begun developing original songs, they were still primarily playing cover material in concert. The repertoire veered toward electrified covers of contemporary folk and blues songs, with a heavy nod to Bo Diddley. The unique, intertwining lead guitar sound of Cipollina and Duncan was already becoming quite distinctive, and one can clearly hear why Quicksilver was considered one of the most exciting bands in San Francisco at the time.
Because so much of their material from this era remains unreleased, these shows provide a wealth of songs that were previously unavailable commercially. Several classic songs that did appear on their first and second albums are heard here in embryonic form, however, ripe with potential.
In all reality, these QMS sets help to capture a turning point, not only in their contemporary music scene, but in the general culture. Artists were just beginning to embrace spontaneity and experimentation in their work, and these 1967 sets reveal the band taking their earliest steps in that direction. To help put these shows in context, the first QMS album was still a year away, but Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow LP had been released that very month, bringing the San Francisco music and dance hall scene into the national spotlight for the first time.
Many consider early Quicksilver Messenger Service to represent the burgeoning "San Francisco Sound" in its purest state. The sets that Bill Graham recorded during this run present a good argument for that statement. This performance, like the others, captures the band when they were still unsigned, playing a mixture of material destined for their debut album, in addition to the folk and blues covers that initially established their reputation. This set, in fact, may be the best of the run for representing an overall picture of this early lineup.
Early versions of first album tracks book-end the set, with Dino Valenti's "Dino's Song" opening and their cover of Hamilton Camp's "Pride of Man" closing. In between, a diverse range of material is featured. "Walkin Blues" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" display the band's bluesier roots. "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" shows the band electrifying a folk song to great effect, years before Led Zeppelin recorded the tune.
Material they would drop following Murray's departure, like "All Night Worker" and "Hey Mama," is also performed. An early version of "It's Been Too Long" (also destined for their debut album) and David Frieberg's arrangement and lead vocal of the popular hit "Stand by Me" show the band approaching a more mainstream sound. The approach of intertwining lead guitars and particularly Cipollina's tone and trademark whammy bar tremble typify the early San Francisco sound and would influence many other local guitarists, Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen included.
Like other sets during this run, this recording provides insight into the influences that helped shape the band's sound, and hints at the direction that the sound would take. The band also backed their friend Dino Valenti on his set, but it was, unfortunately, not included among these recordings.