I had the pleasure of knowing John Cipollina during his last years while I was living in San Francisco. We always had a mutual affinity for 1950's pioneer guitar legend Link Wray.
Just a few weeks before his death, and a few years after I conducted this informal interview, I had the
opportunity of playing drums with John at a friends wedding in San Anselmo, California, at which
John, an ordained Minister, performed the wedding ceremony. We of course performed the classic
Link Wray song "Rumble." I thought it would be nice to share this with the world at large.
A conversation in progress.....
John: ....because of the the blues, Bloomfield, Howlin' Wolf, and all those guys...we would play blues societies. It was weird, I've never done anything like that.
David: Small clubs or bigger places?
JC: It was like academic, small mostly.
DG: People studying every note.
JC: Yea, like a private club, they'd take notes, and sit there, and instead of doing an encore, we'd have question and answer periods.
DG: Like workshops.
JC: It was weird, and then when we got into England, and Germany....then it was reversed.... then I was the draw. First time we went over was the Nick Gravenites Blues Band.......Second time it was Nick Gravenites, John Cipollina for a couple of nights, for one night, and the next night would be Cipollina-Gravenites.
DG: You mixed it around a little bit.
DG: It was like a long series of shows you did there, then.
JC: We did about seven weeks.
DG: You were like a local band for a while.
JC: Oh yea, no, I couldn't walk down the street, man.
DG: Who were some of your bigger influences....let's go in styles......was it the blues?
JC: Yea, alot of blues... Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, later....Leadbelly.
DG: Link Wray?
JC: Link Wray was like one of my main, major influences.....and now I'm one of his biggest fans.
DG: You know, he should come out and play a gig with you or something.
JC: You know my studio.... I had Link in my studio eight years ago, for purpose of putting a band together. Have you seen Link?
DG: I'm dying to see him. I've only seen him on a video clip.
JC: He's got a red SG, right?
DG: Right, sure.
JC: I got him that guitar.
DG: Is that right?
JC: Yea, I got him that guitar!
DG: I love "Rumble" and "Black Widow."
JC: 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, fuck man, kiss my ass, you know, real rebellious shit, you know, without saying it, you know?
DG: Alot of it was on the radio at that time.
JC: Oh yea, Rumble was a ..... hit.
DG: Do you know Dick Dale?
DG: What did you think of him?
JC: 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.
DG: What show did you see him on? Ready, Steady, Go or Hullaballoo?
JC: Something like that. Might have even been......it might have even been Ed Sullivan or something like that. But, you know, he was the pioneer...black leather jacket, greased back hair, shades.....you know, lowriders.
DG: Where is he from ?
JC: He's from Maine, you know, back east....Maryland. He's an Indian. And like I had so many images of him.... when I met him, the first time I met him I was scared to death of him, man. I heard he was in town, friends of mine knew him and I offered him my studio, you know. I would have given him....anything... Then I asked permission to come to a rehearsal, you know.....if he would have just said split, I would have split, man. And he turned out to be just one of the guys. And somebody should sit down with him, with a tape recorder, see, cause Link doesen't do any drugs, and he's a vegetarian.
DG: I wish I could say that about Peter Green.
JC: And myself. This guy is a walking encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. He was real tight with Presley and he's got stories, man. He knew all those guys, man. He was on all those big tours, you know. He was one of the original pioneers of rockabilly guitarists. He was a singer and he was in the Korean War and got shot up real bad, got sprayed with a machine gun, and lost a lung. He was told he would never sing again. That's when he got into instrumentals .....he did Rumble, Rawhide, Raunchy, and all that stuff. But I was so infatuated by him, I looked for 10 years for a guitar like he had, man....and would pay any price for it. It was a real turn on to come up and say, hey, check this out, you know?
DG: So he was hanging out in California?
JC: Yea, he was living here for a while.
DG: Where's he at now?
JC: I don't know, I heard a rumor he was living on the East Coast or Europe. And he's got a million ex-wives, man. Ditching alimony on all of them, man.
DG: King Farouk!
JC: Last time I saw him, he snuck into California and he called me up and he was at a hotel with his new bride, he just came in to sign some papers and get out and beat extradition or something. And then I saw him in Copenhagen, but the guy really influenced me alot, man. It was like real satisfaction meeting the guy, you know, and getting next to him.
John Cipollina.......Rest in Peace.....
Link Wray........Live Long & Prosper.....
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