[Photo: Gravenites & Cipollina: Robert Teese]

Thunder & Lightning

LAST year Nick Gravenites and John Cipollina toured the East Coast under the name of Nicksilver. It was a name they were less than happy with, as it was devised by the promoters in a bid to make the connection with the Quicksilver Messenger Service legend more apparent. Well, they finally made it to the East Coast under their original name of Thunder and Lightning for a short tour in March, having changed booking agents. In fact, they were booked by Relix.

John Cipollina, in particular, felt that he had misrepresented himself last year using the name Nicksilver. He explained to me how he felt about that tour and the subsequent hassles they have experienced over their name. "It's really a slap in the face, because what these people are saying is that we don't have faith in your reputation as it is, but if I go out and represent myself as Quicksilver, it's okay. On the West Coast they accept me; in Europe they accept me. Even in Thunder and Lightning people will still come and yell for Quicksilver songs. They wanted to bill us at one time as Nicksilver Messenger Service, which to me is distasteful and it's misrepresentation." However, John said that he didn't want to deny being in Quicksilver, but that he just likes people to get what they paid for. "To me it is important as a professional musician not so much to see how people come in the door, but how they walk out. I don't like to see people walk out and look unhappy. I want to see them come and get their money's worth."

I'm sure there is no need to rely on the Quicksilver legend. Once people see the band and know what they are getting I am sure very few people will be disappointed, as they play a great mixture of rock and blues in an unpretentious and uncompromising way. When you talk to them you get the impression that they would play just as well for ten people as they would for a thousand. They enjoy what they are doing and they also happen to be damn good [at] it.

The biggest irony is that to some extent the promoters are right, Thunder and Lightning can't pull a crowd as big as say Quicksilver or a band that resembles them. This was only too evident from the difference in the size of the audience at Jonathan Swift's club in Cambridge in March. It was considerably smaller than it had been some five months earlier when they played there as Nicksilver. However, that didn't affect their performance, as they did two spirited sets. Ex-Firefall lead singer and songwriter Rick Roberts opened with a fine 45-minutes of acoustic ballads which unfortunately most of the audience talked through. Nonetheless, Rick gave a good show including some favorites like "It Doesn't Matter and "You Are the Woman" as well as some new unrecorded tunes.

Without a keyboard player in the band Nick and John were given more room to turn in some exemplary guitar work, and, if anything, as a result they gave a more dynamic show. Bassist Al Stahaley had also been replaced by Doug Kilmer. Nicky explained the reason for the change. "Al's great, but Doug is my regular bass player. He plays in my band for nine months of the year. So, it seemed pointless to use Al, who is back in Texas, every time I come out East. Doug, Greg Elmore and myself have been playing some gigs as a trio back in California at a bar called The Red Dog Saloon. We just wanted to see how it would be the three of us and it worked great. We had a real good time." Doug is certainly a fine bass player and a more than adequate replacement for Al, although, I must admit I missed some of Al's songs like "Trust Me" and "Hot Rods and Cool Women". Doug had previously played with the late, great Michael Bloomfield and also with David LaFlamme of It's A Beautiful Day, amongst other people.

During their two sets they played a lot of familiar songs like Nicky's blues classic "Born in Chicago", "Southside", "My Party" and "Down in the Bottom" from his Bluestar album and stunning versions of "Bad Luck Baby" and "Buried Alive in The Blues" from the Monkey Medicine album. Instrumentally, the band was the most impressive on an adventurous version of "Small Walk-in Box" and a fine energetic "Who Do You Love", one of only two Quicksilver songs they played. Nick also did a good version of "Love Me or I'll Kill You", a song he wrote for Greg's band Little Joe.

There was also some as yet unrecorded material like the country-ish "Flat Tire Merle" and some other impressive material like "Run Out Of West" and "Four Floors or Forty." Even though this was a smaller crowd they still gave the band a great reception,

Between sets I cornered the band and asked if they had gotten around to doing any recording. John told me he thought they had completed an album, but Nick said, "We got about three quarters of the way through recording an album and the money ran out. So, it's there, but it needs to be finished off." John also said they had recorded three or four songs with Al Stahaley and Nicky Hopkins. So, there is obviously no shortage of material. It is just a question of getting the right people interested. Nick said that he would at some time like to see a US company release his Bluestar album and the Gravenites/Cipollina album Monkey Medicine. After all, plenty of people are interested in the records and at present they are only available as expensive imports.

The most interesting thing that has happened to the band is that they will be featured in a full length movie. Just prior to their East Coast tour they had been in Minneapolis working on the film, which is to be called Survivors. None of the band quite know what the finished movie will be like or how it will be presented, but basically it is a documentary about blues musicians and will revolve around the band. It will include concert footage as well as interview segments. Other artists that will be featured include Dr. John, Spider John Koerner, Willie Murphy and Lightnin' Hopkins. Although, work on the film has not been completed, it is hoped that the film will be released in the USA and Germany later this year.

As for their other activities, Greg Elmore told me that he has tried shopping his album, Little Joe, to several major labels including Geffen, but has met with no real response. The labels all seem more interested in Duran Duran soundalikes than in good solid blues and rock. However, he remains undaunted and is currently working on some video to promote the record, which he intends to get released one way or another. John, of course, is still working with Terry and The Pirates and The Dinosaurs, which he says, "Helps keep me out of the house." He has also done some recording with original Quicksilver vocalist Jim Murray. Last year he spent some time in Hawaii where he spent his vacation in a recording studio! They did about three quarters of an album, and John promises to go back and finish that off later this year. He also has some material that he would like to record himself. Things that are considered too strange to be recorded by any of the bands he currently plays in!

Hopefully, one or more of these projects will see the light of day soon, and maybe Thunder and Lightning will have a record out to promote the next time they tour. That should certainly give them a little more publicity and maybe that combined with the Survivors film will lead to them attracting the larger audiences that their talents so richly deserve.

Mick Skidmore

Relix, June 1984, Vol. 11 No. 3


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Last updated: 22-Sep-2002