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In 1974, a young guitarist named Craig Chaquico joined the newly formed Jefferson Starship, and remained with band through the transition to Starship. He left the band in 1991 and has been performing as a contemporary jazz guitarist ever since.

Craig Chaquico will be playing at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa on Saturday, March 2.

During a recent interview, Chaquico explained how he became a founding member of Jefferson Starship.

“Jefferson Airplane broke up and stopped performing together in 1972. … Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady did Hot Tuna, and Grace Slick and Paul Kantner did solo records,” Chaquico said. “I actually played on their solo records, and my own band had a recording contract on their label. The idea was to maybe start a new band, and we went out on tour as Jefferson Starship before we recorded anything. My band opened, and I played in both bands. After that, I expected to go back to college, but we were like, ‘Man, we all had such a great time playing together! Let’s form Jefferson Starship and do an album.’ I said, ‘Shit yeah! Let’s do that!’ After that first tour, we went into the studio and recorded Dragon Fly. Everything that I played on went gold and platinum.”

Chaquico was a teenager when Jefferson Starship began, and he wound up putting off school.

“That was sort of my higher education; I was learning from the best,” he said. “When we did the first Jefferson Starship album, there were eight members, and each of the members had distinct personalities. I don’t think any record executive thought anything was going to happen for us. … The solo albums were interesting, but they weren’t commercial success stories. I don’t think they expected gold and platinum albums from us. They looked at our band like, ‘Whatever!’ But think about it: What record executive in 1974 would say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s get a black violin player in his 50s, a pot-smoking guitar player in his teens, and put them together with some Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service people, add a member of the Turtles, and then put Pete Sears in this band!’? That was the beauty of it. We weren’t a A&R person-conceived band.”

The band became Starship and released the huge hit yet oft-maligned “We Built This City” in 1985.

“Starship was very pop, and it started to rely a lot on keyboards and not so much on guitar,” Chaquico said. “I’m a team player, and I’ll play on every song whether it has a lot of lead guitar or not. We started doing songs like ‘We Built This City,’ which has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, but if you listen to the beginning of that song … all of that computerized stuff and rocket science was pretty new. … Peter Wolf was our producer, and he co-wrote a lot of our songs. The original idea for the song was how there were no places for rock ’n’ roll bands to play anymore, (as pop) was turning into a lot of DJs and disco. The idea was a protest against computerized music, but it was the biggest computerized song on the radio, which I found ironic.”

While Starship enjoyed popular success, headlining shows with Foreigner and Fleetwood Mac, the band started to receive critical backlash.

“To me, it was like trying to send Apollo 13 around the moon and bring it back safely—it was high-tech computers everywhere,” Chaquico said. “It was interesting to me, but that period of time had its good things and its bad things. We had three No. 1 singles in three consecutive years, in the course of about 15 months. That was the good part. We got to go to Japan and Europe to play concerts—but it had a double-edged sword, and it bit us in the ass. We got criticized for ‘We Built This City,’ and it made No. 1 on the list of 50 Worst Songs in the World or something like that. Peter Wolf was also on the list at No. 3 for (producing) Wang Chung’s ‘Everybody (Have Fun) Tonight.’ I called Peter and said, ‘Dude, you’re on two of the worst songs of the world, and I’m only on one!’ On one level, we have to be proud, but it also bit us in the ass.”

Members eventually started leaving the band, and Chaquico had to decide whether to stay in a band that was decreasing the presence of guitar.

“I was told by the management not to write any songs, because we weren’t going to do any more rock,” he said. “At that point, I said, ‘All right, guys, I have to bail. Because what do you need me for?’ I didn’t ask for a lot of money—just to make sure I received my royalties for the earlier stuff. They broke up, didn’t have another hit and were dropped from the label.”

Becoming a successful jazz musician didn’t happen without difficulty, and he had problems getting his first solo album, Acoustic Highway, a label to release it in 1993.

“My now-ex-wife became pregnant. During the pregnancy, acoustic guitar started becoming more welcoming around the house. I thought maybe I should mellow things out,” Chaquico said about the transition to jazz. “I started playing more and more acoustic guitar, and it was suggested to me that I just record that. Ozzie Ahlers, who used to play in the Jerry Garcia Band, started working with me, and when my rock band didn’t pan out, he heard me playing acoustic guitar and had some ideas. He gave me a demo of his keyboard ideas. We started recording our acoustic music, and everyone passed on it, because they didn’t know what it was.

“I went to a new age label, and they said it had some rock and blues, and I should play it for a rock label. I went to a rock label, and they said they heard more new age. I went to a blues label, and they said it sounded more like jazz and rock. But a new age label called Higher Octave liked it and said, ‘We like it the way it is. We hear all that stuff, but we like it.’ They put me together with a great producer to remix it. It ended up being Billboard’s No. 1 New Age Album of the Year.”

Craig Chaquico will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa, 71333 Dinah Shore Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $50 to $90. For tickets or more information, call 951-696-0184, or visit tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=1114738.

Published in Previews

The biggest music month of the year—April, of course—is approaching. That’s the month when Coachella, Stagecoach and the return of hot weather (as if it ever left) occur. But we’re not there yet—and March is no slouch, with a whole lot of great music events taking place.

The McCallum Theatre has a packed month in March. At 8 p.m., Thursday, March 1, folk singer-songwriter Judy Collins will be performing. In the turbulent ’60s, Collins was one of the era’s great folk singers, helping to inspire political change. She’s among the last of the great folk icons remaining from that era—a great reason to go see her. Tickets are $27 to $77. If you were hoping to catch one of the two Beach Boys shows on Sunday, March 4, we have bad news ... the shows are sold out. Tickets were $77. Get thee to secondary ticket-sales outlets if you really want to go. At 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 13, jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell will take the stage. He’s an icon of vocal jazz; his voice has won him a Grammy Award, and he’s put out nine albums. He’s been performing at the McCallum for 15 years; go check him out. Tickets are $47 to $87. Check the McCallum website for other great events. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a full slate of great events; here are just a few to consider. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 2, you can enjoy a double bill of Starship and Eddie Money. You might remember Starship as a continuation of the ’60s psychedelic-rock band Jefferson Airplane; it surfaced in the ’80s with a new wave sound—as in “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” You probably remember Eddie Money as a late ’70s and early ’80s pop-radio staple, known for songs such as “Take Me Home Tonight” and “Two Tickets to Paradise.” Tickets are $39 to $59. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24, female-blues powerhouse Bonnie Raitt will be performing. I saw Raitt when she performed the last time at Fantasy Springs—and I truly enjoyed the show. She has a set of great songs and a fantastic backing band. Tickets are $49 to $89. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 30, Trump supporter and comedian/singer Rodney Carrington will be performing. Remember that time in the ’90s when you opened your AOL account, and one of your friends had sent you that long, 30-minute download (via dial up) of that stupid song “Dear Penis?” Well, Carrington wrote that. You’re welcome. Tickets are $39 to $59. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has several fine events coming in March, and there’s at least one you won’t want to miss: At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24, Mexican romantic-music group Los Temerarios (above right; photo by Carlos Perez) will be performing. Founding brothers Adolfo and Gustavo Angel have been going since 1978, recording 20 albums and winning multiple awards. Tickets are $45 to $85. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 is going to be a fun place to be in March. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 3, jazz guitarist George Benson will be performing. Jazz guitar is a tough subgenre to appreciate, but Benson is talented enough to win almost anybody over. Tickets are $55 to $75. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24, comedian Carrot Top will bring the funny. If you like rather stupid prop comedy, Carrot Top is your man. He and his suitcase full of props were popular in the ’90s. He’s well aware of the scorn he’s gotten from people who don’t like him—but he’s made fun of his critics in an amusing way that sells tickets. Also … his muscular physique and red hair, in combination, are quite scary. Tickets are $25 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 31, R&B/funk superstars Kool and the Gang will return to the valley. I love Kool and the Gang; they made so many great songs from the ’70s and ’80s that were the soundtrack of my childhood. Fun fact: Eagles of Death Metal sometimes use “Ladies Night” as an entrance theme. Tickets are $45 to $65. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a special St. Patrick’s Day-themed event planned. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 16, Irish punk band Flogging Molly (below) will be performing. There was a time when it seemed like Irish punk was trending, with Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly packing venues across the country. Flogging Molly has more of a traditional Celtic sound; while the band calls Los Angeles home, frontman Dave King is originally from Ireland. Tickets are $49 to $105. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has some big sold-out shows, and is starting to make announcements about the outdoor season—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves: March has some great events with space still available. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 10, the best Johnny Cash tribute you’ll ever see, Cash’d Out, will be performing. This band is legendary—and goes well beyond a standard tribute act. In fact, Johnny Cash’s drummer, W.S. Holland, has sat in with this band before. Cindy Cash, Johnny Cash’s daughter, gave the band a glass locket that belonged to the Man in Black himself that supposedly holds some of his hair. This is Columbia Records-era Johnny Cash in a way you’ve never heard before. Tickets are $15. At 10 p.m., Friday, March 16, FYF presents OH SEES and Pretty Eyes. OH SEES is a great psychedelic rock band; this show is definitely going to be noteworthy. Tickets are $26. At 9 p.m., Friday, March 23, singer-songwriter Pearl Charles will be performing. I’ll let this description from her press kit explain it all: “Pearl Charles lives in the moment, seeking excitement whether it leads her down a dark, dusty road or into the arms of a trouble-making lover.” Sounds great to me! Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room Palm Springs has a couple of events you’ll love if you enjoy dinner and a show. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 16, enjoy a tribute to Palm Springs with Palm Springs Jump! The show is a high-energy tribute to stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and many others. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 23, if you’re an Elvis fan, you’ll love Scot Bruce’s Elvis: The Early Years. Elvis’ early years are the years that I prefer, when Elvis rocked and captured the imagination of the youth of America. Tickets are $25 to $30. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

The Date Shed seems to be doing one show, more or less, per month, and in the month of March, it happens at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 17, when So-Cal reggae band Fortunate Youth will be performing. Fortunate Youth is a regular at The Date Shed, and the shows are always popular. Tickets are $20 in advance. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.facebook.com/dateshed.

The Copa Room Palm Springs has a couple of fun March events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 3, a tribute to Bette Midler titled The Divine Miss Bette, featuring Catherine Alcorn, will most likely be well-attended. The previews of this show look spectacular—it’s a must-see for any Bette Midler fan. Tickets are $25 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24, actress and singer Mary Bridget Davies will take the stage. She’s performed in many blues-tribute bands, and supposedly did a fantastic job playing Janis Joplin in the Broadway show A Night With Janis Joplin. Tickets are $25 to $35. Copa Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-866-0021; www.coparoomtickets.com.

Published in Previews