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Ceres’ Gary Duncan, psychedelic rock band guitarist, dies
• Seizure claims guitarist and vocalist for psychedelic rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service
Gary Duncan (left) with members of Quicksilver Messenger Service in the 1960s. Others are , John Cipollina, Greg Elmore and David Freiberg.

Few people probably remember Gary Ray Grubb who came to Ceres when he was about six years old as an orphan child. More people might remember him, however, as Gary Duncan, guitarist and vocalist for the psychedelic rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Duncan, 72, passed away in Woodland on Saturday after suffering a seizure and falling into a coma.

Born Sept. 4, 1946 in San Diego, Duncan was orphaned and adopted and lived his early years in Oklahoma before moving to Ceres around 1952. He attended the grammar school on Whitmore Avenue. He left home and Ceres around 1960 when he was 14 or 15 and struck out to become a musician. In an interview he explained that his father obtained a Stella archtop guitar for his son.

“When I first started playing, there was no ‘lead guitar’ player or ‘rhythm guitar player – there was a pedal steel player in most bands,” Duncan once said. “My father made me take pedal steel lessons for about five years, and I became pretty good while I was still a little guy. But I hated taking lessons so much that when I finally quit, I totally forgot everything I knew about reading music and other formal stuff.”

Duncan said when he started playing as a kid, rock music wasn’t a legitimate music genre. One of his first gigs he landed in the early 1960s was playing bass in a big R&B group performing in Las Vegas, Tahoe and Reno.

In mid-1965 he joined the Merced based band,The Brogues, which recorded a pair of singles including the garage rock classic “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker.” The Brogues also featured drummer Greg Elmore. Both Elmore and Duncan were invited to join Quicksilver Messenger Service in time for the band’s first shows at the end of 1965. Other members were guitarist John Cipollina, bassist and vocalist David Freiberg. The band developed a following as part of the San Francisco acid rock scene with the likes of Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Quicksilver played at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, alongside The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother & The Holding Company and Canned Heat.

Quicksilver signed a contract with Capitol Records in late 1967, but as Duncan explained, the group “had no ambition toward making records. We just wanted to have fun, play music and make enough money to be able to afford to smoke pot.”

Duncan also said in an interview: “We got real lucky in a lot of ways – we didn’t get as famous as some of the others, but we had our niche, and we had a recording deal. But I think that at the time, a lot of it had to do with geographic location, because I knew damn well that somewhere else in the country there were a lot of good bands that would never get heard.”

By 1971 the original Quicksilver had splintered with Cipollina, Freiberg and Nicky Hopkins  leaving while Duncan, Elmore and Valenti continued to perform as Quicksilver Messenger Service until the end of the 1970s.

In the mid-1980s Duncan revived the Quicksilver name and began touring with his own band even releasing an album, Peace by Piece. He released a few more albums into the 1990s with the Quicksilver name but was the only original member in the group. He began touring with a four-piece band up until 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. After that Duncan recalled there were no more shows to play and he tore down his home studio for financial reasons. 

Duncan walked away from the music industry for the next few years until 2004, when he began releasing music from his Quicksilver band in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2006 Duncan reunited with Freiberg and began touring again as the Quicksilver Messenger Service. They were still performing up to his death.

Rocker Gary Duncan
Duncan playing at a show in recent years.