Craig Chaquico, Former Jefferson Starship Bandmates, Reunite After 40 Years
POSTED: Thursday, June 15, 2017 – 11:50 a.m.
The last tour that Craig Chaquico, Pete Sears and Johny Barbata were on together was nothing short of a disaster, to put it mildly.
That would be the Jefferson Starship’s 1978 European tour. Its nadir was the infamous Lorelei Amphitheater concert in Germany. When lead singer Grace Slick, who was drinking heavily at the time, was too ill to perform, refusing to leave the group’s hotel, the crowd rioted, throwing bottles and rocks, ransacking the stage and burning it down.
The musicians lost all their guitars and amps – a quarter million dollars’ worth of instruments and gear they’d used on classic hits like “Miracles,” “Ride the Tiger,” “Runaway,” “Count on Me,” “With Your Love” and “Caroline,” to name a few.
Readers of this column may remember recent updates in this space about the miraculous resurfacing in 2014 of Chaquico’s prized 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, which had disappeared during the riot, and the return, after being missing for 35 years, of Sears’ custom-built “Dragon” bass.
And now, nearly 40 years after the Lorelei concert debacle, these three original members of the Jefferson Starship reunite for the first time on June 24 at the intimate Fenix club in San Rafael. Chaquico’s band will open the show, then be joined by Sears and Barbata. They’re billing themselves as CBS (Chaquico/Barbata/Sears).
‘We’re gonna have fun’
“When we talked about doing this, we said, ‘Let’s jam like in the old days and see if we still like playing together,” Chaquico explains. “We’re gonna have fun and see if people like it.”
Former Airplane and Starship lead singer and songwriter Marty Balin, who wrote “Miracles,” “Hearts,” “Today,” “Coming Back to Me” and a slew of other beautiful songs, wanted to be part of this reunion, but a health problem prevented that from happening, at least for the time being.
“Marty wants to do it when he can,” Chaquico says. “We’re keeping him posted.”
It would take a complicated chart to map all the iterations of the Jefferson Starship over the decades. Airplane and Starship founder Paul Kantner had his own Jefferson Starship with Novato’s David Freiberg until Kantner’s death last year. Freiberg, who was in the Jefferson Airplane and Starship, is carrying on with that band and declined to join CBS. That may be because, after Kantner’s death, Chaquico sued him over an alleged violation of a 1985 agreement not to use the Jefferson Starship name without the permission of the other surviving members. *
The irrepressible Grace Slick was in and out of the band until she quit for good in 1989, saying, “All rock ‘n’ rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.” Mickey Thomas, who replaced her, has been touring with a band he calls the Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. I told you this was complicated.
* “It’s a terrific article, but note that there is one supposition contained in it that is factually inaccurate. The opposite is, in fact, true. Mr. Liberatore presumes Freiberg may have declined to participate in this reunion due to Craig’s lawsuit against his band for using the Jefferson Starship name. However, Craig Chaquico invited David Freiberg, and all other original Jefferson Starship members, to reunite–both before and after Paul Kantner’s passing. Some said yes, some didn’t reply, no one said no. Mr. Freiberg originally said yes, but then he changed his mind. And then after Paul’s passing, but before the filing of the pending lawsuit, Craig asked them again. David initially said yes, and then, once again, said no; that he would prefer playing with his current band, using the name Jefferson Starship, without Paul. Craig, Pete and Johny then agreed to reunite as a trio (with Marty in the wings, perhaps joining them when he can). It was AFTER all of this that Craig pursued his lawsuit–not before. Accordingly, David had declined prior to the lawsuit and not as a result of it. Important distinction. — Dara Crockett, Pilot Rock Management”
Chaquico, Sears and Barbata sound genuinely excited about their prospects. Their hope is to capture lightning in a bottle one last time, riding the wave of nostalgia generated by this year’s 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.
“With the spotlight on the ’60s, we hope to carry on and do more work,” Sears says.
Since his days as the boy wonder lead guitarist of the Jefferson Starship, Chaquico has gone on to a Grammy-nominated career as a contemporary jazz guitarist with his chart-topping “Acoustic Highway” and “Acoustic Planet” albums, earning him a spot on Jazziz magazine’s top 100 jazz guitarists of all time.
A longtime Marin musician, Sears, who came to the U.S. from Britain after playing on Rod Stewart’s early albums, has been in bands with a who’s who list of rock and blues stars that includes Ron Wood, Long John Baldry, Hot Tuna, John Lee Hooker, Dr. John, David Nelson, Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravenites, John Cipollina and Jerry Garcia. In the four years he was with the Jefferson Starship, he and his wife, Jeanette, wrote the Starship songs “Stranger,” “Awakening,” “Save Your Love” and “Winds of Change.” He’s currently a member of Moonalice.
Barbata, who still speaks with a hint of his native New Jersey in his voice, played with the Turtles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before joining the Jefferson Airplane for its final album and then the Jefferson Starship. As a session musician, he’s played on more than 100 albums.
“I was asked to join the Eagles when they were first starting,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Who the hell are the Eagles? I’ve never heard of them.'”
Forced to resign
After the ill-fated 1978 Starship tour, bad luck continued to stalk him. He was living in remote part of Mendocino County when his Porsche crashed on a winding country road, seriously injuring him and forcing him to resign from the Jefferson Starship.
He ended up moving to his wife’s small hometown in Oklahoma. After she fell ill with cancer, he stayed by her side for three years until her death in 2016. They’d been married 34 years. He tells his story in his recent autobiography, “Johny Barbata: The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer.”
“I’m ready to make some music and play with these boys again,” he says. “In 45 years of playing music, I’ve learned a lot. I’m more conscious of what I’m playing. I’m better now than I was back then.”
When these three reunite for the first time in four decades, they will be adding another chapter to the legacy of the Jefferson Starship, one of the great bands of the ’70s. While playing hits from their past, though, they won’t be looking back so much as heading straight ahead.
“Down the line, we might even record another album,” Barbata says. “Who knows what the future holds and where this thing will go?”
(l-to-r) Joan Burton (vocals, guitar, bass), Craig Chaquico (lead guitar), Johny Barbata (drums, vocals), Pete Sears (bass, piano), Jesse Bradman (vocals) not shown: Kerry Shacklett (keyboards)
photo by Roger Ressmeyer
For more information about CHAQUICO – BARBATA – SEARS, contact:
PILOT ROCK MANAGEMENT