By Lisa Morgan
The Grooves at Westin will be presenting a musical opportunity that no classic rock, jazz or new age music lover should miss. For the last five decades, world renowned, original Jefferson Starship guitarist, Craig Chaquico has found his way to the top of each of the billboard charts in one genre or the other, a feat few (if any) others have accomplished. Having seen this artist in action, I can personally say that Chaquico’s engaging and uplifting performance, along with his hand selected group of friends and fellow stellar performers, will leave an inspirational, lifelong impression.
The Platinum selling lead guitarist and songwriter has successfully charted records in a variety of genres from the 1970s with Jefferson Starship, in the 1980’s with Starship (Jefferson Starship’s evolution), and in the 1990s and 2000s as a contemporary jazz, blues and new-age solo artist. Chaquico is touring throughout the world this year, which so happens to be Jefferson Starship’s 40th anniversary. His performances, including this one, will include Starship songs as well as his solo releases from the past 23 years. His 50 year love affair with music has earned him 20 Platinum and Gold records.
His life as a famed troubadour has not been without its heartaches. A riveting documentary can (and should) be made about the incredible gains and the devastating losses Chaquico has endured, including a complete rebuild of his musical endeavors that were initially rejected by many in the industry. One of the most devastating events of his early career took place the summer of 1978 in Lorelei, Germany. Fans rioted and destroyed the stage as a result of the show being cancelled due to legendary singer, Grace Slick, who was unable to perform due to illness. The band had to evacuate quickly leaving all their equipment behind. Chaquico returned the following morning to find only the charred remains of his Fender Bassman amplifiers. All was assumed lost.
I had the incredible opportunity to talk to Craig Chaquico about the incident and his journeys since, as well as the miraculous resurgence of his beloved 1959 Les Paul Standard Sunburst guitar discovered in the hands of a collector some 36 years later.
CVW: “What was it like for you to discover that your guitar was not in the ashes, and where are you in your quest to be reunited with it?”
Chaquico: “When I went to the scene of the riot, the aftermath looked like a plane had crashed… there was debris everywhere. The analogy for me was like hearing the story of how your girlfriend got on a plane and it crashed leaving no survivors, only to discover years later that she never got on the plane and had amnesia all this time.”
“When I first contacted the owner we agreed to work with each other to make sure he was compensated and all was handled fairly. For some reason, he changed his mind. It’s all in the hands of the court now. We’ll see how that turns out. I’m sure whatever is meant to be will be. In a way it helps to draw attention to the earlier songs and some of that music I was lucky enough to be a part of with Jefferson Starship – I played my Sunburst on many of those songs, so at least I can hear it. But it would be nice to get my hands back on it. It’s a miracle in itself that it is still completely original and very well preserved. It hasn’t been modified at all. And maybe with all the press about it, one of the other guitars may turn up. There’s another guitar that we have the serial number to now – the one I played on Dragonfly and Octopus.”
CVW: “Will you make sure we all get to see that reunion when and if that happens?”
Chaquico: “Oh yeah! I’ll be blowing that up and framing it! You know, you brought up the word ‘reunion’ and it made me think about the last time the original Jefferson Starship played together. I was just talking with Grace about maybe finishing the tour. Maybe then, Pete (who recently recovered one of his instruments thought lost in the riot) and I could play our instruments that have been discovered since.”
CVW: “Tell me about your transition from the music you created and played in Jefferson Starship and Starship to the various genres of music you have created since?”
Chaquico: “I’m the only one that played on all the albums when Starship disbanded – basically after I left. By the time I left, all the people I had enjoyed playing with had already gone except Mickey. During my time, I was able to write more guitar oriented songs like “Jane,” then the band evolved into something more pop with “We Built This City,” “Sarah” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” – I enjoyed playing all the songs. Even in the very beginning there were pop overtones, like in “Miracle” and “Count On Me.” Over the years since 1974, even though people left, there was still kind of a core band. But at the end, there really wasn’t. It seemed like the musical direction was going to be more of a Mickey solo band, and I thought, ‘Ya know… I’m gonna leave.'”
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do next. I started writing songs that were more like “Jane” and “Find Your Way Back” on electric; I wanted to get back into rock. But in the 90s, Grunge was happening. It was a total fluke how the move into the New Age music came about. My wife was pregnant, and suddenly the acoustic guitar was a lot more welcome than the electric guitar, and so I played a lot more acoustic. I had no idea that it would lead to what it did.”
“Initially, we got passed on by a lot of labels. It was all acoustic, very high fidelity, and very different from the Starship stuff. It didn’t meet with a lot of enthusiasm. We took it to every style of label – rock, new age, jazz, and each one said, ‘You need to be a little more like this artist’ or ‘that artist.’ It was a really frightening time. When we finally did get signed by Higher Octave in Malibu, it became the number one New Age album of the year. All that rejection just made it so much sweeter to finally get such great recognition. And I say this not to brag, but to encourage any artist that’s out there hearing, ‘No No No’ all the time. It is very discouraging. Ironically, the fact that it was different was the reason we were not getting signed, but ultimately it was because it was different that we had such success on the charts. Years later, I was told that one of those labels that told me I needed to sound more like someone else is now telling candidates to ‘Sound more like Craig Chaquico.’ It sounds like I’m bragging but I only share that to encourage the many people who have had to deal with the painful rejection of something that is very heartfelt.”
“I guess I owe it all to my wife for getting pregnant! And now, I get to do it all.”
“Whenever we (the band) play somewhere, it’s a team effort – we depend on the support of the audience. I’m really happy to be getting back to the Palm Springs area knowing that there are people there who from the beginning have shown us such amazing support. If it wasn’t for that audience down there, I probably would not be playing this music. Like they say, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it …”
CVW: “You’ve been a very vocal spokesperson for the benefits of music therapy. How did that come about?”
Chaquico: “I was in a bad car accident when I was younger – two broken arms, a broken clavicle, broken wrist, broken foot, broken leg…my guitar was my companion during that very challenging time. A doctor had encouraged me to play it, even though she knew I could only move my fingers a little bit. It was pretty progressive of her at that time. Many years later, I went to the hospital to thank her. She was no longer there, but that’s when I discovered the American Music Therapy Association, bringing the healing power of music to people who might not have access.”
CVW: “What can the audience look forward to in your show?”
Chaquico: “Well, we’re going to have to bring our A game since we’ll be playing with the band Heatwave from the Boys and Girls Club. I’ll have my band, who are a bucket list of the best players I’ve met and come full circle with over the years. Vocalist, Joan Burton, will be joining us as well. Joan is a wonderful singer and gorgeous too!”
CVW: “You have had a viable career in spite of so many changes in the industry over the last 50 years. What are some of the core principles you have learned that have attributed to your longevity?”
Chaquico: “An artist will always come across road blocks – it just seems par for the course. Now that I’ve been able to find a place where the music is appreciated and heard, I can say this: Once you have succeeded in the thing that others told you that you could not do, you will never again take other’s opinions as seriously.”
“I’ve also found this in common with others who have made it in the industry; even if they had never ‘made it’, they would have done things exactly the same way. You can see it in them when they’re playing. Of course, when it comes to success, Lady Luck and people who help spread the word about what you’re doing need to be involved, but if you have this sense about you, you’re 99% there.”
“Ultimately, I believe in Divine intervention – I feel it’s more than just me. Music is the light, and sometimes we get to be the light bulb. You yourself are not the light – the light comes from somewhere else. That’s how I look at it. And you have to love it so much, that you’ll do it, no matter what.”
A portion of every ticket sold for this concert will support the band’s participation in the upcoming Monterey Music Festival in September. Raffle tickets will be sold for an opportunity to win an autographed guitar with all proceeds going to the band.
This special performance, provided by the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa’s “Grooves at the Westin” concert series, will be held Saturday, March 26, at 7:00 p.m. The concert takes place under the stars at the resort’s Masters Plaza. Ticket prices range from $35 for general open seating, $45 for gold reserved seating, $60 for table seats that have cocktail and menu service, and $85 for premier seating and the VIP Reception to meet the artist and enjoy gourmet appetizers, wine and other beverages. Tickets are available at www.westinmissionhills.com/grooves. Each ticket purchaser will receive a raffle ticket at check-in for the autographed guitar, and additional raffle tickets can be purchased at the concert for $5 each or $20 for five tickets.
Check out Craig Chaquico at the following links:
Website – craigchaquico.com
Facebook – facebook.com/CraigChaquicoOfficalPage (this includes Craig’s recent statement regarding the passing of Paul Kantner)
Twitter – twitter.com/CraigChaquico
Official YouTube Channel – youtube.com/user/CraigChaquicoVideo