In the mid to late 1980s, pop band Starship were virtually everywhere you turned. In the age when the music video was king, the group’s gold-selling single “We Built This City” held the number one position on the Billboard Singles Charts in 1985, a feat that neither of the bands’ Starship grew out of — Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship — were able to accomplish. The success of the band was no fluke. The group followed up the number one success of “We Built This City” with two other number one singles, “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
While the original Starship lineup might have gone their separate ways in the early ’90s, vocalist Mickey Thomas has been keeping the group’s spirit and songs alive. Starship featuring Mickey Thomas performs at Casino New Brunswick on Friday night.
Inspired by the Beatles, Thomas formed his first band at the age of 15 and would continue fronting bands through college and high school. In the early 1970s, Thomas met Gideon Daniels, a vocalist who would end up also being his mentor. Daniels introduced Mickey to blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. With The Elvin Bishop Band, Thomas would have his first taste of success with the hit “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.”
In 1979, after the somewhat unexpected departure of vocalists Grace Slick and Marty Balin from Jefferson Starship, Thomas received a call asking if he would be interested in becoming the new vocalist of the band.
“Was it a little intimidating to be joining the band? A little bit. Not only was I going to be replacing one vocalist but I had to replace two musical icons in the group,” a friendly Thomas told The Times & Transcript earlier this week. “When I got the call to sing for the band, I wondered how my style would fit with what they were doing and if it would ultimately work. Coming from Elvin Bishop’s band, my influences were rooted more in the world of blues, gospel and R&B than what Jefferson Starship were doing.
“Once we started jamming and doing some writing together, I realized that they were approaching me joining the band as a reinvention or sorts. They were interested in pursuing a harder edged sound than what the group had done up until that point. Ainsley Dunbar joined the band and it was that meshing of various styles and influences that contributed to us working together to make the Freedom At Point Zero record.”
Around 1984, Jefferson Starship disbanded. This led to the subsequent formation of the band Starship, comprised of virtually all members of the former Jefferson Starship with the exception of Paul Kantner. Kantner had been a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, the precursor to Jefferson Starship, and while he originally contested the group continuing without his participation, he eventually relented after some legal negotiations.
Naturally, there has been no shortage of detractors from the group. After all, how exactly does a band like Jefferson Airplane, a group formed at the very epicenter of flower power in San Francisco evolve into the chart-topping Starship without some naysayers chiming in?
“Because of the group’s history, there has always been a fair amount of detractors,” Thomas admits. “Paul Kantner broke a lot of ground with the group and a lot of people continued to associate the band with the flower power movement. When those are your roots, virtually anything you do will be scrutinized, especially any change in musical direction. It was perceived as ‘selling out’ among many of the band’s fans but for the fans we might have lost along the way, we picked up new ones so it all kind of balanced out in the end.”
While some acts are totally content to take to the stage and perform their tried and true hits for their fans, Thomas shares that new Starship music is indeed forthcoming. It has been more than 20 years since the release of the last Starship record, 1989’s Love Among The Cannibals. Thomas says that the project has had many false starts in the past however feels that he finally found the right combination of songs to make a new studio effort a reality.
“We had started recording new material several times over the years and for whatever reason, it just never came together the way it should have. The songs just weren’t feeling right. We would record a batch of songs and then three or four months later, we would re-listen to the songs and felt they weren’t quite what we were looking for,” he says.
Thomas credits producer Jeff Pilson with helping make the group’s upcoming effort such a resounding success.
“We really hit it off with Jeff. We clicked almost immediately and feel that we have been able to deliver a record that reflects where Starship is at these days. It sounds modern but also sounds fresh. This isn’t a record of 10 or 12 singles that have been thrown together. The songs are connected and flow nicely from one to the next. I am really proud of the record; I feel we really nailed it this time.”
Article published in the May 23, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript
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