By Jeb Wright
The musical story of Craig Chaquico reads like a fairy tale dipped in synchronicity.
It all began when he thought he was being summoned to see a teacher while still in high school. He thought he was in trouble. It turned out his English teacher heard him playing guitar on the high school’s Senior Lawn and wanted him to join his band. By the time he was 19 years old, Craig had given up jamming with instructors and was made a member of Jefferson Starship.
Craig is a consummate musician and even admits to sleeping with his guitars. Two of them he should have kept tucked in by his side in a musical threesome, and these axes are the reason this interview was initiated.
During a riot in Germany, in 1978, when Grace Slick refused to take the stage, Craig thought two of his favorite Les Paul guitars were burned to a crisp. Now, many years later, one has been found. Despite it being obviously stolen at that time, and obviously his, Craig has yet to play his long lost axe—yet. A court battle is ongoing.
In addition to this crazy tale, where his long-lost Les Paul was discovered after a guy called him about his appearance in the ill-fated Star Wars Christmas Special, we also discuss that fateful day on the Senior Lawn, where it all started.
We learn about Craig’s inspiration for some of the biggest hits that he wrote, including the classic “Jane” and “Find Your Way Back.” He even tells the tale of a disguised Grace Slick sneaking into a gig to hear her former band and then begging to get back into it!
We begin the interview, however, on a somber note, discussing the recent death of his mentor and former bandmate, Paul Kantner.
Despite it all, Craig still is playing at the top of his game, and he still has a huge smile on his face. This is a cool chat with a real cool cat.
Jeb: I am 49 years old, so I totally remember the late ‘70s and ‘80s Jefferson Starship. Plus, I love your schizophrenic solo career as well.
Craig: [Laughter] oh yeah, that’s funny.
Jeb: I was reading a story about your missing guitar making a reapperance, so I am reaching out to you to get more details, as this is a fucking crazy story…
Craig: Yeah man, this is a Raiders of the Lost Ark story. It has a lot of intrigue.
Jeb: Before we get into that, however, we must pay homage to Paul Kantner, the guy who gave you your professional start.
Craig: That was a heartbreak. It was ironic that he left in such a cosmic time with these planets lining up at dawn, as he was such a science fiction guy. He always talked about going into space.
When I heard that he had passed I immediately felt there was a new Jefferson star in heaven. I thought it would be wonderful to take my guitar outside and play my guitar with Paul in the Milky Way. I felt Paul there.
Everything is the solar system and music is mathematical. I think all of it lives on with all of the vibrations and all of the harmonies. Between the angels and the arithmetic there is music. It is math and magic all at once. When Paul left on such a cosmic time… it just really hit me.
Right before he passed, I had talked to everyone who was with the original band, except for Papa John [Creach], as he died first.
The last time we all played together was in 1978, which is the last time I played those Les Paul’s we will be talking about. Pete got his bass back recently, as we thought his bass and my guitars were destroyed in a fire. When that happened I started thinking maybe my guitar still existed. I found out it did through a very strange Star Wars connected way--it is like a George Lucas movie the way this plot unfolded.
Anyway, I had called everyone in the original band and asked if they would consider a real reunion. Everyone was into it—nobody said no. I had not yet talked to Paul, as he was in the hospital at the time. Over the months, I let it ruminate, but he ended up passing before I could speak to him about it.
It is a bummer that he left us so early. He was an influence to an entire generation. He was there for all of my firsts in music, and they say you never forget any of your firsts. I will never forget him.
Jeb: He was there for you from the beginning. You were a teenager playing with Paul.
Craig: I was actually in a band with my English teacher, lying about my age and wearing a fake mustache. I was 14 when I was playing with my English teacher. Everyone else was older and had day jobs. One of the guys was a barber and he got me a very realistic fake mustache that I could wear to lie about my age so I could play in clubs, as you had to be 21.
On my 16th birthday, my English teacher took me to Paul and Grace’s house. It was the first time I had ever met them. They were big fans of my English teacher, Jack Traylor, who was a folk singer and guitarist that they admired before they were famous. They would come to see him and I happened to be in his band. They were like, “Who is that weird looking guy with the funny mustache?” They asked me to play on some of their solo albums and that is how I got to get to know everybody.
By the time I had graduated high school I had already played on several records, and my band, with the English teacher, had played as an opener for Jefferson Starship. We went out and opened for them on the road and I played in both bands. After that tour they officially asked me to join. By then, I was 19 years old. We did the Dragon Fly album next.
It started very young for me. It was still gradual, in a sense, as I felt like it took forever. Looking back, it was just a few short years.
One day, I was playing on the Senior Lawn, as a sophomore, in my band at high school. We were not supposed to be on the senior lawn at lunch and we were playing a bunch of power trio stuff like Hendrix. My English teacher said I had to come see him after school and I thought I was in trouble. I thought I was going to have to push an egg across the Senior Lawn with my nose, as they would haze us if we were on the lawn and not seniors.
My English teacher asked me to join his band. I had no idea it would lead to me meeting Grace Slick and being asked to join Jefferson Starship.
Jeb: That is a very synchronistic tale.
Craig: It was so synchronistic, even to the point that the first album I ever owned was a Quicksilver Messenger Service album. I learned a lot of guitar listening to that album. Later, I find out I am in the band with the lead guitarist from Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The thing that is even weirder was when I did my solo album after Starship broke up and everything, the first tour I did… little did I know my solo records would be number one albums and Grammy nominated. We were just a little unknown acoustic band traveling across the country. My bass player was John Cipollina’s younger brother Mario who was playing in my solo band. Mario was playing bass in Huey Lewis at that time. It was just this musical melting pot and we were all crossing paths and orbits at different times of our lives. There is so much synchronistic there it is amazing.
Jeb: Before we get into the stolen guitars, I have heard you got your first Les Paul from your dad after you were in a car wreck.
Craig: My dad and I were hit by a drunk driver and I woke up in the hospital three days later with two broken arms, a broken thumb, a broken wrist, a broken ankle and a broken foot. Everything was in a cast, except for one leg. When I was in the hospital my doctor encouraged me to play to help my circulation. I could only reach one string. I wrote a song all on the E string. It was the only string I could reach. I called it “E Elizabeth’s Song” as my doctor was Elizabeth. Little did I know it would end up on a Grammy nominated solo album.
My dad told me the story about Les Paul. He said he had a bad car accident and they set his arm so he could play. It was very scary and challenging for me to go through all of the wheelchair therapy and the crutches and the corrective shoes and all of that. He told me if I would get through all of that, he would buy me a real Les Paul. He kept his promise and he got me a Les Paul that kind of looked like an SG Custom.
My first shows with Steelwind and then with Jefferson Starship, I played that guitar. When I had enough money I bought my own ‘57 Goldtop that ended up on the Dragon Fly album and the Red Octopus album. Then, I bought the ‘59 Sunburst and I played it on SpitFire and Earth. Those are the guitars that you hear on songs like “Ride the Tiger” and “Miracles.” The Sunburst is on “With Your Love” and the Goldtop you can hear on “St. Charles.” Those first four albums were mostly with those Les Paul’s.
When we toured in 1978, it was the last time I played those guitars and the last time that lineup ever played together, as Grace wouldn’t play a show that one day in Germany.
Jeb: Take me back to that day.
Craig: You never forget your first riot in Germany, either!
There was this afternoon concert at this beautiful amphitheater that overlooked the Rhine River. There were castles dotting this hillside. We were up on this natural amphitheater ready to perform. Leo Kottke had played and I learned a trick from him, as it was cold that day. He had cups of coffee on the side of the stage, but he wouldn’t drink the coffee. He would wrap his hands around the cups to warm his fingers. I learned that from Leo on that day, but I never got to use it because it turned out Grace, and some of the band, weren’t going to come to the show because Grace had gotten sick.
Apparently, there was a big fight at the hotel. Paul and one of the lighting directors had tumbled down some stairs. I wish I’d been there for that. That would have been like one of those scenes from Gone with the Wind, or something. It was classic.
It was this old hotel, and Paul and him and whatever it was caused them to tumble down the stairs. I guess the lighting director told Paul that Grace could not sing because she was sick. Paul said, “Grace can sing when she’s sick. When she’s drunk she can sing. She’s never missed a show.” She missed this one. That was the story I heard secondhand because the rest of us were already at the show.
Pete Sears and Marty Balin and David [Freiberg] and Grace were back at the hotel. When the audience heard we weren’t going to play, apparently they rioted. John and I had left before thinking we could go back and talk them into playing. I thought we could do a missing man formation and do it without Grace, as we had other singers. Paul made the point that the Rolling Stones wouldn’t play without Mick Jagger. I said, “They only have one singer.” It didn’t really fly.
There was a huge riot at the concert place. We went back the next morning and it looked like a plane crash. It looked like you see it on TV when a plane crashes and it’s on the news. There was a big scar on the ground with burnt pieces everywhere. For me, it was like going to the airport to meet your girlfriend, but her plane crashes. My guitars were my girlfriends. I even slept with them, as corny as that sounds. I lost real girlfriends along the way for spending too much time with my guitars.
I am not the first musician who had to choose between a girl and music. I chose music a few times. I even wrote “Find Your Way Back” a couple of years later talking about some of those relationships, where you wish you could go back and do it right the first time.
The guitars were gone and every time I heard those solos on the radio I thought about those guitars. I still do that. It is like seeing pictures of your long lost girlfriend. Then, I found out my guitar is alive and kicking. It is like seeing that girl, later, that you thought had died in that plane crash, only she looks exactly the same. I’ve gotten older, but my guitars didn’t, as they look the same.
I just hope I can get that guitar back. That guitar went to Germany, to Japan, to New York, to Ohio and it ended up in this collection in Malibu, California.
Pete got his bass back from the riot a few years back; that made me think the guitars may still be around. I tried to see if anyone had any serial numbers. There were not any. All I had were a lot of pictures of me playing the guitars.
Here is the weird part… this is the Star Wars connection. There was a Star Wars Chrismas Special with this song on it I had written called “Light the Sky on Fire.” I wrote a song about temples, pyramids and inscriptions that talk about ancient gods from the stars that will come back one day. It was like Ancient Aliens, really.
That song was written by me to be performed by Jefferson Starship, but it ended up in the Star Wars Christmas Special, which according to George Lucas was the worst thing he had ever seen in his life. If he had a hammer he would smash every copy of it.
Unfortunately, that song won’t really be heard unless someone gets a bootlegged copy. This guy saw me play this black custom-made boogie body Stratocaster that I had made. It was completely black except for a few chrome pieces. I thought it would look like the constellation Orion. The way three knobs came down would look like the three stars and the toggle switch would look like the little sword. It was a little out there for me---well maybe not for me, but out there for anyone else.
I played that Strat in the Star Wars Christmas Special. This guy calls me out of the blue and says, “I want to know if this guitar in the Christmas Special is the one that I have.” I said, “I don’t know.” He says, “I was looking up the serial numbers and it doesn’t match the ones from Lorelei, Germany.” I said, “It wouldn’t have been that one I don’t think because I had two of them. The Christmas Special wasn’t the same one I played at Lorelei.”
It dawned on me that he had serial numbers from the guitars in Lorelei. He told me there was an article that was published in the ‘70s in Germany in German that had the serial numbers… talk about synchronicity. He said, “Not only do I have the serial numbers, but I think I know where your Sunburst it.” That is how I found out about it. There was a guy blogging about this guitar and it had that serial number. He showed me a picture and the blog and the serial numbers and how they matched from the list he had; we were on a quest. It was like Raiders of the Lost Ark, we were trying to find the Holy Grail.
The guy had an alias, so we had to get a detective to find out who he was and we had to hire a lawyer. This whole ball started rolling because of the Star Wars Christmas Special and because of the riot in Germany, as that is where the guitars were lost, as that’s where the serial numbers were published in the ‘70s in Germany.
Jeb: When did you discover this? What year?
Craig: This was last year, in 2015. It is so amazing. We hired a private eye through a lawyer that worked with Guitar Player magazine. We found out who had the guitar. This person actually, at first, was very apologetic. I give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know that it was a stolen guitar.
When he found out it was mine -it was obvious because we have all of these pictures of it on covers of magazines, and on tour, and at rehearsal- he said he would give it back, but he felt he should have his investment back. It was more like a retirement investment thing for him, which I could understand.
When I bought them, they were not priceless artifacts. I bought them because I loved them. Jimmy Page played Les Paul’s. Eric Clapton played them. Duane Allman played them. Carlos Santana played them. I played them, and I wanted it back so I could play it again. That guitar was the voice of all of these solos. He knew that. He wanted to give it back, but he wanted to get his money back for his investment. I said I would help him with that. I said I would help him with his insurance. I told him to talk to the guy who sold it to him. I thought we could put it in the court’s custody until he could work it out and then I would eventually get my guitar back. I thought maybe I could play a song with him someday. We could play “Find Your Way Back.”
It has costs me tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of miles of road trips to go back and forth to go through this legal process. Now it turns out -I don’t know if it is because he realized that since this guitar is on all of these hits that the guitar is worth a lot more; Peter Green had a guitar that he used on Fleetwood Mac hits and it sold for millions of dollars, or something- for whatever reason, he no longer wants to give the guitar back.
Jeb: Something dawned on him.
Craig: One way, or another, he is not wanting to give it back to me. It is stolen property. He knows it. I know it. We all know it. I am like, “Give me my guitar back. Thanks for taking care of it and I hope you get something back from your insurance, but a stolen guitar is a stolen guitar.” That is where we are right now.
Jeb: Are they saying your Statute of Limitations is up?
Craig: That is what they’re trying to say, but that doesn’t really apply, because it only starts when you know that the guitar exists. We all thought, and had every reason to believe, that it burnt in the riot. It wasn’t until Pete got his bass back that I thought there might be a chance my Les Paul might have survived.
It wasn’t until the guy from the Star Wars thing had the serial numbers from that article that I thought it could actually be found. The ‘57 Goldtop that I used on Dragon Fly and Red Octopus could still be out there.
We have not found that one as of yet. All we know is the other two survived, the bass and my guitar. None of Paul’s guitars or Marty’s has surfaced. Pete was first and that bass was very custom and unique with all of these dragon inlays on it.
I think what happened was that the guitar builder had a bunch of his instruments on display in a posting or something. When this person saw he had Pete’s bass in Germany he contacted Pete and told him he had to give it back to him as he couldn’t handle the Karma of not giving a stolen bass back. That was the only time we knew anything from that day existed.
The Goldtop is still missing in action, but maybe it exists too. It is very distinctive. We have the serial number and it was one of only 17 known to exist that were made with an all mahogany body with no maple cap. It will be easy to identify if we ever see it. The ‘59 Sunburst is alive and well. I am just trying to get the darn thing back.
Jeb: What do you do from this point?
Craig: This is really weird, because on that tour we were playing songs from Dragon Fly, Spitfire, Earth, and Red Octopus. The actual release date was June 13, 1975 for Red Octopus and June 13, 2016 is our court date. That is when I go to court over this.
Jeb: You can’t make this shit up.
Craig: If you go on my website, or my Facebook, there is video from a concert of me playing on the 40th anniversary of Red Octopus last year.
My bass player, who just finished mixing the new Santana album, also did my live DVD. We have a couple of songs that were recorded on that day that we’ve already released. Now on the 41st anniversary, I will be back in court in San Francisco seeing if I get my guitar back, or not. Isn’t that weird?
Jeb: I wish you the best of luck on that. It could go either way.
Craig: It could. Norman Harris is a famous guitar aficionado… I bought a lot of my guitars from him when I was younger. He was already selling guitars to Bob Dylan and all of these people. George Harrison bought guitars from him.
Within the last six months on Brad Meltzer’s Lost History they were talking about George Harrison’s rare ‘59 Sunburst that ended up in Mexico. Someone had stolen it. There is a great line Norman said as he is an expert and was involved in getting George Harrison’s guitar back.
George’s was in Mexico and there is a video of George in the studio in The Record Plant in L.A. Mr. “Love is All You Need” George Harrison… there is a great shot of him in the video, angst-ing over his Les Paul, because he knows it is in Mexico and that he is having trouble getting it back. He is going, “Let’s just get a couple of big blokes to go over the border and get my guitar back.”
Jeb: That 1978 event is even more historic because the next gig was the last time the entire band played together.
Craig: The next gig was the last time the band played together. We didn’t play with our instruments. We didn’t have them because of the riot. We had to rent instruments. Grace got a little out there, you know. She was doing some really crazy stuff on stage. There is a great line in “Wooden Ships” about who won the war. Grace took that a little further and made a few Nazi connections that were not so politically correct. That was the last time the band ever played together.
We went on and did Knebworth in front of 100,000 people without Grace. We played with Genesis, Tom Petty, The Atlanta Rhythm Section and Devo. We played our entire set without Grace. It was pretty rocking. Marty said, “We could do this. See you at rehearsal in two weeks.” We never saw him. I guess Grace was in rehab. Our drummer got in a bad car accident. We didn’t have a drummer and we didn’t have lead singers. I don’t have my guitars. That is where the idea of Freedom at Point Zero came in. We were starting all over.
We got Mickey Thomas on vocals. My guitar roadie told me about him. I went and saw him play. Here is another cosmic thing. I was in a movie called Skateboard, which had really great world class skateboarders in it. It was like an inside baseball kind of thing about skateboarders. I got to be in that movie because I used to hang out with some of those skaters. The lifestyle between skateboarders and guitar players is very similar.
I had written a song for that movie called “Fast Buck Freddie.” Grace and I were in the movie and our song was in the movie. The unknown singer that sang the title song for that movie was Mickey Thomas. No one knew who he was. He had just done “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
Later on, Jefferson Starship did a song called “Skateboard,” before Mickey joined the band. Later on, Mickey joined our band when my guitar roadie told me about him. I still have a cassette of the first song Mickey ever sang at a rehearsal or an audition, really. He sang “Rock Music” which he still does in concert, and I still do it.
After he left, I looked at the band… we’d been auditioning other singers. I said, “This guy has the range of Steve Perry and Robert Plant and the soul of Paul Rodgers.”
We got into kind of a pop area where it became more Mickey’s band. The original band started opting out. We had a nice run.
“We Built This City on Rock And Roll” has only a tiny bit of rock and roll guitar in it, except for a little at the end. Then the song “Sara” didn’t have any band members in the video. It was all Mickey and Rebecca De Mornay. I was like, “Wait a minute.” “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” was in the movie Mannequin.
By that time everyone had left but Mickey and me. Mickey had gotten beat up by the drummer he had gotten in the band. I left the band at that point. There was nobody left but Mickey when I left the band… I think they tried to do something as a band, but the label didn’t take it too seriously when nothing happened. The band broke up. I thought there would never be a Starship, or a Jefferson Starship. Since then, there are a couple of versions floating around playing my songs. Maybe we will play together one day. That is kind of a thumbnail history.
Jeb: Mickey got beat up by his drummer? A physical fight?
Craig: Yeah, it was a full on fight. It was on my birthday. Mickey and the drummer got into this crazy fight. I wake up the next morning going, “What happened?” We had a big concert we were supposed to play in Scranton, New York. Hurricane Hugo went through and flooded the outdoor concert. We had a day off and it was bad timing. He decided to celebrate my birthday early. I guess there was some substance abuse going on.
Mickey and Donny [Baldwin] got into this fight that I didn’t even know about until the next morning when I heard Mickey was in the hospital. It was like Freddy Krueger, man, it was ugly. He was beat to shit. He had to get plastic surgery.
We had to cancel a whole year of touring. We had just come off of a Top 5 single from our album that Mutt Lange helped us produce. We were excited about doing another video and going on a European tour. Something about going to Europe never worked out too well for us. This time we didn’t even make it.
Jeb: That’s a hell of a ride, man.
Craig: Hey, I can’t complain. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven when I got to play in that band as a lead guitar player. I was the baby in the band and I ended up being the only guy who played on every hit. That is crazy. I can’t believe it either.
Jeb: Can I ask you about some of the songs that you did with Jefferson Starship? I loved the song “Jane.” That solo was amazing. I was hanging out at the skating rink, smoking cigarettes and picking up girls. I had started playing guitar so I could get that rhythm picked out. I have never gotten sick of that song. I love it.
Craig: That is so nice to hear. I really appreciate that. That was the first song we did with the new lineup. I arranged it. All of those parts you hear, I wrote. Go figure, the lead guitar player wrote a song with a huge guitar solo in the middle.
We had to fight over that. Our management came in with a stopwatch and told us, “That solo is 28 seconds too long and that song will never be played on the radio unless you take the solo out.” Everybody in the band backed me up and we left the solo exactly the way I wrote it. The manager walked out with his stopwatch yelling that song will never get played on the radio. Every time I hear it one the radio now I smile because I had to fight for every second of that solo.
Jeb: That solo is constructed well, and it’s awesome. Mickey sings the shit out of that tune, too...
Craig: Oh, hell yeah.
Jeb: When the song halts in the middle and you pick that first high fretted note and the lead kicks in… he was wrong. The manager was wrong.
Craig: I guess so. I was just glad that it did as well as it did. When the solo comes in… the way I arranged it was for the band to play a really simplified version of the basic lick, so it is really just the drums playing to my solo with a little bit of the rest of band behind us. It leaves a wide open space where you have to hear the guitar. You can’t help it as there is nothing else there. As soon as that comes on the radio it just pops right out.
I was at an award show years later in California, the Bay Area Music Awards. Metallica was there, as they are Bay Area guys. We were talking and they were like, “When we were in high school we loved that song ‘Jane’ because there were no songs on the radio with solos that long.” I thought maybe our manager was really right. There were not songs like that on the radio [laugher].
Jeb: Without “Jane” the band may have been over. Grace was gone. A lot of people were not happy about that, and were even angry about it.
Craig: I think you’re right. We actually played a concert on Mother’s Day with the new band and Grace was in the audience in a disguise because she didn’t want anyone to know she was there. She had a blonde wig on and was wearing sunglasses.
Actually, that gig is an interesting story. They wouldn’t give us a permit to play. We wanted to play the new stuff with Mickey and Ansley [Dunbar] in our hometown.
The City of San Francisco wouldn’t give us a permit because they were worried about the park getting ruined. We’d played Golden Gate Park before and the park was usually cleaner after a Grateful Dead and Starship concert than before we got there. They wouldn’t have any of it, so they wouldn’t give us a permit. They were afraid of 100,000 showing up.
The Jefferson Starship house was right across the park. Laura Engel, who later went on to manage Danny Elfman, was a good friend of mine. She was a world class Frisbee Golf champion. Wham-O had her picture and her signature on all of these Frisbees and she would tour the world playing Frisbee. She played at the Rose Bowl and Starship sponsored her because she wore a Starship T-shirt.
Check this out… she had a permit for a Frisbee tournament in Golden Gate Park on Mother’s Day. On the permit it said she could hire a local San Francisco band if she wanted to. Let’s see… who is a local band? Hey, our house was right across the street and we wanted to play.
We ended up playing and the radio stations let the cat out of the band a couple of hours before the gig. We packed the place. I still have awesome memories of that show. That was when Grace was in the audience and she heard “Jane” and she heard some of the songs we were working on for the next album. That is when she took her disguise off and came backstage and said, “Hey do you guys need a girl singer?” That is how she got back in the band.
Jeb: Modern Times is my personal favorite of the rock albums by Jefferson Starship. “Find Your Way Back” is awesome.
Craig: “Find Your Way Back” was really about me opting to pay more attention to my guitars than some real girlfriends. Maybe I should have split the difference a little more.
“Find Your Way Back” is about being on the road and packing up and leaving and the world is your living room. “Leave a message with the rain” was the idea that the sky is my ceiling and the four walls are the four directions. “You can find me where the wind blows.” I am gone, but there is still a voice in the back of my head where I want to ‘find my way back to her heart.’ Everyone can relate to that. Everyone wishes they could have handled it a little better. You think about the one that got away. That lyric, “I wish I could go back in time and start all over somehow and get it right from the start,” that is a universal feeling.
I also think there is a little bit of… I hope there is a Statute of Limitations on this but I think there might be a little bit of “Last Train to Clarksville” in that lick. Don’t tell Mike Nesmith.
Jeb: It is much cooler, though.
Craig: Thank you. I play the intro on the acoustic guitar and I had to record that by myself with a click track. With my headphones on there is a place after the first chorus, before where the second verse comes in, where it goes down and the electric guitar comes in. You can hear this click in between. It was the headphone mix of the click track bleeding into the acoustic guitar track. We couldn’t get it out. It sounds like Ansley is clicking his sticks, but it is really the click track that bled through into the guitar mic. Live, Ansley would click his sticks in that exact spot, even though that is not how it happened. That is an inside story on that song.
Jeb: “Familiar Stranger” may be the best song. Grace is on that and Mickey is on that. It is an amazing tune.
Craig: We had so much fun with that song. That is a great song to play live. That is another one of those songs where it is sparse, so you hear a lot. There is a lot of air in that arrangement.
You can really hear the vocals and the guitar solo. My guitar without the rest of the band probably wouldn’t sound so good. The way it is written and the way they play it really works for all of us, especially me as the guitar player.
Jeb: I think it made Grace relevant as a harder rock singer in modern times.
Craig: I think so, too. She had “Somebody to Love” and some of those songs rocked, but that song really kicked ass for her.
When I was writing on the first couple of albums, Grace and I would write stuff together. “Fast Buck Freddy” was a rocker tune. You’re right; she really came into her own on “Stranger.”
Jeb: She was thought of as a hippie artist, but that song proves she could rock.
Craig: I know what you mean. We all thought that, too. Being in a band with Grace was interesting. Even though we thought that, and the world thought that about her, she was eccentric and she was flamboyant, but she had a very humble opinion of herself. She would say, “I am the hood ornament on the Rolls Royce. People always talk about the hood ornament, but you guys are the car.”
For someone that famous not to be a total prima donna, or anything like that, was rare. When she dealt with the band, you never felt like you were just her backup band. She was always a real team player. I always felt a lot of encouragement from her. It could have been different if the lead singer thought, “Oh there goes the guitar player again. Shit.” She was the opposite. She was like, “Play more. Take another solo.”
Jeb: If she was insecure, it must have been hard for her to sing with Mickey Thomas, as he was at the top of his game at the time.
Craig: She was the first to tell you that, even with Marty in the band. She would say that she wasn’t as technically in-depth as these acrobatic singers. That was not her forte. Her forte was to be that hood ornament in a big way. That was her persona and her energy.
Sometimes you don’t need all that technique when you have all of that heart and soul. She would say, “Listen to Mickey. I can’t do that.” Then she would add so much to it that it wouldn’t be the same without her. She was great to be in a band with, as she really had that team spirt most of the time.
Jeb: “Stairway to Cleveland” might be the first record I owned where someone said the “F” word.
Craig: How did we get away with that? When you’re an artist some people are not going to get what you’re doing. Some great artists were passed on until somebody gave them a chance. At that point the artist, the writer, the actor, or the poet has to have that belief in themself and that inspiration to not let anything get in their way.
Paul’s lyrics to that song were saying we can’t sing, we can’t play and we don’t have the same singer. We were getting all of that in the press. His comment to that was “Fuck you. We do what we want.” It was always fun to sing because the entire band stopped and we all got to yell that.
Jeb: When it became Starship you didn’t lose me totally, but I never liked it as well as what came before.
Craig: I don’t think that is weird or anything. I think that you’re right. For me, it was like being an actor and you get to be in all of these great movies, then you do your best to be your best in that part.
In a way, I thought I was kind of an actor in those songs. You can see an actor, and like his part, but maybe not totally like the movie. Grace actually used that analogy. She said she was an actor for the pop songs and then an actor for the rock songs.
Somewhere along the line, the actor needs to put something in from personal experience. If it is not believable then it is not going to work. I felt that way when I played in the Starship. Some of those songs weren’t very guitar intensive, but I believed in the guitar parts, but sometimes, there were not very many of them. That is why the band broke up.
It turned into more of Mickey Thomas bringing people into the band. It ended up there were more people from the Elvin Bishop Band in Starship that our band. Everyone I enjoyed playing with had left, so it was time for me to do something different. The Starship was just Mickey.
I thought the band broke up, that’s what I was told. Then, a couple of years later, there is Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas.
Even Mickey says there are some albums out there that say Starship’s Greatest Hits and you think it is our band, but it is not. It is like the Mickey Thomas Band doing Starship songs. I asked him about that. I said, “Did somebody do a board tape, or bootleg, because this isn’t us.” He said he would never do that. He said all of his legitimate albums say Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas. It is a little misleading. I think when people go to shows it is good for them to know what they are getting.
I am the only one on every hit, so I can play whatever I want. I wrote most of them. I play any of those that I want, but I don’t call it Starship. It is my band.
I know what you mean about the Starship evolution. I think we lost some people on that, some of the hardcore fans. Hey… what are you going to do? How many people get to say they were on the one of the worst rock videos of all time and smile about it?
Jeb: Which one?
Craig: It was “We Built This City.” I think someone voted that the worst rock song or something. That is bullshit because I know I’ve personally played on a lot worse songs.
Jeb: I can’t get into that song. I don’t care for it. When I hear it I am humming it for three days. It makes me scream.
Craig: Don’t even get me started. It is like “It’s a Small World After All.” You’ve got to figure there was a lot of good DNA in that song.
Jeb: Bernie Taupin wrote it.
Craig: I don’t think he thought of it being a pop song when he wrote it. It was supposed to be a little darker.
The idea was that live music was dying off. All of the clubs that were playing live music where bands would play were closing. A lot of those clubs were turning into discos, or deejay music, or that kind of stuff. Live bands were no more. Everything was becoming so programmed and computerized. He was saying, ‘Where are the real bands?”
It is ironic when that song complains about techno-pop, and it is a techno-pop song. I thought that was pretty funny. It is a really well-written song. If you listen to the arrangement, and you just get away from the fact that you’ve heard it a million times… the first time you heard it, you have to say it was different. I wish there had been a little more guitar on it. I agree with you.
Jeb: Last question: What is going on with you, musically?
Craig: My bass player is mixing my live DVD that we all recorded that I told you about. You can see what I sound like now and what I look like now. I play some of the Jefferson Starship and Starship stuff on there. I also play some of my Grammy nominated, million selling, number one solo career—I love saying that. I do some covers of Hendrix with my own twist to them. I’ve got a couple of amazing singers.
If you want to check it out, it is on my Facebook and my webpage. There will be a live DVD coming out eventually of that. In the meantime, we are getting ready to do some more concerts.
Right now, so much of my time is spent stressing over getting my guitar back and thinking about the passing of Paul.
There are two different bands out there using the name, so I have been doing my own thing. They have asked me to play in their bands, but it would be weird for me to pick one over the other. Each one only has one guy who has been in the band… I kind of stay away from that.
I would love to have a reunion though. Nobody said ‘no’ when I asked before Paul passed away. I would love to play a show, or do a song. Fleetwood Mac is doing it. Journey is doing it. Why don’t we do it?