Gary Duncan Dead: Quicksilver Messenger Service Guitarist Dies at 72

Gary Duncan Dead

Photo via Eric Brenner

Gary Duncan, the guitarist with the Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Brogues, has died at the age of 72. Duncan suffered a seizure and fell into a coma before sadly passing away on June 29 in Woodland, California.

San Francisco-based rock aficionado Professor Poster was the first to announced Duncan’s death in a Facebook post. The post read, “It is with sadness that I share the passing of one of San Francisco’s fine guitarists and notable musicians that go back to the beginnings….. Gary Duncan. Once guitarist with The Brogues, then most notably with Quicksilver Messenger Service, where the complex interplay between himself and fellow-guitarist John Cipollina did much to define the unique contributions that made up the San Francisco Sound and based band. Rest in Peace you old Guitar Slinger…. You will be remembered with fondness by ALL of us that saw and heard you play over the many years.”

Who Do You Love? (1973 B&W) – Quicksilver Messenger ServiceWho do you Love? (Bo Diddley) video of live performance by Quicksilver Messenger Service at Winterland in 1973. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for 'fair use' for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use. Video excerpt all materials presented under fair use for non-profit, research, and educational purposes, copyright reserved by the original owners including but not limited to Bill Graham Archives, LLC, and Wolfgangs Vault, who I would like to thank in advance for their kindness and patience in not having their lawyers smash me and my little youtube account flatter than hammered shit. THE USE OF ANY COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL IS USED UNDER THE GUIDELINES OF "FAIR USE" IN TITLE 17 & 107 OF THE UNITED STATES CODE. SUCH MATERIAL REMAINS THE COPYRIGHT OF THE ORIGINAL HOLDER AND IS USED HERE FOR THE PURPOSES OF EDUCATION, COMPARISON, AND CRITICISM ONLY. NO INFRINGEMENT OF COPYRIGHT IS INTENDED 'I like Dick Dale, I could appreciate him more during the surf period….like I was like…. I was anti-surf, you know? Because they were collegiate. They would like …like during the folk era, you know…The Kingston Trio…….. I was a beatnik….. I was more into jazz….grooving, sharing, umm….that kind of stuff, and like but Link Wray, man. Link Wray affected me so much that first of all, alot of my style, alot of my chords and stuff I got by copying, you know? I saw him on TV man. I'd never played guitar, and he had his guitar that looked so offensive, it was phallic…Rumble, man…..Rumble just blew me away. That's what turned me on to playing guitar. He's the father of the power chord. I still remember it as one of my strongest memories, man. It just burned itself in my mind. I heard Rumble….it was '58. When I heard that, what I heard was, dirty, man. What he was doing was saying, f#ck man, kiss my ass, you know, real rebellious shit, you know, without saying it, you know?' -John Cipollina Quicksilver Messenger Service initially held back from signing a record deal but eventually signed to Capitol Records in late 1967, becoming the last of the top-ranked San Francisco bands to sign with a major label. Capitol was the only company that had missed out on signing a San Francisco freak band during the first flurry of record company interest and, consequently, QMS was able to negotiate a better deal than many of their peers. Quicksilver Messenger Service had appeared on the movie and soundtrack album Revolution. Quicksilver Messenger Service released their eponymous debut album in 1968. It was followed by Happy Trails, released in early 1969 and largely recorded live at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West. According to David Freiberg, at least one of the live tracks was augmented with studio overdubs and the tracks Calvary and Lady of the Cancer Moon were recorded in the studio just before Gary Duncan left Quicksilver Messenger Service. These albums, which have been hailed as two of the best examples of the San Francisco sound at its purest define the classic period in the group's career and showcase their distinctive sound, emphasizing extended arrangements and fluid twin-guitar improvisation. Cipollina's highly melodic, individualistic lead guitar style, combined with Gary Duncan's driving rhythm guitar, feature a clear jazz sound, a notable contrast to the heavily amplified and overdriven sound of contemporaries like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. In 2003 Happy Trails was rated at #189 in the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums survey, where it was described as the definitive live recording of the mid-Sixties San Francisco psychedelic-ballroom experience. Archetypal Quicksilver Messenger Service songs include the elongated, continually re-titled suite based on Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love?. Additionally QMS had a reputation for joining their fans in the use of LSD during their live shows. QMS's guitar work shimmered with a brilliance and clarity which made other bands seem murky in comparison. Unlike most members of the other San Francisco acid rock bands, who were often folkies converted to rock, John Cipollina and Gary Duncan were rock musicians before forming their band. Gary Duncan's playing clearly had the broadest scope of any guitarist among the S. F. bands and he had an expert facility to deliver it. Equally expert was John Cipollina, who also had the clearest vision of how he wanted to sound. Cipollina's playing was so completely given over to that vision, and he presented it so well, that the question of scope never arose. John's electric guitar playing was the musical essence of electricity itself, as though he was playing the current directly and the guitar was the valve that allowed him to do that.2011-02-28T07:06:33.000Z

Duncan was born Gary Grubb in San Diego in 1946. His first band was the locally-based The Brogues alongside Greg Elmore. The band split when the pair were offered a role in John Cipollina and Dino Valenti’s group, Quicksilver Messenger Service. The band’s name comes from the fact that all four members had the Virgo astrological sign, which is ruled by the planet Mercury, which is also known as Quicksilver.

READ NEXT: Teenage Porn Star Controversy Rocks California High School