John Cipollina was probably best-known as the lead guitarist for the Quicksilver Messenger Service. He was also a seminal figure in the San Francisco music scene. He died in 1989 at the age of 45. This video, produced by his sister, Antonia, and manager Steve Keyser, is a tribute to his musical talents and warm personality.
The video is a pretty straight-ahead documentary with performance footage interspersed with interviews with his friends and relatives. Interviewees include Bill Graham, Jerry Garcia, Nicky Hopkins, Merl Saunders, Pete Sears, Nick Gravenites, David Freiberg, Spencer Dryden, and Paul Kantner.
Students of rock and roll history will discover lots of interesting tidbits about the early ’60s and ’70s West Coast scene. John was instrumental in making Mill Valley a hotbed of music in the early ’70s. His father, Gino, was a real estate broker who got most of the bands, like the Grateful Dead, into their first rental houses, and subsequently sold them houses in Marin County.
While this video is certainly not a guitar instructional video, sharp-eyed viewers can learn what guitars and amps he favored. You can also discover what made his sound so unique; he used a thumbpick and one fingerpick coupled with extensive use of the Bigsby vibrato to achieve a shimmering tone, replete with blistering arpeggios.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.