John Cipollina (August 24, 1943 – May 29, 1989) was a guitarist best known for his role as a founder and the lead guitarist of the prominent San Francisco rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service. After leaving Quicksilver he formed the band Copperhead, was a member of the San Francisco All Stars and later played with numerous other bands.
John and his twin sister Manuela were born in Berkeley, California, on August 24, 1943. Cipollina attended Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, California, as did his brother, Mario (born 1954), and sister, Antonia (born 1952). Their father, Gino, was of Italian ancestry (Genovese and Piemontese origins). He was a realtor, and their mother, Evelyn, and godfather, José Iturbi, were concert pianists.
John showed great promise as a classical pianist in his youth, but his father gave him a guitar when he was 12 and this quickly became his primary instrument.
Cipollina had a unique guitar sound, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. He is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco sound, a form of psychedelic rock.
I like the rapid punch of solid-state for the bottom, and the rodent-gnawing distortion of the tubes on top.
To create his distinctive guitar sound, Cipollina developed a one-of-a-kind amplifier stack. His Gibson SG guitars had two pickups, one for bass and one for treble. The bass pickup fed into two Standel bass amps on the bottom of the stack, each equipped with two 15-inch speakers. The treble pickups fed two Fender amps: a Fender Twin Reverb and a Fender Dual Showman that drove six Wurlitzer horns.
After leaving Quicksilver in 1971, Cipollina formed the band Copperhead with early Quicksilver member Jim Murray (who was soon to leave for Maui, Hawaii), former Stained Glass member Jim McPherson, drummer David Weber, Gary Phillipet (AKA Gary Phillips (keyboardist), later a member of Bay Area bands Earthquake and The Greg Kihn Band), and Pete Sears. Sears was shortly thereafter replaced by current and longtime Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson who played on the Copperhead LP and stayed with the band for its duration. Copperhead disbanded in mid 1974 after becoming a staple in the SF Bay Area and touring the West Coast, Hawaii (Sunshine Crater Fest on New Years Day of 1973 with Santana), the South (opening dates for Steely Dan) and the Midwest.
In May 1974 Cipollina and Link Wray, whose playing and style had influenced John as a young musician and who he had met through bassist Hutch Hutchinson, performed a series of shows together along the West Coast (with Copperhead rhythm section Hutchinson & Weber and keyboardist David Bloom) culminating at The Whiskey in LA where they performed for four nights (May 15–19) on a bill with Lighthouse (band). Cipollina continued to occasionally perform with Wray for the next couple of years.
During the 1980s, Cipollina performed with a number of bands, including Fish & Chips, Thunder and Lightning, the Dinosaurs and Problem Child. He was a founding member of Zero and its rhythm guitarist until his death. Most often these bands played club gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Cipollina was well-known.
In 1975, the Welsh psychedelic band Man toured the United States, towards the end of which, they played two gigs at the San Francisco Winterland (March 21 and 22), which were such a success that promoter Bill Graham paid them a bonus and rebooked them. While waiting for the additional gigs, the band met and rehearsed with Cipollina, who played with them at Winterland in April 1975. After this, Cipollina agreed to play a UK tour which took place in May 1975, during which their “Roundhouse gig” was recorded.
The album eventually reached #25 in the UK album charts.
Cipollina died on May 29, 1989 at age 45. His cause of death was alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which he suffered from most of his life and which is exacerbated by smoking.
Quicksilver Messenger Service fans paid tribute to him the following month in San Francisco at an all-star concert at the Fillmore Auditorium which featured Nicky Hopkins, Pete Sears, David Freiberg, and John’s brother Mario, an original member of Huey Lewis and the News. Cipollina’s one of a kind massive amplifier stack was donated, along with one of his customized Gibson SG guitars, and effects pedals, for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995.
In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Cipollina 32nd on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. (wikipedia)
John Cipollina autographed guitar:
John Cipollina’s guitar sounded like no other. His unique resonance touched people in places they didn’t know existed. His signature sound will stand alone for all time as a part of the musical thread the San Francisco Bay Area has wrapped around the world.
John passed away from a lifelong respiratory ailment on May 29, 1989. He left behind a great musical contribution for his worldwide audience to enjoy. For those of us who knew him, we share the memory of a truly wonderful person, whose being so perfectly reflected the magic in his music.(johncipollina.com)
To know why he was so good … you could listen to this magnificent live album, for example … simply excellent !
Recorded live at New George’s, San Rafael, CA, 24 February 1988
(excellent broadcast recording)
Chris Cole (vocals)
John Cipollina (guitar, background vocals)
Greg Douglass (guitar, background vocals)
Greg Elmore (drums)
Rob Wullenjohn (bass)
01. Intro / It’s Your Monkey Now (Cipollina) 6.13
02. Prayers (Douglass/Kilcourse) 3.44
03. Moonlight Traveler (Cipollina) 5.48
04. Hired Hand (unknown) 4.32
05. All Worth The Price You Pay (Douglass/Cipollina) 11.20
06. I Put A Spell On You (Hawkins) 5.53
07. Band intro 1.50
08. Jungle Love (Turner/Douglass) 4.42
09. Move Over (Cipollina) 4.09
10. Follow Her Around (Hayes) 5.28
11. Blind Love (Douglass/Sendyt) 7.12
The concert poster:
John Cipollina (August 24, 1943 – May 29, 1989):