Greenwich Village folk-singer Dino Valenti (writing credits as Chester A. Powers for Hey Joe and the Youngbloods’ Get Together) was originally pencilled in on guitar and vocals but a drugs bust removed him from the scene for 18 months.

They rehearsed at the Matrix (3138 Fillmore Street), the club opened by Marty Balin as a place for the Jefferson Airplane to play. Balin’s search for a drummer for the Airplane led him to persuade Spence to switch instruments and groups, ending the earliest of many incarnations of QMS. By mid-1965 Spence and Sonoban had been replaced, at Balin’s suggestion, by guitarist Gary Duncan and drummer Greg Elmore from San Jose acid/punk band The Brogues.

The still-nameless band made its debut in December 1965, playing for the Christmas party for a comedy troupe called The Committee. The need for a name prompted some head-scratching before they realised all the members of the band were Virgos and Geminis, signs ruled by the planet Mercury. Mercury is Quicksilver, and doubles as the messenger of the Gods. Virgo is the servant, hence Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Like, cosmic, man....

This twin guitar line-up became huge players on the West Coast scene though they were a largely unheard legend everywhere else. The band featured on star-studded bills at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West, hung off from signing a record deal until late 1967 but eventually signed to Capitol Records, one of the last San Francisco bands to sign with a major label. 

Since Capitol had failed to sign any of the San Francisco hippie bands during the height of the flower power era, Quicksilver managed to negotiate a better deal than many of their peers, as did the Steve Miller Band, with whom Quicksilver appeared on the Revolution soundtrack album.

Soon after their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Murray left to study the sitar and Quicksilver were a quartet when they recorded their first album in December 1967. Released in May 1968, it was a tidy debut and towards the end of that year the band cut the follow-up, Happy Trails, largely recorded live at Fillmores East and West. At least one of the live tracks was augmented with studio overdubs and Calvary and Maiden of the Cancer Moon, recorded in the studio just before Gary Duncan left.


B© Ian Hughes 2012