Craig Chaquico joins us to talk about key moments from Jefferson Starship and his solo career, including his take on the Albert King-via-Cream classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” from the guitarist’s newly released debut for Blind Pig. We also touch on memorable hits like 1978’s “Count On Me,” 1979’s “Jane,” 1984’s “No Way Out” and his 1994 remake of the Jefferson Starship track “Find Your Way Back” …
“JANE,” with JEFFERSON STARSHIP (FREEDOM AT POINT ZERO, 1979): The first album to feature singer Mickey Thomas, after the departure of singers Marty Balin and Grace Slick in 1978, saw Jefferson Starship’s sound shift more to Chaquico’s serrated guitar work — perhaps best heard on this No. 14 hit, with its lengthy solo. Turns out, that was something the guitarist had to fight tooth and nail for — much to the excitement of young metal fans that Chaquico never knew he had.
CRAIG CHAQUICO: I remember arguing over the guitar solo with our manager at that time. His point was, he came in with a stop watch and the guitar solo was too long. It will never get played on the radio, right? If you listen to the solo, I arranged it in such a way that when I came in there’s really not a lot going on – except for me and (former Frank Zappa/Journey drummer) Aynsley (Dunbar). Everybody else is laying out, so you have to hear the guitar solo. It’s all that’s there! (Laughs.) The band backed me up, and we left the solo the way that it is, but our manager swore it would never be a hit. So every time I hear it on the radio, it puts a smile on my face, because I knew I had to fight for every second of it! Literally. Our manager had a point about one thing though: I ran into some of the guys from Metallica and they said: “Hey, man, that was one of our favorite songs, because no songs on the radio had long guitar solos back then.” (Laughs.) We pushed the envelope, and it actually did get played — thank God. It’s still one of my favorite songs, for a lot of reasons.
“BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN,” solo (FIRE RED MOON, 2012): A song credited with modernizing blues as the title track to Albert King’s 1967 Stax Records debut, “Born Under a Bad Sign” first came to Chaquico’s attention when it appeared in a radically reworked format as part of Cream’s Wheels of Fire — a 1968 project which also included the band’s seminal hit “White Room.” Chaquico gives a nod to the influence of Eric Clapton’s old group by referencing their reworking of “Bad Sign.”
CRAIG CHAQUICO: To me, the original version was the Cream version. I tried to literally learn the way that (Cream bassist/vocalist) Jack Bruce sang the verses melodically, as a musical instrument. I learned his phrasing and played that on my album as part of the verses. When it comes to the electric guitar part that Clapton did, to me those are just as much a part of the song as anything — and they’re now part of the melody. So, I did an electric guitar version of Clapton, pretty much religiously. Then, just as religiously, on a different, cleaner guitar, Jack Bruce’s vocal licks. That was my interpretation of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the way that I heard Cream do it. Then, when it came time for the ending solo, I wanted to make it a little more mine, so I did clean, Telecaster-type sounding solo at the end. It’s a little bit funkier than any of the versions I ever heard. I tried to give it my own spin, by reigning all of those things in.
“FIND YOUR WAY BACK,” solo (ACOUSTIC PLANET, 1994): Originally a crunchy No. 29 hit off the 1981 Jefferson Starship album Modern Times, “Find Your Way Back” would undergo a complete deconstruction more than a decade later on Chaquico’s celebrated sophomore solo release — helping Acoustic Planet to a Grammy nomination for best new age album in 1995.
CRAIG CHAQUICO: It was a chance for me to try some different textures — acoustic guitars and acoustic pianos, all of these organic instruments, rather than a big rock production. I was still proud of that, but this was something new and interesting. I figured I wrote it, I could redo it, right? To do it without vocals was a departure, too. I enjoy that kind of thing, doing covers and putting a different spin on them. Now, live we can actually do the record the way that I did it on my solo record to start it off. And then by the end of the song, we bring up our wonderful singer Rolf Hartley, and we go into the Starship version of it. It’s kind of neat to do a combination of the two of them, and that’s become our grand finale. Everybody takes a solo, and it becomes like a three-ring circus. That song has really seen a lot of changes over the years from when it was first written around a campfire.
“NO WAY OUT,” with JEFFERSON STARSHIP (NUCLEAR FURNITURE, 1984): A No. 23 Billboard hit, “No Way Out” became the band’s first-ever charttopper on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart — but is perhaps best remembered for its elaborate narrative video. That, and the presence of songwriter Peter Wolf, pointed directly to the next shift in the band’s sound. After this album, co-founder Paul Kantner left — he appears in the video for “No Way Out,” but none of the others from this project — and the band shortened its name to Starship.
CRAIG CHAQUICO: On that particular video, I was a computer nerd. At that time, going back that far, I had just gotten a Mac computer that looked like a toaster. I was thinking that the computer could really help us in our recording. Little did I know that it would go as far as it would go. It was kind of ironic. Of course, when we started videos, it was definitely a new area for all of us. What was the line, “video killed the radio star?” It was a different time, a whole new perspective of looking at content. Once you started seeing that video form, it became a different animal. I didn’t get into music to be in the movies, and luckily as a guitar player I usually just played. Usually, I didn’t have to act, other than to pretend to play guitar.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: After decades of chart success with Jefferson Starship, and a heralded second career in smooth jazz, Craig Chaquico is digging into blues and roots rock — with similar success.]
“COUNT ON ME,” with JEFFERSON STARSHIP (EARTH, 1978): A last-gasp hit for the original 1970s lineup, this song went all the way to No. 8. But singer Marty Balin soon left, as did singer Grace Slick and drummer John Barbataleft. Also of note: Listen closely, and you can hear the very beginnings of what would eventually become a stunning post-Starship career move for Chaquico — who adds a rare solo turn on the acoustic guitar. By the early 1990s, he could be found unplugged on a series of contemporary instrumental albums as a solo performer.
CRAIG CHAQUICO: That was probably the only acoustic solo I ever did before I started doing my solo stuff. I remember being in Safeway in the check out line, and “Count on Me” came on the sound system. That’s almost like hearing yourself in the elevator! (Laughs.) It’s kind of cool because you’ve made it into the pop culture; you’re part of that lexicon now. They can play you in Safeway, along with Barry Manilow or something. (Laughs.) I’m not saying that in a bad way, it’s just a different way of hearing yourself. This was about 20 years ago, and I was patting myself on the back, standing in line at Safeway. I had just left Starship, and was about to get started on a first acoustic guitar record. It was like an omen, because this was one of the few times I had played that instrument back then. I hear the chorus leading up to the solo, and I’m all ready to savor every note of my acoustic guitar solo. It’s just about ready to start and I hear: “Can we get a price check for broccoli in produce, please?” (Laughs uproariously.) That’s how important my acoustic solo was! It was not as important as the broccoli at Safeway. That was a reality check.
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