There was a good-sized crowd at Jonathan Swifts Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts to see two shows by Nicksilver during their successful tour of the East Coast.
Like myself, a good number of people were drawn to the show not quite knowing what to expect due to the fact that [the] show was being advertised as Nicksilver, formerly Quicksilver Messenger Service, featuring Nicky Hopkins, John Cipollina, Greg Elmore, Nick Gravenites and Al Stahely, which is a little misleading in as much as that line-up only includes two of the original four members of Quicksilver and if Nicky Hopkins played on the tour, one latter-day member. However, I am sure that no one left either of the two shows I saw feeling disappointed, because Nicksilver played a dynamic set that included a mixture of blues and rock that was liberally sprinkled with some dazzling improvisations that recalled the inventiveness of the early Quicksilver Messenger service, even though they only played three songs that were recognisable as Quicksilver tunes ("Mona", "Who Do You Love" and "Pride of Man"). Nicky Hopkins was replaced at the last moment by Merl Saunders who I am sure needs no introduction. Merl seemed to fit into the band well.
Before the show I got together with the band for a chat and was more than a bit dubious about their motives for the seemingly heavy reliance on the legendary name of Quicksilver Messenger Service, especially as John, Nick and Al had previously toured as the Cipollina-Gravenites Band. However, my mind was soon put at ease by the affable Nick Gravenites and John Cipollina.
J.C.: The promoter asked us to come out last year as Quicksilver and we said no. Then they said we'll book you as yourself, but we want to say former members of Quicksilver and we said I don't know, yeah... that sounds okay and they said we want you to play at least 50% Quicksilver stuff and we said forget it.
N.G.: I didn't want to use the name Nicksilver. It was the idea of this promoter in New York named Michael Gaiman. He has been trying for a long time to put together a band that would in some way resemble Quicksilver that he could use to take advantage of that name. We were going to have Nicky Hopkins in the band as well at first, but we just couldn't take Nicky away from what he is doing now. It is just too lucrative for him. He gets double and triple union rates and everything. He is working in Hollywood doing sessions and film scores and all kinds of stuff. We just couldn't afford to have him on tour with us, but he is so good. He makes you sound good. When he plays with the band he makes us all sound good. When we couldn't get Nicky I wanted to go out as a four piece, but Gaiman insisted that we have a keyboard player and he insisted that we take Merl. He was intent on having a band tour that he could connect with the Quicksilver name, so in the end we agreed. I didn't care. I just wanted to get out and tour in my own country. I haven't toured here properly in years, and I just wanted to show everyone just how good I play the blues.
Relix: Will there be any more Nicksilver tours or any records coming out?
J.C.: Well, Nick's recording an album right now, but I don't know if it will come out in the states. As for Nicksilver, I would hope that there will be more tours. I kind of hoped that we could use our original line-up. If the promoters back east would stop being so chintzy, maybe we could. We had a band out in California called Thunder and Lightnin', which is basically Nicksilver except instead of Merl we had Nicky Hopkins. I love Merl; he is very good and he was a real big help and there was no problem with Merl at all, but I am used to Nicky. He is not only a close and dear friend, but he is also an excellent pianist, and I like the rhythms I work off of with Nicky.
Relix: Are you still playing with the Dinosaurs and Terry and The Pirates?
J.C.: Yes, the Dinosaurs are still together. In fact, I started working with them the day I got back from the Nicksilver tour. Michael Gaiman has been promising to put together a tour for us, which I think should happen fairly soon. We are just real loose. We haven't done any recording yet; we have a few live tapes. Anyway, we just issued a press release that says we will definitely make an album sometime within the next five years! Terry and thw Pirates have just released a new album, Rising of the Moon. It's on Country Joe McDonald's Rag Baby Records, and is available in the states. All these bands are running concurrent with one another. It keeps me out of the house. We toured Germany last year with Terry and the Pirates. The band was David Hayes on bass, Greg Douglass and myself on guitars and Greg Elmore on drums. Greg Douglass is real hot. He keeps me on my toes. He is now playing with the Greg Kihn Band.
Relix: How come your albums are only available in Germany and certain other European countries?
N.G.: In 1979 this Swedish girl came to see the band in San Francisco (the band at this time being John, Nick, Roger Troy and Marcus David), and she fell in love with the band and said, "Why don't you come and play in Sweden?" And we said, "We'd love to if you get us the gigs." Well, she used to work for a promoter, and sure enough, she lined up some shows for us and the guy who runs Line Records came backstage before the show and asked us if we had any tapes with us that might be suitable to put out as an album and we did. He stayed for the show, listened to the tapes, liked them and gave us the money right away. The tapes were all things that we had recorded and paid for already. (This was the John Cipollina album, Raven, the Nick Gravenites album, Bluestar, and the Terry and the Pirates album, Doubtful Handshake, and an album by Marcus David called Greatest Hits. Most of them are available from good import record stores and are well worth checking out.)
J.C.: People are always coming up to us at shows and asking where they can get the records and we say go to Germany! I also sold a Terry and the Pirates album to Wild Bunch Records in Italy. I like it, although the sound quality is not as good as a regular album. What it lacks in sound quality it makes up for in dynamics. It was recorded with one stereo microphone in front of the monitors. I still owe Line Records a solo album, but I haven't had the time to do it, what with playing with The Dinosaurs, Terry and the Pirates and these guys.
Relix: The Gravenites/Cipollina Band album, Monkey Medicine, was recorded in Germany, wasn't it?
N.G.: Yes. We were at the end of a tour there early last year and they wanted an album so we went in and did it in a studio in Hamburg. The whole album only cost about $1,500 to do including everything.
[Photo: Nick Gravenites celebrates his birthday at the Lone Star Cafe, NYC: Bob Minkin]
[Photo: John Cipollina, reading Relix: Bob Minkin]
Both bassist Al Stahely and drummer Greg Elmore have albums that they are trying to get released in the U.S.A. Al's album is on his own Ranger Records label and so far has been released in Germany and England on the Polydor label. It's a really nice album and finds Al covering a wide variety of styles from country rock to rockabilly to reggae to hard rock. One of the songs on the album, "Trust Me", was one of the highlights of Nicksilver's recent show.
Greg Elmore's album is also on his own label and as yet is unreleased, apart from a few promo copies that he has had pressed up. It's an interesting album pretty much in the hard rock/blues area. The line-up of his band, who are called Little Joe, is Bobby Vega on bass (the number one funk bass player according to Mickey Hart of the Dead), Greg Douglass on guitar, Greg on drums and singer Charlie Williams. The album is made up mostly of original material written by the band, but there is a nice version of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused", and a real good blues number written by one Nick Gravenites called "Love Me or I'll Kill You Baby".
It really is about time for a U.S. company to put some faith and money into the fine albums these guys have been producing and get something out in the states. God knows there is enough interest as witnessed by their recently successful tour and I'm sure that there is no need to rely on the name of Quicksilver Messenger Service. These guys let their music speak for itself and they are all extremely talented musicians and in Nick Gravenites they have an amazingly prolific songwriter.
Relix, February 1984, Vol. 11 No. 1