Part Two

Marin Independent Journal
May 30, 1989

Rocker Cipollina dies at 47
Quicksilver founder had lung problems

By Paul Liberatore

Rock musician John Cipollina, a founder of Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the vintage San Francisco bands of the psychedelic 60s, died Monday night at Marin General Hospital.

Cipollina, who had been suffering from respiratory ailments that had plagued him since childhood, because short of breath at his Mill Valley home and was rushed to the hospital at about 6 p. m., according to Marin General. He was 47.

His heart just gave out, a family spokesman said.

His mother, Evelyn, his sister, Olivia, and his brother, Mario, bassist for Huey Lewis and the News, were at his side. He also leaves a twin sister, Manuela Blair, of Washington, D.C.

The guitarist, who grew up in Mill Valley and graduated from Tamalpais High School, had been hospitalized for two months last year with lung problems. His health remained fragile but he nevertheless returned to performing, recently completing a tour of Greece.

A fixture on >the local club circuit, he was best known in recent years for his work with the Dinosaurs, a band consisting of former members of the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

He was a gentleman. He was one of the best guitarists I have ever played with, said Merl Saunders, who played with Cipollina in the Dinosaurs. And he was a true rock and roller.

But he will be remembered for his distinctive, heavily tremoloed guitar style with Quicksilver, a band Cipollina formed in 1965 with David Freiberg, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore and Jim Murray. Dino Valenti, who wrote the 60s anthem Get Together, later joined the group.

Although never as popular nationally as its San Francisco contemporaries the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver represented the San Francisco sound at its purest, according to the Encyclopedia of Rock.

Cipollina contributed some of the legendary instrumental jams of the acid rock era. His signature song was the Bo Diddley classic Mona.

After recording four albums with Quicksilver, Cipollina left the band in the early 70s.

When I was playing with Quicksilver, he once said, we did not know it would not last forever. I thought I would be playing Pride of Man in the year 2000.

He went on to start Copperhead, which recorded one album in 1973 but never lived up to its promise.

In 1976, Cipollina toured with the Welsh band Man and later toured Europe with fellow Marin rocker Nick Gravenites, a veteran of the San Francisco band Electric Flag.

In the 1980s, Cipollina was a member of a number of groups, including Zero, Raven and Problem Child.

The thin, long-haired Cipollina was a quintessential San Francisco guitar hero, one of the legends to come out of the Summer of Love.

I am still thinking the same as when I was 17 years old, which will probably be the death of me, he said once. But I am happy. I enjoy what I do.

His body will be cremated and his ashes spread over Mount Tamalpais.


Early Chronological Notes for Astrologers and Historians

  • John Cipollina was born at Herrick Memorial Hospital in Berkeley CA after 4 to 5 hrs labor. First of twins   @ 5:08 AM    (Note nurse going on vacation and irritated because she was late)

  • Left Bay Area with his family to live in San Salvador and Guatamala

  • 1949  Age 6 the family returned to the Bay Area (Northern California)

  • 1953 JC age 10 ~ Mother Evelyn Cipollina, renown Mill Valley music teacher, began teaching JC how to play piano; he wanted to learn to play but reading the notes seemed too complicated to him. Evelyn Cipollina and godfather Jose Iturbi, both tutored John and said he showed great promise as a classical pianist in his youth.

  • Age 10 to 12 JC took up guitar. John's father gave him a guitar when he was 12 and this quickly became his primary musical vehicle. see reference to RUMBLE, by Link Wray.
    item of note about The Rumble in rock and roll documentary It Might Get Loud when Jimmy Page tours his record library and plays short excerpt from Wray original version of The Rumble for the director.

  • Age 14 JC began studies with his first classical guitar instructor, Mill Valley teacher Will Thorpe. Begins the third 7 year life segment that runs from age 14 through the first of age 21. For a Virgoan this is often a decisive period of time as to life decisions that last for many years to come.

  • Instructions over the following 1 1/2 years; he played by ear.

  • Age 15 ½ An interest in Rock & Roll became evident, starting with Bo Diddley.

  • Graduated from Mt. Tamalpias High School; not an avid student, he would often sit through an entire class with a white piece of paper. As class would file out, students leaving their papers on teachers desk, JC would turn in a white paper with some musical notes on it like doodles, just music. No college.

  • Late 1964 JC lifestyle changed; in residence at Sausalito ferryboat address with flamenco troupe. He played electric guitar with folk, blues and flamenco groups. At this point, JC joined Dino Valenti with Jim Murray; met David Freiburg.

  • Summer of 1965 Went to Virginia City to see The Charlatans who had a major impact on Cipollina psyche. Over the years Quicksilver was often billed on this venue.

  • Fall of 1965 They played first live shows as a group at The Matrix (as a nameless group); Marty Balin let them practice at the club. They later used a studio off Haight around the Mercury Temple site. The first on the list of things to do - a name to put in lights. Jim and David "kind of pieced Quicksilver Messenger Service together; it sounded funny enough to use."

  • October 16 1965 Played "A Tribute to Dr. Strange" at Longshoremans Hall. Kelly introduced his first poster for newly formed Family Dog. The night Chet Helms gave the name Big Brother & The Holding Company to the 1090 Page Street band. Legend has it the event was backed financially by well known artists including Salvador Dali.

  • Winter 1965 Played 1st solo gig as Quicksilver Messenger Service at COMMITTEE Christmas Party and made enough money to move to a houseboat near Larkspur (and froze). This proves the well known saying that Necessity is the mother of invention.

  • Quicksilver Messenger Service 1965 - 1967 line up
    Gary Duncan guitar, vocals, John Cipollina guitar, Jim Murray guitar, vocals, David Freiberg bass, vocals, and Greg Elmore drums.

  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
    1967 - 1969 Gary Duncan guitar, vocals, John Cipollina guitar, David Freiberg bass, vocals, and Greg Elmore drums.

  • Quicksilver Messenger Service 1969
    John Cipollina guitar, David Freiberg bass, vocals, Greg Elmore drums, and Nicky Hopkins keyboards .

  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
    1969 - 1971 Dino Valente guitar, vocals, Gary Duncan guitar, vocals, John Cipollina guitar, David Freiberg bass, vocals, and Greg Elmore drums, and Nicky Hopkins keyboards .

  • John Cipollina left this dimension May 29, 1989 from chronic emphysema, a problem he lived with for many years. He was 45 years old.

  • Special thanks to Evelyn Cipollina and Mike Somavilla, my sources for above information. John's brother, Mario Cipollina, born 1954, is a member of Huey Lewis and the News.

  • Quicksilver Messenger Service
    A Conversation with Guitar Legend JOHN CIPOLLINA

    Part One
    Legend Quicksilver - includes Link Wray and The Rumble


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