From The Vault: Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails (1969)
Lets look back to the hay day of Psychedelic Music, and the album ‘Happy Trails’ by the now legendary band ‘The Quicksilver Messenger Service.’
These were heady times, concerts were designed to fuel the heads, open the minds and course your trip [on LSD] to its climax. At the helm of the ‘Jam Bands’ was Quicksilver, who, without a doubt reached the pinnacle of the the trip with the release of ‘Happy Trails,’ one of the first live recordings to try and capture the feeling of an acid experience, or help you enjoy your ride … San Francisco style, should you have lived anywhere other than California.
But let’s start with the album art. The cover features a cowboy, in full regalia, riding off into the dawn of a new day, leaving all he has ever known and loved, carrying with him the message and hope of his experiences in the west. The lettering on the cover is a fine example of the psychedelic script of the time, the colours are bold and striking. The term ‘Happy Trails’ was either taken from the album title, or the album title was taken from the effect of moving one’s hand threw the air and watching the splendid ‘Trails’ that followed, hence the term ‘Happy Trails.’ And of course there was the reference to Roy Rogers and Dale Evens, who sang the song ‘Happy Trails’ at the end of their TV show.
The first side of the album is composed of one song, with various extensions, additions and adaptations of ‘Who Do You Love,’ by Do Diddley. Quicksilver moves from ‘Who Do You Love, When Do You Love, Where Do Yo Love, How Do You Love, Which Do You Love, and finally finishing with Part 2 of ‘Who Do You Love,’ to tie it all together. It’s everything you would expect of a psychedelic release of this genre. But you won’t find the thundering guitars you might expect. The guitars are mixed low, as if you’re in a room with the ceiling no more than eight feet high. There is no lead by design, each member adds the effects and efforts of their instrument to the ambiance of the whole … blending, mixing, playing and bouncing off of each other. There are some very fine chord changes that have a definite line of demarcation brought on by the rhythm guitar. The drumming is something else, and when you have a chance to dig Greg Elmore, a smooth smile will cross your face. No lie, Greg sounds like he’s using cardboard boxes as drums, they are perfectly understated, designed to carry the time at heartbeat level. It’s not until the beginning of the song ‘Calvary’ that he steps out at all, and even there he is restrained.
Side two, which begins with ‘Mona,’ a piece of San Francisco musical history, and though it’s not, side two has the feel of being a live recording. There are nice sustained guitars trailing off in various directions, taking your head here and there, only to bring you back … before they take you off on another journey. There was serious studio musical experimentation going on here, and it’s a shame that this star burned out so quickly, leaving us only three release.
Quicksilver Messenger Service. Photo by Susan Elting for Ramparts (1967).
Groups like ‘The Dark Side,’ ‘Spacemen 3’ and ‘The American Analog Set’ have attempted to update the format laid down here, but this is the original, this is where it all happened first, this is the place at which you can reach out and drop your finger on the map, the point of origin. You will hear groups like the ‘Jefferson Airplane’ pay homage to ‘Quicksilver’ with some of the licks they use on their albums, and ‘The Grateful Dead’ drew heavily on this trippy theme before abandoning it for the free wheeling country style jams that brought them fame.
The group was made up of John Cipollina [guitar], Jim Murray [harmonica, guitar and vocals], Greg Elmore [drums], Gary Duncan [guitar and vocals] and David Freiberg [bass guitar, viola, and vocals]. There were various other incarnations which included Dino Valenti, Nicky Hopkins and Chuck Steaks. At the end, nearly all of these guys folded back into the group for the last release. The album has a genuine personal feel to it, as if the music was an extension of yourself. They don’t need a lot of tricks, gimmicks or volume to bring this across, they just need to step up to the mike, hit the reverb, wah wah and they are off and running. This is by far the best and most concise body of work from Quicksilver Messenger Service, so if you have to pick just one … hands down, this is the one.
And that song ‘Happy Trails’ I mentioned … while your gettin’ your head on straight and gathering up what’s rolled across the floor, they’ll just be finishing up the whistling part as you’re making your way out the door and into a fine clear San Francisco night. I know that’s true, because I was part of the event more then once.
‘Happy Trails,’ ya’ all be sure to mosey on back now.
John Cipollina, 1968.
– Jenell Kesler
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