Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Copperhead, Copperhead

As Quicksilver Messenger Service became more and more of a backup band for Dino Valenti’s folk-oriented fare, their lead guitar player, John Cipollina became more and more dissatisfied copperheadwith the simple mindedness of the music the band was playing.  He solved this problem by playing with a lot of other people and when Quicksilver disapproved, he quit and ended up playing with a number of different groups such as Dinosaurs, Raven, Terry and the Pirates, Fish & Chips and many others.  One of the first was Copperhead and this is their first and only album supplemented by the single “Chameleon” which was previously released as a single. 

In addition to Cipollina on lead guitar, the band at the time of recording was Gary Philippet (vocals, second guitar, organ), Jim McPherson (vocals, piano, bass, percussion), Hutch Hutchinson (vocals, bass) and David Weber (drums, percussion).  Together they form a serviceable rock band but the draw here is clearly Cipollina.  His tremolo-heavy guitar played with finger picks was utterly distinctive and was the signature sound of the first two Quicksilver albums.  While Cipollina may be the main reason for listening to Copperhead, the album is not a star vehicle.  On the basis of this and other albums I’ve heard, Cipollina always viewed himself as a member of a band and it was always about the band, not about him.  He plays lead guitar but Copperhead is not a guitar hero band.  Still, when that guitar rings out, you can’t help but wish he’d take more space.

In the liner notes Copperhead’s drummer, Weber, says that the album doesn’t really show the band in it’s best light because the songs were stale by the time they recorded them.  Although you can hear that the band is capable of more, many of the tracks on the album are not bad at all.  Album opener “Roller Derby Star” with Cipollina’s instantly recognizable guitar in the left channel is a solid and workmanlike  rocker, “Pawnshop Man” ends with an all out anthemic chorus and guitar rave up that brings the Allman Brother’s to mind.  Original album closer “They’re Making a Monster” is the most psychedelic track on the album and contains Cipollina’s most extended lead.  He was very ill when he recorded his solo but he still kicks ass. 

I’m finding that the more I listen to “Copperhead”, the more it grows on me.  They were a good band that had real potential to be quite a bit more.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  They had been signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis and when CBS fired Davis, largely because no one could stand him, they dropped Copperhead as one of his bands.  Nobody picked them up and they split apart.  Shame, that.

There’s really no reason to buy this album unless you are a Cipollina fan or a guitarist interested in his unque and master-level style of play.  If Cipollina is a new name for you, you can hear him with Quicksilver playing “Gold and Silver” on Tuned In To Music Podcast 008 – 1960s San Francisco (Part 2).  If you’d like more, check out the first two Quicksilver albums “Quicksilver Messenger Service” (which includes “Gold and Silver”) and “Happy Trails” before moving on to Copperhead.  If you are a Cipollina fan who already has the Quicksilver albums, Copperhead will give you more of his playing in the context of a straightforward and competent rock band.

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09/02/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

1 Comment »

  1. […] Sons of Champlin’s Loosen Up Naturally, Dinosaurs’ Friends of Extinction, and “Copperhead” featuring Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina.  On the other hand, they […]

    Pingback by Review: Joy of Cooking, Joy of Cooking « Tuned In To Music | 09/30/2007 | Reply


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