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John Cipollina

Cipollina, with Copperhead, 1976
Keystone Berkeley, Courtesy, David Gans
Background information
Birth name John Holland Mallet III
Born August 24, 1943(1943-08-24)
Berkeley, California US
Died May 29, 1989 (aged 45)
San Francisco, California, US
Genres Rock, psychedelic rock, blues, jazz
Occupations Musician
Instruments Guitar, bass, piano
Years active 1964 - 1989
Labels Captitol, Line Records, Music Box Records
Associated acts Quicksilver Messenger Service, Copperhead, The Dinosaurs, Man
Notable instruments
Gibson SG

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 San Francisco rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Born in Berkeley, California, he attended Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, California (as did his brother, Mario Cipollina). He showed great promise as a classical pianist in his youth, but soon switched to the guitar as his primary instrument.


Equipment and technique

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 psychedelic rock sound.

"I like the rapid punch of solid-state for the bottom, and the rodent-gnawing distortion of the tubes on top."[1]

Throughout his career, Cipollina usually played Gibson SGs, but in the late '70s and into the '80s could also be seen playing a Carvin DC150, which was similar to a double-cutaway Les Paul, but with more modern factory installed electronics. He played with finger picks, thumb picks, and used a whammy bar extensively which, he explained to Jerry Garcia, was to make up for his weak left (tremolo) hand. Even more unusually, he attached six wurlitzer horns to the top of his distinctive amplifier stack.

His style was highly melodic and expressive. Cipollina's classical past no doubt influenced his guitar style, which was miles beyond the usual blues-scale, pentatonic work of many of the other psychedelic-era guitarists. His work on fellow dueling guitarist Gary Duncan's electric arrangement/adaption of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", retitled "Gold and Silver," which appears on the self-titled first album of Quicksilver, is an excellent example of how Cipollina took rock to places it usually didn't dare to venture.

Other ventures include founding the Jazz/Rock band Freelight, with now famous country crooner, Pam Tillis.

Experience with Man

In 1974, the Welsh psychedelic band Man were embarking upon a tour of the UK and the United States, but within the final leg of their tour their guitarist Micky Jones developed pneumonia and most of the dates had to be cancelled. John Cipollina was suggested to fill the place of Jones for the final gigs that were to be at the San Francisco Winterland. As they were a two-guitar band, the band met and rehearsed with John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, who played with them at Winterland, and agreed to play a UK tour.These were a great success, and promoter Bill Graham paid them a bonus, and rebooked them, but the band had a shaky line-up, and one of its members left the band. However, they still were able to continue the tour in the UK, during which their "Roundhouse gig" was recorded, but rumors held that Micky Jones had to over-dub Cipollina’s guitar, as it was out of tune, before their Maximum Darkness album could be released.[2] Even so, the album eventually reached #25 in the UK album charts.[3]


Cipollina died on 29 May 1989 from chronic emphysema at the age of 45 after a career in music that spanned twenty five years. 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, 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.[1]

In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #32 of their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.


With Quicksilver Messenger Service


  • Copperhead


  • Dinosaurs


  • Raven


Maximum Darkness LP (1975) United Artists: CD (1991) BGO CD 43: CD Re-mix (2008) Esoteric ECLEC 2061 Micky Jones, Deke Leonard, Martin Ace, Terry Williams, John Cipollina Recorded at The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, 26 May 1975

Merrell Fankhauser

  • Dr. Fankhauser


  • Freelight

Nick Gravenites

  • 1980: Blue Star (Line Records)
  • 1982: Monkey Medicine "The Nick Gravenites John Cipollina Band" (Line Records)
  • 1991: Live At Rodon "Nick Gravenites and John Cipollina" (Music Box)


  • Here Goes Nothin, Go Hear Nothin(Live)



  1. ^ a b Official website/rock. "John Cipollina". Memorial Website. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  2. ^ Buckley, Jonathan, Jonathan; Ellingham, Mark (1996). Rock: The Rough Guide - Man ((1st ed.) ed.). London: Rough Guides Ltd. pp. 539–540. ISBN ISBN 1-85828-201-2.. 
  3. ^ "Chart Stats for Man Albums". Retrieved 2009-06-01. 

External links

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