John Cipollina

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 Cipollina
Cipollina, with Copperhead, 1973–1974 Keystone Berkeley, David Gans
Cipollina, with Copperhead, 1973–1974
Keystone Berkeley, David Gans
Background information
Born(1943-08-24)August 24, 1943
Berkeley, California, U.S.
DiedMay 29, 1989(1989-05-29) (aged 45)
San Francisco, California, United States
GenresRock, psychedelic rock
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active1964–1989
LabelsCapitol, Line Records, Music Box Records
Associated actsQuicksilver Messenger Service, Copperhead, Gary Phillips, The Dinosaurs, Man, Nick Gravenites

Early yearsEdit

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.[1]

Equipment and techniqueEdit

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.[2]

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.[3]

Career after Quicksilver Messenger ServiceEdit

After leaving Quicksilver, 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 Bonnie Raitt bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson who played on the Copperhead LP and stayed with the band for its duration. During the 80s, Cipollina performed with a number of configurations, including Fish & Chips, with Barry Melton, Thunder and Lightning, with Nick Gravenites, with 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, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Cipollina remained well-known to aficionados as among the great psychedelic guitarists. His style influenced many upcoming younger players, including Trey Anastasio of Phish.

Experience with ManEdit

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.[1]

Rumors that Micky Jones had to overdub Cipollina's parts, as his guitar was out of tune, before their Maximum Darkness album could be released[4] are exaggerated; only one track, "Bananas", was to have his track replaced, per Deke Leonard. "Everything ... which sounds like Cipollina is Cipollina."[5]

The album eventually reached #25 in the UK album charts.[6]


Cipollina died on 29 May 1989 at the age of 45 after a career in music that spanned twenty five years. 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.[2]

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


Quicksilver Messenger ServiceEdit

with Papa John CreachEdit

  • 1971: Papa John Creach (Grunt Records)

with Mickey HartEdit


  • 1973: Copperhead

with ManEdit

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


  • 1977: unreleased demos

Terry and the PiratesEdit

Solo albumEdit

re-released in 2006 as Raven (Acadia) with 7 additional tracks

Re-release Tracklist 1. Rock & Roll Nurse 2. True Golden Touch 3. Do What You Do 4. Unvicious Circle 5. True Reward 6. Grass Is Always Greener 7. Clouds 8. All Worth The price 9. Ride (Highway Song) 10. Burning Corte Madera 11. The Truth 12. Bad News 13. Razor Blade4 & Rattlesnake 14. Prayers [7]

with Nick GravenitesEdit

The Nick Gravenites - John Cipollina BandEdit

The DinosaursEdit

  • 1988: Dinosaurs

with Merrell FankhauserEdit

  • 1986: Dr. Fankhauser


  • 1987: Here Goes Nothin (Relix Records)
  • 1990: Nothin Goes Here] (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
  • 1991: Go Hear Nothin (Live) (Whirled Records)



  1. ^ a b Leonard, Deke (2012). The Twang Dynasty. Bordon, Hants: Northdown Publishing. pp. 263–75. ISBN 978-1-900711-18-0.
  2. ^ a b Official website/rock. "John Cipollina". Memorial Website. Archived from the original on 2009-02-26. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
  3. ^ Sievert, Jon (January–February 1973). "John Cippolina, interview". Guitar Player.
  4. ^ Buckley, Jonathan; Ellingham, Mark (1996). Rock: The Rough Guide - Man ((1st ed.) ed.). London: Rough Guides Ltd. pp. 539–40. ISBN 1-85828-201-2.
  5. ^ "Micky Jones tribute by Phil McMullen". Archived from the original on 2012-04-12. Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  6. ^ "The Official Charts Company for Man Albums". Archived from the original on 2015-04-03. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  7. ^ Arcadia Label, 2006
  8. ^ See the album webpage Archived 2015-01-29 at the Wayback Machine at Discogs.

External linksEdit