We chatted to the veteran keyboardist (ex-Jefferson Starship, etc) on a rare UK visit about his memories of John Cipollina.
I was with Stoneground in 1970. We were staying in Mill Valley and somebody introduced John to me. I went over to his house and we hung out. We really hit it off, developed a good relationship and talked about getting a band together at some point. But then I had to get back to Britain to do 'Every Picture Tells A Story' with Rod Stewart. Then after I went back to the States with Long John Baldry I went over to San Francisco and hooked up with him again.
He put me up in his house in Mill Valley, in his gun room - he had a massive collection of old west guns, and Native American artifacts. So he put me up in there. We'd jam. In my absence with Long John, he'd got some guys together so there was a ready-made band so we started playing with them. We tried to think of a name, and John came up with Copperhead. We'd rehearse and write songs together, the old Quicksilver recording room up the hill in Corte Madera, which has been torn down now.
We'd play various FM radio shows; KSAN, I think, did a show, with Tom Donahue as the DJ. We played all types of local gigs in the Bay Area, and then we started looking for a record deal. I'd been with them for a long time and we'd worked all the songs out together, John and I got on really well but I'd been hanging out with Nicky Hopkins for a bit because he lived in Mill Valley at the time, so we jammed. He wanted to get a band together and asked if I wanted to play bass and we talked about doing some dual piano stuff. The company Copperhead were negotiating with just didn't feel right to me so I left the band right before they signed and then went off with Nicky.
He rented me a house in Mill Valley; I actually flew back to do 'Never A Dull Moment', for Rod, straight from Copperhead. So I didn't actually do the album, but I did a lot of the live stuff. There are a couple of bootlegs with Hutch, the bass player's name on there because they obviously went to the album to get their credits.
But playing with John was a joy, being with him and hanging out with him, he was a wonderful person. A lot of people talk about what a crazy rock'n'roller he was, and he certainly was. He had emphysema from a child, and I think ke knew he was in bad shape. He lived hard, but he was a very generous person. His mother passed away soon after and she'd asked me to scatter their ashes mixed together from an aeroplane, because I used to fly as a hobby. We went up in somebody else's airplane, a Beechcraft Bonanza. I flew it (though my license was out of date at that point) and we scattered their ashes over Bolinas Ridge. There were people down below and Mario, John's brother, was in the back.
I did an album called 'Watchfire', there's a song on there called 'Guatemala' and I had him play on the end of it. We ended up not using it, but I have it somewhere and, at some point or another, I will put it up on my website (www.petesears.com) for anyone who wants to download it, it's a classic Cipollina solo.
Quicksilver was a once in a lifetime combination of things, and with respect to everyone working with Copperhead it seems like it would be very hard to equal that benchmark.
Yeah probably so, I don't think he was trying to match Quicksilver but in some people's minds I'm sure that happened. He kept his fan base when he struck out and did his own thing, playing with people like Man. We had a very good mutual friend, Nick Gravenites, and I did a lot of work with Nick and John. He kept going until the end, he just loved to play.
I did do one Quicksilver album with him ('Solid Silver', 1975), that was nice. It was one of the later ones but Dino was on it and Nicky and myself, it was the full band, Gary (Duncan) and everybody. I remember we were doing a benefit at a club called New George's in San Rafael where I live, amd John was supposed to be there but he had been taken to the emergency room because he was gasping for air. We figured he wouldn't show, but then he turned up gasping for breath in his hospital frock, tied up at the back, picked up a guitar and started to play - I couldn't believe it! We were scared to death, he just lived to play.
Pete's excellent new album, 'The Long Haul' is available from www.altrichter-music.de
Reprinted with permission, from The Welsh Connection, Apr-May 2003