BluesWax Sittin’ In With
Déjà Vu All Over Again, Craig Chaquico Comes Full Circle.
By Robert Putignano
At fifty-eight years old Craig Chaquico obtains a very youthful demeanor, possessing a very upbeat view of life and about his evolving musical career. After years of work as a jazz artist, the seventies through the early nineties Jefferson Starship guitarist has returned to his teenaged rock-blues heroes roots, otherwise known as the second generation interpreters of the Blues. Though some might smirk about Chaquico’s blues entrée, he explains how his entire career carried him (mostly unplanned) to multiple genre transformations.
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Hi Craig, I’m enjoying your debut blues recording.
Craig Chaquico: Thanks, to be honest I was worried about what people might think of a guitarist like myself all of sudden releasing a blues album. I know there’s a lot of pride and respect that comes with the territory in blues, but I’ve always felt that everything I’ve recorded had some blues in it. That’s why I feel things have come full circle to me on Fire Red Moon, where I wanted to add my own spin to the blues. [Check out our review of Fire Red Moon in last week's BluesWax.]
BW: I could hear it back when, and remember seeing you in the early seventies on the first Starship tour in New York City.
CC: I remember that show well, I also remember the T-shirt from that tour. I would say that was around 1973-74.
BW: Sounds about the right time zone.
CC: Right around the time of the Dragon Fly album.
BW: I always dug the first Starship album, Blows Against the Empire.
CC: Oh, yeah!
BW: What were you doing prior to joining the Starship?
CC: I was just a teenager when I started playing with the Starship, but I was listening to Cream and Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and a lot of stuff from my older brother’s record collection, too. Back then I thought Cream originated “Crossroads.”
BW: Yeah what did we know then? I had similar experiences until I started to investigate the songwriting credits.
CC: I went through the same routine and started to piece things together. A lot of bands of our growing-up time borrowed from the blues masters, and jazz artists too. For example, Fire Red Moon comes from a Hendrix record. Did you know I was once a roadie for Jimi, but just for one day? School buddies of mine were art students and we got hired to paint the backdrop for one of Hendrix’ concerts, and when his gear arrived they asked us to help move his guitars and amps onto the stage. You might recall a somewhat famous picture of Jimi playing in front of an American flag, well I painted that flag! So when he sang “the night I was born the moon turned to fiery red,” that reminds me of an eclipse. I also bought a replica of the guitar Jimi played at Monterey, and decided to use it on the title track of my new blues album. So everything sort of came back around from the same center from forty years ago.
BW: With Jorma and Jack around other members of the Starship – did they have a blues influence on you?
CC: Oh yeah! The first record I played on had Jerry Garcia, John Cipollina, Jorma, and a lot of the Bay Area musicians. But everyone was pretty busy with all of their various other projects, Pete Sears and I were brought in at a time where everyone got along well. In fact, on some of the first Starship shows, my band Steelwind opened for the Starship and I got to play in both sets. After that tour I thought I was going to head off to college, but I didn’t leave the band until around 1990. Getting back to your Jorma and Jack question, they always made me feel welcomed, they were really nice to me, and they gave me pointers and turned me onto different guitar gear.
BW: It must have been a trip hanging out with all of those acid music pioneers, and you became part of that culture, too.
CC: Actually, prior to meeting them I was part of that culture! But don’t tell my mom and dad! [Laughs] As a fan I was also at Altamont seeing my heroes play on.
BW: Were you on Grace Slick’s Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun album?
CC: Actually, that was Slick and [Paul] Kantner’s album. Did you know that Paul named himself “Baron Von Tollbooth” because he liked to race through the tollbooths?
BW: I would have never known that – Wow, that’s too funny!
CC: And the “Chrome Nun” was Grace, which she used because she was fond of Blue Nun wine.
BW: I always love it when I find out trivia stuff like this from decades ago.
But you were on this album?
CC: Yes with Garcia, David Freiberg, Robert Hunter, David Crosby, Jorma, Jack Traylor, Papa John Creach, Mickey Hart, and others.
BW: I haven’t listened to that one for quite some time now.
CC: It’s an old one! I was a guest guitarist on it.
BW: What did your parents think about your hanging around these counter-culture freaks?
CC: Fortunately my mom and dad were musicians when they were younger; they eventually got normal jobs, but they supported music around the house. But you are right – they were a little worried about my hanging around the Acid Queen and Baron Von Tollbooth! [Laughs] My dad wanted me to stay in school, but my mom encouraged me to record on those seventies albums. I know she felt that maybe after doing this for a bit and doing a few tours that I would change my mind and would return to school. But playing in those bands and recording with these musicians wound up being my higher education.
BW: And then you went off into another direction doing the jazz instrumental thing.
CC: Yeah, and that wasn’t planned. No one was more surprised than I about this, especially when I got a Grammy nomination, too! It truly wasn’t my idea to play jazz, it came about when my wife became pregnant and the acoustic guitar was more welcomed around the house. I never considered myself a jazz musician, but it worked out and actually took off for me. And before I knew it I was doing concerts with heroes of mine, like Larry Carlton.
BW: Larry’s one of my favorites!
CC: I hear you, but being around all of these great rock, blues, and jazz players allowed me to be where I am today; there was a lot of synergy. In fact, while I was doing jazz tours I started sneaking some blues tunes into my sets, as well as some Starship songs as well. It really worked as a lot of people who came to my gigs all grew up like you and me learning blues through rock bands, and evolving into other genres. So there’s that full circle thing again. It’s all been a lot of fun for me. I really like my current band, and used three great singers. My regular singer is Rolf Harley, and I also used Eric Goldbach, and Noah Hunt from Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band. Noah’s a really sweet guy, too.
BW: I’m both a Kenny Wayne and a Noah Hunt fan; for me Noah is as much of the show as Kenny Wayne is, no taking away from Mr. Shepherd.
CC: Oh yeah!
To be continued…
Robert Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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