John Cipollina

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John Cipollina
John Cipollina 121976.gif
Cipollina, with Copperhead, 1976
Keystone Berkeley, Courtesy, David Gans
Background information
Birth name John Holland Mallet III
Born (1943-08-24)August 24, 1943
Berkeley, California, United States
Died May 29, 1989(1989-05-29) (aged 45)
San Francisco, California, United States
Genres Rock, psychedelic rock
Occupation(s) Musician
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active 1964–1989
Labels Capitol, Line Records, Music Box Records
Associated acts Quicksilver Messenger Service, Copperhead, Gary Phillips, The Dinosaurs, Man
Notable instruments
Gibson SG

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.

Early Years[edit]

Born in Berkeley, California, in 1943, John Cipollina attended Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, California (as did his brother, Mario Cipollina, born 1954). His mother Evelyn, and godfather José Iturbi, were concert pianists and 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 technique[edit]

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]

Cipollina used a custom foot switch setup to select reverb, tremolo, Maestro Echoplex (the unit mounted on the right of the Twin Reverb), and Standel Modulux (on the left of the twin reverb). 12 volt automotive running lights indicated which effect was being used. In the 1980s, he used a series of standard stomp-box pedals, including a chorus and a Boss Spectrum SP-1.

Cipollina also employed a Gibson Maestro Fuzz and Vox wah-wah/volume pedals. For slide effects, he favored a plastic Bic lighter for precision work, or ran his guitar against the mike stand for more dramatic effects.

Throughout his career, Cipollina usually played Gibson SGs, but in the late '70s and into the '80s could also be seen playing a Carvin DC150, a double-cutaway with more modern electronics. He played with finger picks, a thumb pick, and used a whammy bar extensively which, he explained to Jerry Garcia, was to make up for his weak left hand. For slide playing, he often switched to one of his Les Paul guitars, played lap-style, using his leg on a monitor for support.

Career After Quicksilver Messenger Service[edit]

After leaving Quicksilver, Cipollina formed the band Copperhead with early Quicksilver member Jim Murray (musician) (who was soon to leave for Maui, HI), 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) who went on to play with the original Jefferson Starship and later Hot Tuna.

Experience with Man[edit]

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.[1] Whilst 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 over-dub 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."M. Jones tribute

The album eventually reached #25 in the UK album charts.[5]


Cipollina died on 29 May 1989 from at the age of 45 after a career in music that spanned twenty five years.[6] 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.


With Quicksilver Messenger Service[edit]


  • Copperhead


  • Dinosaurs

RAVEN 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]


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

Merrell Fankhauser[edit]

  • Dr. Fankhauser


Nick Gravenites[edit]

Papa John Creach[edit]

  • 1972: Papa John Creach: Papa John's Friends (Grunt Records)

Terry and the Pirates[edit]


With other artists[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Leonard, Deke (2012). The Twang Dynasty. Bordon, Hants: Northdown Publishing. pp. 263–275. ISBN 978-1-900711-18-0. 
  2. ^ a b Official website/rock. "John Cipollina". Memorial Website. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  3. ^ Sievert, Jon (January–February 1973). "John Cippolina, interview". Guitar Player. 
  4. ^ Buckley, Jonathan, Jonathan; Ellingham, Mark (1996). Rock: The Rough Guide - Man ((1st ed.) ed.). London: Rough Guides Ltd. pp. 539–540. ISBN 1-85828-201-2. 
  5. ^ "Chart Stats for Man Albums". Archived from the original on 2013-01-19. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  6. ^ John Cipollina at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Arcadia Label, 2006
  8. ^ See the the album webpage at Discogs.

External links[edit]