“Grace was three sheets to the wind, so Marty sang to her while holding her in an arm-lock so she couldn’t get away”: the epic, drunken and very crazy story of Jefferson Starship

Jefferson Starship in September 1978
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

When Jefferson Starship guitarist Craig Chaquico moved house in the 2000s, he was unpacking his collection of gold albums when he noticed one was missing. Upset, he rang the management office. “My Winds Of Change gold album has gone. I think somebody’s stolen it. What can I do?” There was a long pause at the other end of the line before a voice said, “Winds Of Change is the only Jefferson Starship album that didn’t go gold.”

Don’t cry too hard for Chaquico. He still has 10 gold albums, a couple of which are also platinum. You can argue about how that compares to Journey’s seven straight platinum albums, but the fact remains it’s a mightily impressive haul.

Chaquico was the only member of Jefferson Starship – or plain Starship as they became in their later years – to stay the course from start to finish.  The band racked up 15 Top 40 singles in their 17-year career, including three No.1 singles within the space of 18 months. The fact that those three singles destroyed much of the group’s credibility among their loyal fanbase is just one of the ironies of the Starship saga.

Jefferson Starship emerged from the fuselage of Jefferson Airplane, far and away the most commercially successful band to come out of San Francisco in the 60s. By the dawn of the 70s, the Airplane was grounded due to the absence of crew members who clearly preferred flying their own smaller planes. Rather than kicking their heels in the terminal building, Airplane’s chief pilot Paul Kantner and partner Grace Slick – who had come to personify Airplane’s feisty in-flight service (“Would you like acid with that, sir?”) – began designing a new craft.

The technical specifications were laid out in Kantner’s folk-rock space opera, Blows Against The Empire, in 1970. The Starship wasn’t actually scheduled to fly until the late 80s/early 90s but it would be capable of carrying 7,000 people ‘out to the cool and the dark’. They would include astral navigators, cooks, dancers, craftsmen, experts in wave mechanics, laser technics and ‘people who don’t have any idea what they’re about’. 

Several space cadets signed up during the recording, including The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Graham Nash from Crosby Stills & Nash, and David Freiberg from Quicksilver Messenger Service, who had shared various apartments and squats with Kantner back in the early 60s when they were struggling folk musicians. Ironically, Freiberg was twice busted for pot – and jailed – while Kantner, who exuded the sweet smell of marijuana from every pore, mysteriously escaped the attentions of the cops.

“It must have been my karma,” chuckles Freiberg. “Anyway, Paul, Grace and I were always hanging out together. Basically all these things were happening at Wally Heider’s San Francisco studio. The Grateful Dead were there. We were there. People would just sit around playing the same chord for hours… and occasionally something would come out of it.” 

Jefferson Starship in the mid-70s

Jefferson Starship in the mid-70s (Image credit: Gems/Redferns/Getty Images)

Kantner was also aware that he needed younger recruits for Starship’s long-term flight plans. There was his soon-to-be-born child with Grace, who was initially called ‘god’ before being renamed China when the predictable outrage had died down. And there was 16-year-old guitarist Craig Chaquico of Steelwind, who had just signed to Jefferson Airplane’s own Grunt Records. 

Chaquico, who was still attending high school in Sacramento and sporting a fake moustache to play in bars with Steelwind, had gone to Altamont the previous year and watched Jefferson Airplane supporting The Rolling Stones through a pair of binoculars – a sensible distance away from the Hells Angels, who were already running amok and later beat up singer Marty Balin when he tried to remonstrate with them. 

“We didn’t even know somebody died until we heard it on the radio next day,” remembers Chaquico. “We were up where the helicopters landed. I was right there when The Rolling Stones arrived and I’m probably on a Gimme Shelter movie out-take. I’d gone with a bunch of mates, and we’d told our parents that we were staying at each other’s houses. That never works, does it?”

Kantner and Slick invited Chaquico to sessions for their next albums, 1971’s Sunfighter (featuring infant god/China on the cover), 1973’s Baron Von Tollbooth And The Chrome Nun (David Crosby’s witty description of the pair), and Slick’s subtly titled Manhole solo album. 

“They were a big family and I was welcomed as the new kid,” says Chaquico. “They were really supportive. It all felt very natural. One day I was laying down a rhythm track that Jerry Garcia was going to put a solo over the following day. I did my own solo, just out of enthusiasm really, and next day Jerry comes in, hears what I’ve done and says, ‘That’s a really good solo. Why don’t you let the kid have this one?’”

The nucleus of Jefferson Starship came together for a trial flight in the spring of 1974, featuring Freiberg, Chaquico, latter-day Airplane drummer John Barbata and 57-year-old black jazz fiddle player Papa John Creach. Last to join was English-born keyboard player and bassist Pete Sears, who’d arrived in California five years earlier. He’d knocked around the fringes of the British blues and psychedelic scene with Fleur De Lys, Sam Gopal Dream and Trader Horne. One day Blue Cheer guitarist Leigh Stephens drew him a diagram of the fairground on Santa Monica Pier with an arrow pointing to a staircase above a merry-go-round. He told him to look him up if he was passing and they’d form a band. 

Sears had never been to America but he saved up his pennies, flew over and tracked Stephens down. “I was 21, straight out of rainy old London town, suddenly finding myself living above the merry-go-round, playing music day and night on Venice Beach. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and the Pacific Ocean consumed my entire being. Everything took on a surreal quality, like a low-dose LSD trip. But rock’n’roll tied it all together and kept me connected.” 

Sears and Stephens’ band, Silver Metre, was short-lived, but the San Francisco scene was more to his liking. He also kept up his British connections, becoming Rod Stewart’s bass player of choice on Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story, Never A Dull Moment and Smiler.

Invited to a Manhole session, Sears wound up writing a track called Better Lying Down with Slick. He got the Jefferson Starship offer right before heading back to play on Smiler. He dithered for a while, but it didn’t look like Rod was going to form his own band any time soon, so he flew back to San Francisco. “I was met at the airport by a limo and driver and taken to the Seal Rock Inn, where I was given a wad of cash. Next day I went up to Paul and Grace’s house overlooking the Ocean side of Golden Gate Bridge, and we hit it off. Grace and I wrote Hyperdrive on the spot, which ended up on Dragon Fly, the first proper Jefferson Starship album.”

That was pretty much how the rest of Dragon Fly came together. “Everybody was contributing and everybody was appreciating everyone else’s stuff,” says Freiberg, of the group’s benign chemistry. What lifted the album was when former Airplane singer Marty Balin materialised out of the ether one day with a sensuous ballad called Caroline that failed to chart, but got enough airplay to push the album to No.11. A free concert in New York’s Central Park that attracted 100,000 people confirmed that Jefferson Starship already had a solid fanbase.

What nobody expected was that the next album, Red Octopus, would go to No.1. It certainly helped that Marty Balin had been persuaded to commit himself to the band full-time – although commitment has always been a relative term for Balin. Interviewed with by Crawdaddy a year later he disparaged the band’s “variety show”, adding that the band “isn’t big enough to keep me busy”. He also declared that he “wouldn’t let Grace Slick blow me”.

Grace Slick & Marty Balin perform with Jefferson Starship onstage in 1976

Grace Slick and Marty Balin in 1976 (Image credit: Ron Pownall/Getty Images)

But the distinctively crooned ballad Miracles surpassed his previous efforts and was a Top 3 hit. The band now had four strong vocalists, who seemed to know instinctively when to pull together and when to drift apart. Recorded in the same loose, informal manner that had delivered Dragon Fly, nobody involved expected that they might be making a No.1 album. 

“I can’t really explain it,” admits Freiberg. “We were all having a really good time so maybe that was infectious. There was such a good dynamic within the band.” 

Sears agrees that the original Jefferson Starship chemistry peaked on Red Octopus. “There was a real sense of freedom and spontaneity.” He also credits engineer/co-producer Larry Cox for harvesting the chemistry. “He knew about sound. He’d been Buddy Holly’s drummer. He seemed to understand us, and he was able to create a cohesive sound.”

Chaquico likes the fact that a No.1 album can contain two instrumental tracks. “So it wasn’t just about the vocals… it was an eclectic mix but it all just gelled. I remember being on the road when the record bounced Elton John’s Captain Fantastic off the No.1 spot. Next week he was back and then we knocked him off again. In all we were No.1 for four separate weeks.

“Now we started playing these really big places and some of my favourite bands were supporting – Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent, Heart, Foreigner, The Doobie Brothers, America… I was in awe of some of these guys. But I wasn’t intimidated because I had the best job in the world: ‘When the solo comes, you just play your ass off.’ I could do that! It helped that I was 15 years younger than everyone else because I stayed out of the dramas that would sometimes go on away from the music. I was under the radar when it came to the history and the love triangles and quadrilaterals or whatever.”

However, even Chaquico could not have missed the latest episode in Grace Slick’s love life, when she started an affair with the band’s lighting engineer, Skip Johnson, in the autumn of 1975. The clandestine nature of the affair was able to flourish because Kantner thought Johnson was gay.

Not that it had any effect on the next album, Spitfire. Neither was there any great pressure to try and top Red Octopus. As Freiberg admits, “Once you’ve had a big hit you want to make another one”, but Sears says any pressure was “barely perceptible. The band was on a high roll.” 

Just as well. Balin’s usually trustworthy ballad failed to ignite the way Miracles had done, though With Your Love was not exactly a flop, reaching No.11. And Spitfire may not have topped the charts, but it spent six weeks at No.3 and outsold Red Octopus. And the overall quality of the album was the best yet. Balin may have dismissively called them a ‘variety act’, but the variety was wondrous, from love songs to stirring, epic, futuristic sci-fi tales. Papa John Creach, so prominent on Red Octopus, had found the rigours of touring too much, but Chaquico’s rock guitar solos remained, along with Freiberg and Sears, swapping bass and keyboards, seemingly at will, and Barbata’s tight drumming, and the four strong voices of Balin, Freiberg, Skick and Kantner, blended with an edginess that was part of Jefferson Starship’s essential character.

Things did get smoother on 1978 album Earth, however, when they decided they wanted another hit after all. This time Balin called on the services of his protégé Jesse Barish for the sumptuous Count On Me, a Top 10 smash. But the smoothness did not dilute the band’s controlled power. 

By now Slick had married Skip Johnson, something she had never quite got round to doing with Kantner. In her autobiography, she expresses regret for snorting cocaine while being sewed into her dress and swallowing a qualuude just before the ceremony. But she enjoyed the champagne reception that followed.

As Earth joined Spitfire in going platinum in the summer of 1978, the band, feeling invincible, lined up a European tour taking in two headlining appearances at the Lorelei Festival in Germany and the Knebworth Festival in Britain with Genesis. Everything was about to go horribly wrong…

“There were omens all around that trip,” recalls Chaquico. “One of the limos taking us to the airport caught fire on the way. And from the moment we arrived in Europe things just got weird. And that whole legend of Lorelei where we were playing – the Siren woman who lured sailors too close to the rocks and wrecked their ships… well, they certainly managed to wreck Jefferson Starship.”

The first gig, in Amsterdam, went smoothly, but by the time they arrived in Weisbaden Slick was ill. To what extent it was a stomach bug or alcohol poisoning may never be known. On the morning of the show Johnson told the others that his wife was too sick to perform. Kantner was not impressed. He had seen Slick perform in a variety of catatonic states, so why pull out now? When Johnson suggested the others could play without her Kantner replied, “Would The Rolling Stones go on without Mick Jagger?”

Kantner decided to check out Slick’s state of health for himself, but was prevented from entering Slick’s room by Johnson. An altercation then occurred outside the room which ended when a pale-looking Slick appeared at the door, saw two men grappling on the floor and shouted hoarsely to Kantner, “Leave my husband alone”.

Chaquico had already gone ahead to the festival with Barbata when news filtered through that Jefferson Starship would not be appearing. The group had prepared a statement saying that they’d come back and play another show but that bit was not read out to the crowd. “People backstage started crying,” says Chaquico. “They knew what was going to happen. And sure enough the crowd started rioting. So we decided to leave. 

“I remember John picking up his cymbals and tucking them under his arm. I looked over my shoulder at my vintage Les Pauls, Stratocasters and Firebirds. It was the last I ever saw of them. People started burning the stage down and by the time we got off the mountain and back to the hotel in Wiesbaden several miles away you could look back and see the glow. We went back the next day but there was nothing left but ashes.”

Grace Slick singing onstage in 1978

(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Slick recovered in time for the next show in Hamburg. But it would have been better if she’d stayed in bed. She wasn’t ill but she definitely wasn’t sober either. She wore a Heidi dress she found at an airport shop, goose-stepped round the stage and called the audience Nazis while trying to stick her fingers up the noses of the people at the front of the stage. 

“It was horrible,” says Sears. “We’d had to rent all our equipment after Lorelei and we were playing our hearts out but Grace was three sheets to the wind, doing a kind of punk rock thing. I saw a fight break out in one section of the audience which fortunately didn’t spread. My wife Jeannette was down the front trying to catch Grace’s eye and ground her a bit, but nothing worked.”

Typically, Freiberg extracts the only humorous moment of the show. “Marty was singing one of his ballads to Grace, and he had her in an arm-lock with one arm behind her back so she couldn’t get away. So he was singing straight into her face and she thought that was very funny.”

But after the show that joke wasn’t funny anymore, and Slick was despatched back to the US to dry out while the rest of the group carried on to Knebworth without her (with some members wondering privately why they hadn’t done this at Lorelei). “It worked fine,” says Freiberg. “Obstacles are always good. Life gets a lot easier when you respond by saying, ‘Well, let’s just do it.’”

Sears confirms that everyone stepped up to the plate for this one, “particularly Marty and Paul. I even did my bass solo on a crappy guitar and rented amp. Grace had been an incredibly important part of the band. She would excite people just by walking to the front of the stage. But we got through it pretty well. The other things I remember were people throwing fruit at Devo and how good Genesis sounded.”

After Knebworth, the group cut its losses and returned to San Francisco. But their troubles were not over yet. “Marty had pulled out all the stops for Knebworth and afterwards he was saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll get back the States and we’ll do it without Grace,’” Chaquico remembers. “And then we never saw him again for a year.” Then John Barbata was in a car accident, breaking his neck, collarbone and wrist. Suddenly the band was down two singers and a drummer. But none of the others considered quitting. “The attitude was, ‘We’ll get through this,’” says Chaquico.

Sears brought in another Brit, Aynsley Dunbar, to replace Barbata. He also suggested Jess Roden as a singer, but his voice was considered too bluesy for what they were after. Chaquico credits his guitar roadie Eric Van Soest with finding Mickey Thomas. “He saw him in a little town in Marin County and raved about him to me. I went and saw him, and next day I walked into a band rehearsal and said, ‘We’ve got to get this guy in to sing some songs with us.’”

Mickey Thomas had recently left the Elvin Bishop Band, where he’d sung on their one and only hit in 1976, Fooled Around And Fell In Love, and was setting up a solo career when he got the call from Jefferson Starship.

“It was totally unexpected. Obviously I knew about them, but most of what I knew came from Rolling Stone magazine, and it seemed like a bit of a soap opera,” he told Living Legends Music. “Plus, I wasn’t a particular fan of their music. So I was surprised when they called me. But I went over to Paul’s house and we sang some songs and jammed a little and then agreed to meet up the following week. It was a gradual process. I was honestly undecided. There were no politics or anything, but I just didn’t know if I wanted to do that.”

What swung it for Thomas was Jane, a song that Freiberg had brought in one day. “I’d originally written it for Marty back around the Earth album and it was too high for me to sing. But Mickey could sing high, higher than anyone I could imagine. And Craig’s arrangement made it sound like a hit.”

Jane charted at the end of 1979 and took Jefferson Starship seamlessly into the 80s and the new decade of AOR. Their ‘comeback’ album, Freedom At Point Zero, went Top 10, and spent nearly three months knocking around the UK charts although it never quite cracked the Top 20. Crisis? What crisis?

The band had considered replacing Slick, and Nicolette Larson was among those in the frame, but the consensus was that Grace was irreplaceable. A year later Slick walked back into her old job, just in time to add her vocals to the Modern Times album where she was billed as ‘…And introducing Grace Slick’.

In fact, there had been a crisis within the band just as they were about to start recording Modern Times, Kantner suffering a potentially fatal cerebral haemorrhage that remarkably healed itself just as they were about to operate. More remarkable still, there were no apparent side effects, although he did have to stop smoking joints for three days.

Proof that his faculties were unimpaired came on Stairway To Cleveland, a caustic response to a negative review in Rolling Stone that finished with a defiant, ‘Fuck you, we do what we want.’ But it was Craig Chaquico who was really enjoying the harder edge of Jefferson Starship’s new sound, coming up with the song that kept the band connected not just to the radio airwaves for much of 1981 but also the newly-launched MTV, Find Your Way Back

“We were soundchecking for a New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco and for some reason I started playing the first song I ever learnt, The Monkees’ Last Train To Clarksville. I started playing it slower, and then backwards, and that ended up being the riff.”

However, the homogenous feel that had effortlessly bound Jefferson Starship’s varied styles together through the 70s was starting to splinter. There was a growing gap between the ‘traditional’ Jefferson Starship songs and the new, slickly produced commercial sound. This was reflected in the group’s disjointed and increasingly naff album covers through the 80s.

Jefferson Starship pose for a portrait in 1984

(Image credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

They changed producer on 1982’s Winds Of Change to Kevin Beamish, fresh from the biggest selling album of 1981, REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity. He managed to close the fissure between the new and old Jefferson Starship, and produce a couple of Top 40 hits, both written by Pete Sears and his wife Jeanette. 

“I was very happy with Grace and Mickey’s performance on the Winds Of Change song,” says Sears. “It wasn’t overtly commercial or contrived. But I disliked the MTV video intensely. They didn’t seem to have any idea of what the song was about. And I didn’t really like the way the second hit, Be My Lady, turned out. I’d originally written it with more of an R&B slant.”

But if the cracks in musical direction had been papered over to some extent, there were now divisions within the band itself. “Let’s be honest, there were conflicts beginning to happen,” admits Chaquico. “There was more competitiveness. I had a feeling that people were elbowing other people out of the way. The vibe was a little nastier, and I guess it reflected in the music.” It wasn’t just the music; going on tour sponsored by a pimple cream was enough to make some band members break out in a rash.

It was 1984’s Nuclear Furniture that everyone agrees changed everything. Producer Ron Nevison was back, this time with Austrian-born synthesiser wizard Peter Wolf (no relation to the J Geils Band frontman of the same name) in tow. 

“This was the album that sent the band off to another planet,” states Sears. “For the first time we didn’t record any basic tracks. Instead, Peter Wolf set up his sampler in the studio and recorded quantised drums and synthesiser sounds for us to overdub to. We were losing control of our own sound.” 

As Freiberg says, “We became a corporate band. There was nothing organic about it anymore.”

But to Mickey Thomas, Wolf was “a musical and technical genius. He brought a whole new electronic way of making music for us, while still keeping the heart and soul in it.” 

As Craig sees it, “The production was leaning towards Mickey Thomas-driven songs. They weren’t his songs but he was singing other people’s songs and we were all adding our input to that. And when you have a great singer who’s providing hit songs, there’s a tendency for them to take the reins. I think Paul was feeling the frustration.

“There was competition for songwriting, and arguments over the album’s direction. This was probably the most uncomfortable time in the band.” According to Freiberg, “It was ridiculous. Actually it was awful. Nobody would say anything to your face. That was the thing I didn’t like.” 

Nuclear Furniture, which unashamedly thanked ‘everyone at MTV’ in its liner notes, produced just one hit – No Way Out, written by Peter Wolf and his wife Ina – although Laying It On The Line got plenty of MTV exposure, and the album sold more than its predecessor. 

But a month after its release in the summer of 1984. Paul Kantner quit. The fact that only Freiberg followed him suggests that his behaviour was not endearing him to the others. Freiberg says he left because the band “wasn’t doing anything that I was any good at”. But Slick, who a year earlier had said in an TV interview that Kantner was “the human glue that holds the band together,” stuck with the band.

And then it got nasty. Kantner wanted the band dissolved, claiming the name had lost all credibility without him. The others demurred. In the end, Kantner got Jefferson and the others got Starship (although it wasn’t quite as simple as that). But the atmosphere within the band did not noticeably improve as the dust settled. Aynsley Dunbar had left before the Nuclear Furniture album and been replaced by Donny Baldwin, who had played with Thomas in the Elvin Bishop Band. But Kantner and Freiberg were not replaced.

Sears remembers that the band effectively divided into two camps. “We’d travel in separate Lincoln Continentals. I’d be with Grace and Bill Laudner, the road manager who’d started with Jefferson Airplane. I remember a band meeting at which Mickey wanted to fire Bill because he wouldn’t drive them round like a chauffeur or something. I told everyone they were spoilt and just wanted to have some lackey to cater to their every whim. I guess I didn’t endear myself to those guys.”

Chaquico was vacillating: “It started to feel like all the people I liked playing with were leaving, along with the teamwork ethic, which was uncomfortable at first. But then we got this new energy, and that was exciting.”

This ‘new energy’ manifested itself on the next album, Knee Deep In The Hoopla, in particular on No.1 hit single We Built This City. Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, We Built This City had been hawked around for some months – The Motels had tried unsuccessfully to record it – before Peter Wolf and co-producer Dennis Lambert heard it. They liked the song, but felt it needed a better chorus. 

“I remember Peter coming over to my studio and playing it to me,” says Chaquico. “It didn’t have the chorus but Peter added it there and then, pausing the tape and punching in ‘We built this city, built this city…’ And I said, ‘Oh, I get it, a hit chorus!’ I still thought it was a bit guitar-light, though.”

Four months later, Starship were back at No.1 with Sara, a ballad written by Peter and Ina Wolf that was conveniently named after Thomas’ wife. Meanwhile, Grace Slick was now officially the oldest woman ever to have a No.1 hit, a title she finally relinquished after Cher took her Believe to the top in 1998.

Sara also provided a defining moment for Pete Sears, who left the band in 1986. “I was standing on stage playing Sara on this keyboard thing slung round my neck, 80s style. I suddenly looked at Mickey, who was lying on a park bench that was a stage prop, underneath a fake lamp post. I realised I was completely at odds with what the band had become.

“I really had nothing to do with that album. Mickey and our producers were now firmly in control. And they’d pretty much neutralised the band’s biggest asset, Grace. The record company, producers, management and certain band members basically backed the wrong horse and spent all their resources trying to make us sound like Journey and alienating our real audience. I did get very good at playing Gravitar in the Plant Studio lounge, though.”

While the hits kept coming no one else was complaining. And in April 1987 Starship hit No.1 in both the US and the UK with Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, an anthem written in a day by songwriters Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, two songsmiths with enviable track records in the fine art of chart-topping who were now collaborating for the first time. Its status as theme tune from rom-com Mannequin aided its journey up the charts, and newly installed MTV VJ China Kantner got to introduce her mum’s hit single on MTV.

The song, along with It’s Not Over (Til It’s Over) (which was a comparative failure, only reaching No.9), were Grace Slick’s last meaningful contributions to the group. During the recording of No Protection she came in one day to record her part of a duet only to be told that Mickey Thomas had decided to sing it solo. Despite the disrespect, Slick went quietly.

That just left Thomas, Donny Baldwin and Chaquico. And with human drummers replaced by drum machines in the studio and Chaquico reduced to guest guitar solos, 1989’s Love Among The Cannibals was effectively a Mickey Thomas solo album. No wonder he has described it as his favourite. Besides the No.12 hit It’s Not Enough, the album is notable for the Mutt Lange-written and produced I Didn’t Mean To Stay All Night, which failed to make the Top 40, an unusual fate for a Lange track.

Starship in 1988

(Image credit: George Rose/Getty Images)

Once again the curse of Europe was about to bring Starship down. In September 1989 they were set to go to Europe to make a video but the night before they were due to fly Thomas and Baldwin had a fight. Thomas was so badly beaten that he had to have reconstructive facial surgery. No reason for the fight has ever been given, although Thomas has said that it was “something that had been building up”. Baldwin was swiftly ejected from Starship. So now it was just Thomas and Chaquico. 

“A little while later I had a meeting with Mickey and the manager,” remembers Chaquico. “I was told, ‘Don’t bother writing any more songs. We’re not going to be doing any guitar rock songs. It’s all going to be songs based around the singer. Look at the hits, look at the videos. It’s all about the singer.  But we’re gonna keep you because you were here from the beginning’. And that terrified me. So I made the decision to leave. People were saying, ‘Are you crazy? You’re leaving this great band.’ But it didn’t look like a band to me.” 

Chaquico’s departure removed the last fig-leaf of legitimacy that had clung to Starship. In 1990 the management brought the curtain down. Grace Slick quietly retired from music soon afterwards. Of their fellow former Starshippers, Paul Kantner died in 2016, and Marty Balin passed away in 2018. 

Chaquico doesn’t regret any of Starship’s achievements. “I’m really proud of those No.1 hits we had. It was like standing round the campfire and throwing cardboard boxes on the fire. ‘Wow, this feels really hot.’ But cardboard boxes don’t burn as long as the wood that we used to use.” 

Originally published in Classic Rock Presents AOR issue 5

Hugh Fielder

Hugh Fielder has been writing about music for 47 years. Actually 58 if you include the essay he wrote about the Rolling Stones in exchange for taking time off school to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in 1964. He was news editor of Sounds magazine from 1975 to 1992 and editor of Tower Records Top magazine from 1992 to 2001. Since then he has been freelance. He has interviewed the great, the good and the not so good and written books about some of them. His favourite possession is a piece of columnar basalt he brought back from Iceland.