Jefferson Starship in 1976
|Origin||San Francisco, California,
|Genres||Rock, hard rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, soft rock|
|Years active||1974–1984, 1992–present|
|Labels||RCA, Grunt, Epic|
|Associated acts||Jefferson Airplane, Starship, KBC Band, Moonalice, Hot Tuna, Quicksilver Messenger Service|
|Past members||See: List of Jefferson Starship members|
Jefferson Starship is an American rock band from San Francisco, California which evolved out of the group Jefferson Airplane following the departure of bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. The band has undergone several major changes in personnel and genres through the years while retaining the same Jefferson Starship name. The band name was retired in 1985, but picked up again in the early '90s by a Kantner-led revival of the group.
In 1970, while Jefferson Airplane was on break from touring, singer-guitarist Paul Kantner recorded Blows Against the Empire. This was a concept album featuring an ad hoc group of musicians (centered on Kantner, Grace Slick, Joey Covington, and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane; Crosby & Nash; and members of Grateful Dead and Santana) credited on the LP as "Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship", marking the first use of that name. This agglomeration was informally known as the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, a moniker later used on a Kantner album in the early 1980s.
On Blows Against the Empire, Kantner and Slick sang about a group of people escaping Earth in a hijacked starship. In 1971, the album was nominated for the prestigious science fiction prize, the Hugo Award, a rare honor for a musical recording. It was while that album was being made that Kantner sealed his love affair with Grace Slick; their daughter China Kantner (who made a name for herself as an MTV veejay in the 1980s) was born shortly thereafter.
Kantner and Slick with the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra released two follow-up albums: Sunfighter, an environmentalism-tinged album released in 1971 to celebrate China's birth, and 1973's Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun, titled after the nicknames David Crosby had given to the couple. Bassist/keyboardist/vocalist David Freiberg was given equal billing alongside Kantner and Slick on the latter album. A founding member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Freiberg had known and played with Kantner on the folk circuit in the early 1960s and sang background vocals on Blows Against the Empire. Following a marijuana arrest that resulted in his departure from Quicksilver in 1971, he joined Jefferson Airplane as a vocalist for their final tour, documented on the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973).
Early in 1974, Slick released Manhole, her first solo album. It was on that album that Kantner and Slick next worked with Pete Sears (who had first played on Papa John Creach's first solo album). Pete was co-producing a Kathi McDonald album in the same studio. Sears wrote the music to Grace's raunchy lyrics "Better Lying Down," recorded the song, and also played bass on the song "Epic #38". It was during this session at Wally Heider studios in San Francisco that Paul first asked Pete to play with a new band he was forming that was later christened Jefferson Starship. Sears had worked on three of Rod Stewart's early British recordings, and had to go back to England to play on Smiler, Stewart's last album made in London, so Jorma Kaukonen's brother Peter Kaukonen first played with the band early in 1974 before Sears returned to the States and replaced him in Jefferson Starship in June 1974.
Kantner is credited with discovering during this time the teenage guitarist Craig Chaquico, who first appeared on Sunfighter and played with Kantner, Slick and their bands and then with Starship through 1990. After leaving the group, Chaquico embarked on a successful solo career as a smooth jazz artist.
In early 1974, with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player, Jack Casady having moved on to Hot Tuna full time, Kantner decided to put together a touring band without them. The musicians on Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun formed the core of a new lineup that was formally reborn as Jefferson Starship. It included the other five remaining members of Jefferson Airplane, including Kantner on rhythm guitar and vocals; Slick on vocals and percussion, David Freiberg on vocals and keyboards, John Barbata, who had played with the Turtles and Crosby, Stills and Nash, on drums and Papa John Creach, from Hot Tuna, on electric violin. Jorma Kaukonen's brother, Peter (who had appeared on the albums Blows Against the Empire and "Sunfighter"), was on bass. On lead guitar was Craig Chaquico who had played on three of Kantner and Slick's solo albums, as well as in the band Steelwind. The band began rehearsals in January 1974 and opened its first tour in Chicago on March 19. By April, it was decided that the band would go into the studio to record an album. British veteran Pete Sears, who had worked on Slick's solo album, Manhole, and played with Rod Stewart and John Cipollina, was selected to replace Peter Kaukonen as the band's bass player.
1974–1978: first lineup
In 1974, after touring as "Jefferson Starship," Kantner, Slick, Freiberg, Chaquico, Pete Sears, Hot Tuna's electric fiddle player, Papa John Creach, along with former Turtles and Airplane drummer, Johny Barbata, decided to record an album, which they called, Dragon Fly. Jorma Kaukonen's brother Peter, had played bass during the group’s spring tour in 1974, but was replaced by Pete Sears (who, like Freiberg, played bass and keyboards). Marty Balin contributed the haunting ballad "Caroline" to their first album Dragon Fly, but did not join the band again until January 1975. Balin stayed with the group for nearly the remainder of the decade. This line-up proved to be commercially successful with hits like, "Ride the Tiger," (#84 US – Yu, Slick, Kanter) and "Hyperdrive."
Their second album, 1975’s Red Octopus had even greater success , with hit songs like “Miracles,” (#3 US – Balin) “Fast Buck Freddie” (Chaquico, Slick) and “Play on Love” (Sears, Slick). The album reached multiple-platinum status and No. 1 in the Billboard 100. Creach quietly left the band in August 1975 to pursue a solo career.
The next album, Spitfire, was released in June 1976 and went platinum, spending six weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, and including the hit song "With Your Love" (#12), and the haunting "St. Charles," written by Chaquico, Balin and Kantner, with its soaring guitar solos. Regardless of this success, the band considered the album's sales to be relatively disappointing compared to its predecessor and requested an audit from RCA Records, distributor of their Grunt label. RCA subsequently put a reported $500,000 into the next Jefferson Starship project. Earth was released in March 1978, and included the hit songs "Count on Me" (#8) and "Runaway" (#12). Tours of the U.S. and Europe would soon follow.
Balin's reluctance to tour had kept the band off the road for over a year, and Slick's alcoholism increasingly became a problem, which led to two consecutive nights of disastrous concerts in Germany in June 1978. On the first night, the band was scheduled to perform at the Lorelei Amphitheater in Germany, on the bill with Leo Kottke and the Atlanta Rhythm Section, but Grace was too ill to perform. The rest of the band was willing to go on without Grace, in configurations playing a set not dependent upon her vocals. But to avoid disappointing the audience, Kantner insisted the show be cancelled. “He made his decision; if Grace would not perform, the Starship could not perform. ‘Look, man,’ he said, raising his eyes to the others. ‘We can't play, It would be like the Stones without Jagger. I don't want to fool our audience. Balin and Sears, who were back at the hotel with Kantner and Slick, protested, but Kantner was adamant.” “The three Starship musicians at the gig – Freiberg, Barbata, and Chaquico – discussed the possibility of the three of them performing alone. That was ruled out because there wasn't a singer amongst them.” There was an announcement made to the fans that the band would perform for them on July 2, but the crowd would have none of it. Bottles and stones began flying, and the stage was ransacked and set ablaze. “They had lost virtually everything. The gear they had spent 12 years tuning to perfection. All their guitars; Chaquicos 1959 Les Paul Sunburst, his '57 Gold Top. The Fender Jazz bass Pete Sears had played exclusively for 16 years. Barbata's vintage cymbals. Guitar losses alone totalled five Gibsons, five Fenders, two Rickenbackers, an Ibanez double neck, a custom bass, two Guild accoustics and a pair of Ovation acoustic / electrics. The Starship had brought $160,000 of equipment into Germany. About $15,000 remained, including three mixers heroically saved by the sound engineers.” A shell-shocked band, who had scrambled to find replacement gear, made it to the show in Hamburg the next night. Slick, in a drunken stupor, shocked that audience by swearing and making sexual references throughout most of her songs. She also reminded the audience that their country had lost World War II, repeatedly asking "Who won the war?", and implied that all residents of Germany were responsible for the wartime atrocities.After the debacle, Kantner asked for Slick's resignation from the band.
Towards the end of 1978, Jefferson Starship (now without Grace Slick) recorded the single "Light the Sky on Fire" (music and lyrics by Craig Chaquico) for television's Star Wars Holiday Special. It was released as a promotional tie-in to the special (backed with "Hyperdrive" from Dragon Fly), and was also included as a bonus with their greatest hits album Gold (1979), which highlighted their work from 1974's Dragon Fly to 1978's Earth.
1979–1984: second lineup
In October 1978, Marty Balin left the group, leaving the band without a lead singer. Mickey Thomas (who had sung lead on Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love") was invited to audition and then joined the group in April 1979. Barbata had been seriously injured in a car accident in October 1978 and in January 1979 was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar, who had previously played with Journey.
In 1979, the band released the first album without Marty Balin or Grace Slick, Freedom at Point Zero went Gold. The single "Jane,” (Freiberg, McPherson, Chaquico and Kantner), peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at #14 and spent three weeks at #6 on the Cash Box Top 100. the new lineup toured, augmented by saxophonist Steve Schuster. (Schuster, along with horn player David Farey, had played on Jefferson Starship's 1978 tour, and he had also appeared on Freedom At Point Zero.)
In early 1981, Grace Slick returned to the band, rejoining in time to sing on one song, "Stranger," (P. and J. Sears) #48 on US Billboard Charts, on the group's next album,Modern Times (1981). Modern Times, which also went Gold, included the hit song "Find Your Way Back" (Chaquico), #29 on US Billboard Charts, as well as the humorous "Stairway to Cleveland", in which the band defended the numerous changes it had undergone in its musical style, personnel, and even name. Slick remained in the band for Jefferson Starship's next two albums, Winds of Change (1982) and Nuclear Furniture (1984). Winds of Change, featured “Be My Lady,” (P. Sears and J. Sears) which reached #26 in the US. The album featured Aynsley Dunbar on drums; however, by August 1982, he’d been replaced by Donny Baldwin who had performed with Thomas in the Elvin Bishop Group. Produced by Ron Nevison, Nuclear Furniture reached #28 and featured the single, “Layin’ It On the Line” (Chaquico and Thomas).
Around this time, the band began enthusiastically embracing the rock-video age, making elaborate videos typical of the era's superstar bands. They would appear frequently on MTV and other music-oriented television shows as Solid Gold, and 1984’s Super Night of Rock and Roll, giving the band a high visibility in the MTV era. The band continued to release Top 40 singles like "Winds of Change" (#38 – P. and J. Sears), "Be My Lady" (#28 – P. and J. Sears), and "No Way Out" (#23 – P. and I. Wolf). The band also remained a gold-selling (and thus a commercially credible) act and a popular concert draw. During this year, band groupie Patricia Lang helped establish a large "groupie following" with over one million fans using BBS services, which at the time was very progressive. It is believed by many to be one of the first uses of online services for gathering a large fan base support.
Paul Kantner's Departure
While Marty and Grace had come and gone over the years, in June 1984, after the release of Nuclear Furniture, Kantner, the last remaining founding member of Jefferson Airplane, left the band due to disputes over the group's artistic direction. "I think we would be terrible failures trying to write pop songs all the time. … The band became more mundane and not quite as challenging and not quite as much of a thing to be proud of", said Kantner. Paul Kantner took legal action in October 1984 over money he claimed he was owed and to prevent the remaining members from using the name Jefferson Starship. The lawsuit was settled in March 1985. Kantner received a cash settlement, the name Jefferson Starship became the property of Grace Slick (51%) and Bill Thompson (49%), and all parties agreed to not use the name "Jefferson" going forward. They remaining members renamed themselves Starship, and continued to tour and record music. David Freiberg left the band shortly after the lawsuit was settled. Pete Sears departed in 1987. Grace Slick left Starship in early 1988, going on to join the reformed Jefferson Airplane for an album and tour in 1989. Craig Chaquico departed in 1990. The band has been billed as "Starship featuring Mickey Thomas" since 1992.
1992–present: The Next Generation
Shortly after leaving Jefferson Starship, Kantner formed the KBC Band with (among others) his former band mates Marty Balin and Jack Casady. They released an eponymous album in 1986, but soon broke up after Balin lost interest. In 1988, Kantner toured with Casady in Hot Tuna. This led to a full Jefferson Airplane reunion in 1989, which also resulted in an eponymous album and subsequent tour.
In 1991, Kantner toured with an acoustic ensemble called "Paul Kantner's Wooden Ships," a trio that included Slick Aguilar and Tim Gorman from the KBC Band. The group was soon reestablished as "Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation" in January 1992, for which Kantner recruited Jack Casady and Papa John Creach; former Tubes drummer Prairie Prince; and former World Entertainment War vocalist Darby Gould. In 1993, Balin joined. Creach died in February 1994, weeks after touring Europe. Concurrently, vocalist Diana Mangano joined the group (after a brief spell by original Jefferson Airplane singer Signe Toly Anderson) as Gould's replacement.
After the first couple of years, the band dropped the use of "The Next Generation", and began to perform as simply Jefferson Starship. In 1995 they released Deep Space / Virgin Sky, a live album recorded at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, California on January 21, 1995. The album featured eight new and seven classic tunes. Grace Slick joined the band for five songs, "Lawman", "Wooden Ships", "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" and "Volunteers". In 1999 Jefferson Starship released the studio album Windows of Heaven, which featured Slick on background vocals on one song, "I'm On Fire".
Balin continued as a full-time member of the reunited band until 2003 and still occasionally joins them in concert. Casady remained a member until 2000 and has also (since 1983) played with Jorma Kaukonen in a reunited Hot Tuna. Gorman left in 1995 and was replaced by Gary Cambra (from The Tubes), Barry Flast and then T Lavitz, who stayed with the band for the recording of Windows of Heaven but was replaced by former Supremes keyboardist Chris Smith before the album's release. In 2005, twenty years after leaving, David Freiberg rejoined the group. Jefferson Starship played three songs on NBC's The Today Show on June 30, 2007.
In 2007, Jefferson Starship began working with corporate sponsors. The owners of the name Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick along with manager Bill Thompson, objected. They sued Kantner for the sponsorship and for touring under the Jefferson Starship name, citing their initial separation agreement in 1985. All parties later agreed that Kantner could go forward, after paying Slick and Thompson an undisclosed fee.
In March and May 2008, tracks were recorded for the new studio album released on September 2, 2008, Jefferson's Tree of Liberty. In addition to the current members, Grace Slick made contributions to the bonus track on the album, and Marty Balin and Jack Casady appear on a recording originally made for Windows of Heaven.
In 2009 they toured as part of the Heroes of Woodstock tour with Jeff Pevar (Jazz Is Dead, Crosby, Pevar & Raymond) on bass. Other musicians included in this tour were Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Country Joe McDonald, Tom Constanten, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Melanie, John Sebastian, Mountain, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Levon Helm Band, although not all artists appeared at every show.
On June 5, 2011 Jefferson Starship (Kantner, Freiberg, Richardson and Smith) performed with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Cleveland, OH. The show was broadcast live on HDNet for the HDNet Concert Series.
In 2012, longtime guitarist Slick Aguilar departed the band due to falling ill with Hepatitis C, and was replaced by Jude Gold. In November 2015, a new lead vocalist, Rachel Rose, was phased in to replace the departing Cathy Richardson; sharing the stage with one-time Jefferson Starship vocalist Darby Gould until Richardson announced her return to the band in March 2016. The band has featured guest musicians such as Balin, Gould, Gorman, Jeff Pevar, Tony Morley, Richard Newman and original Jefferson Starship bassist and keyboardist Pete Sears.
Following Kantner's death in 2016, Jefferson Starship has continued to tour with a line-up consisting of remaining members David Freiberg (vocals, guitar), Donny Baldwin (drums), Chris Smith (keyboards), Jude Gold (lead guitar), and Cathy Richardson(vocals).
In 2017, Craig Chaquico, former Jefferson Starship member, filed a lawsuit against the five individual members (Freiberg, Baldwin, Smith, Gold, and Richardson) currently performing as Jefferson Starship for breaching the 1985 contract and for using Chaquico's name and likeness in their promotional materials. About this, Chaquico has said he had only given permission to Paul Kantner to use the name, and by this point, "Freiberg and Baldwin are performing with others who have no connection to the original group, using the name in violation of that agreement. If any of the members who signed the ’85 agreement want to use the name, they need the permission of all the other members who signed the agreement and Freiberg and Baldwin do not have my permission." On August 11, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James said the guitarist Craig Chaquico may pursue a breach of contract claim against David Freiberg, Donny Baldwin and the other musicians for performances and merchandising since January 2016, but dismissed Chaquico's claims of earlier alleged contract breaches and a trademark claim over the use of his likeness.
- Dragon Fly (1974)
- Red Octopus (1975)
- Spitfire (1976)
- Earth (1978)
- Freedom at Point Zero (1979)
- Modern Times (1981)
- Winds of Change (1982)
- Nuclear Furniture (1984)
- Windows of Heaven (1998)
- Jefferson's Tree of Liberty (2008)
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