By Noe Gutierrez
On Saturday March 2, 2019 at 7 p.m., Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Craig Chaquico returns with his band to ‘Grooves at The Westin’ at Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa at 71333 Dinah Shore Drive in Rancho Mirage, California to play his Jefferson Starship, Starship and instrumental/smooth jazz hits. Joining him will be Joan Burton on lead and background vocals, and rhythm guitar, Wade Olson on drums, Jim Reitzel on bass guitar and Kerry Shacklett on keyboards and background vocals. Tickets are $90 for VIP Meet-and-Greet Reception: Meet the artist with gourmet appetizers, wine and beverages included one hour before performance, $75 Reserved Table Seat; $60 Gold Reserved and $50 General Admission. You can purchase at tix.com.
As an original founding member and former lead guitarist of Jefferson Starship and Starship, Chaquico is the only member of both bands to play on every song, album, tour, and video. He amassed 20 Platinum and Gold records. In 1993, he built a new career as a Billboard #1, multiple award nominated guitarist. As a solo artist, he quickly gained popularity, combining his rock and blues roots with that new age style. Since then, Chaquico has cemented his standing as one of the top-selling Contemporary Jazz/New Age artists, selling over a million copies of his solo material. Those attending Grooves at The Westin will be treated to some of his Starship hits as well as his amazing solo performances on the guitar. Coachella Valley Weekly spoke with Chaquico about his show at The Westin, nature’s influence on his music and how music can heal.
CVW: You’ve performed at ‘Grooves at The Westin’ before. What do you enjoy about this show?
Chaquico: “I’m looking forward to getting back there. Out in nature. Enjoying the outdoors. I’ve written songs about watching the heat lightning on the horizons slashing in silhouetting mesas in the distance. Watching clouds glow turquoise and magenta with millions of little icicles sparkling in the lost rays of the sun, those are the kinds of things you get outside in the Coachella Valley. I’ve written songs like “Sacred Ground” that has some of that imagery in it. It’s instrumental music but hopefully the melody evokes some of that scenery. So I think when I play the Westin the environment is really conducive to an outdoor concert like that. It’s one of the better concerts to play at for me.”
CVW: Much of your music is inspired by nature and your passion for the outdoors.
Chaquico: “Acoustic Highway” was actually about a motorcycle ride that you would take through Northern California through the redwoods. Some of it was inspired by the desert and even a Pow Wow underneath the stars. Watching an eagle fly, one of my songs is called “Return of the Eagle” so it is about nature even though it’s more of a mellower style of music than the rock I used to do it ended up on the Harley-Davidson Cycles: Road Songs collection. Some of my rockin’ stuff with Jefferson Starship is on their along with “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, “Ramblin’ Man,” “Born to Be Wild” and all these rockin’ tunes, but they’ll put one of my mellow songs like “Sacred Ground” on there. It’s about the biker experience like getting on horseback or on a motorcycle or a mountain bike, those are the things that inspire me so it is outdoors. I think it has a little more edge although it is inspired by the beauty of nature.”
CVW: I’ve found that instrumental music allows more opportunity for the listener to interpret its meaning(s).
Chaquico: “Yes! In my instrumental music, my songs have different stories and moods like a good book or a movie they have little scenes and some of my albums have the scene that’s really panoramic beautiful imagery. There’s also the chase scene or the action scene that’s in my music too. The more ambitious and flashy guitar solos of the eagle flying, I try to illustrate in the language of music the themes that are in my songs that are inspired by the outdoors but are also something that anybody hopefully shares a common experience. If I write a love song, you think about that boyfriend or girlfriend or if I write an adventurous song about redwoods or eagles flying everybody can probably go on their own memory of redwoods that they saw or a vision of birds flying that they saw so in that way it’s kind of interactive. I give them the idea and I try to tell the story with the music but then I hope it becomes an MTV video in their own head instead of just watching it on a TV.”
CVW: Earlier this year Rhino Records released: Starship Enterprise: The Best of Jefferson Starship and Starship. Each of the 20 songs has you on lead guitar. What are your thoughts on the compilation?
Chaquico: “I was happy to see that and someone pointed it out to me that I’m the only one on every one of those songs. I’m the only one who played on all of the Jefferson Starship and Starship hits believe it or not. I’d like to see them do more and go a little deeper into the album cuts and bring out some of the instrumental music that we did. We had quite the jam band going there. Our biggest album, Red Octopus, actually had two instrumentals on it and we would do a lot of instrumental interludes in our concerts. The instrumental music has always been fun and my contributions in my history with the band. I actually helped write some of the hits too like “Find Your Way Back” and “Jane.” With “Jane” I didn’t write the lyrics. With “Find Your Way Back” I wrote the lyrics. I write more of the music and the melodies and maybe some of the chorus hooks rather than all the lyrics. I loved it when Grace Slick or Marty Balin pitched in. Mickey Thomas wrote a song with me, “Layin’ It on the Line,” where I gave him the song and the melody and a chorus. He actually wrote better verse lyrics, my chorus was Layin’ It on the Line and it was more of a love song but Mickey turned it into quite a little statement about people laying it on the line in many ways. It made it a little more deep than just a silly love song. I mostly like to do the music. Like Grace told me, in Starship the singers would tell the story with lyrics throughout the song and the musicians will play the music to create the musical background and when I did the guitar solo it was like I was the singer at that point and, in a sense, I was speaking in the language of music and it was my chance to tell the story of the song in a melody or in a guitar solo in the language of music. Back in Jefferson Starship the singers told the story then the guitar player had 8 bars in the middle to tell the story in the language of music and maybe start soloing at the end. I joked that at the end right when I start playing they fade me out. Someday I’m going to do a song with vocals that is all instrumental and the singer gets about 8 bars in the middle, Ha Ha!”
CVW: You’ve referred to music as the universal language and that it connects us like nothing else in the world. Can you elaborate?
Chaquico: “So that’s been my passion to communicate in that universal language that gets across to people that reminds them that we all have real similar stories and experiences and we’re not alone in those and that music is a way to enjoy that. I’m a big fan of getting out into nature so when someone tells me they listen to my music when they mountain bike or they sail it’s a compliment because I feel there is a connection there.”
CVW: You suffered numerous and significant injuries in an auto accident as a child which prevented you from being able to play your guitar. Hence you got involved with the American Music Therapy Association. What is it about music that can provide an avenue of healing like no other treatment?
Chaquico: “I was fortunate to have music be a welcome companion during my rehabilitation after a real bad car accident where my dad and I were hit by a drunk driver. I ended up in the hospital with two broken arms, leg, thumb, wrist, ankle and foot. One of the first things I asked for was my little acoustic guitar and my doctor encouraged me to play even though I could only reach one finger on the guitar because my hands were in casts. I wrote a song about my Doctor all on one string. Her name was Elizabeth and it was on the E string so I called it “Center of Courage (E-Lizabeth’s Song).” It ended up 30 years later on my Grammy nominated album. When my first solo album came out, I went back to the hospital and played for her and the patients where I was because as you know music can be an alternative to the same mundane everyday things that happen in a hospital. It can make those walls disappear if you close your eyes and listen to music. I’ve also played for the kids a couple of weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, I’ve done concerts all over like that. At the hospital where I was a kid is where I found out about the A.M.T.A. that works with doctors and other clinicians to bring the healing powers of music to patients of all kinds. It has showed that it can help Alzheimer’s patients, people with head injuries and people with limited cognitive powers that music helps reconnect those pathways in the brain. One of my favorite stories I’ve told once or twice in concert is about a man who had Alzheimer’s. His family couldn’t really wake him up necessarily or have him be aware or remember much of his life until, at the suggestion of a music therapist, they play some of the music when he and his wife were dating and his wife played him some music from the 40’s and all of a sudden he looked at her and he blinked, smiled and a tear ran down his cheek, he remembered her and he got up and danced with her. That lasted for longer than the song so they could see that somehow that helped get in there. It’s also been shown that music can reduce the heart rate and blood pressure of patients even when they’re unconscious. It works better or as good as some pharmaceutical drugs and without the side effects. I look at it like this, music has been around for thousands of years, medicine men, ancient cultures, the Romans, they all had music for healing and of course with modern medicine the miracles are everywhere. It’s not wrong to look over our shoulders and look at some of the knowledge from the past. I’m really encouraged by doctors and scientists who have devoted their life to the science of it but also realize there’s a spiritual element of music and somewhere between music and medicine and the algorithms and the angels there is a force of music. It’s quite an amazing thing. It’s invisible yet it can fill a room.”