The ‘70s were a classic era of American rock ‘n’ roll. Iconic bands like The Eagles, Aersomith, and Journey made their mark on music history with sounds that reformed the sonic landscape and epic tracks that are still played on the radio, chanted in stadiums and belted at karaoke bars today. While many of these bands have called it quits and consider their work done, Jefferson Starship continues to rock on.
Ahead of their upcoming Dec. 18 performance at The Canyon Club in Santa Clarita, I sat down with vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and founding member David Freiberg to discuss what’s new with the classic band.
What is it like being part of such a historic band like Jefferson Starship that helped set the sound of the 70s?
I originally left the band in 1985 just after they dropped the “Jefferson” and became “Starship” and came back in 2005 when they revived it. When I left, I felt like I didn’t belong anymore because what we had previously been doing was everyone came together as a band to work on the songs but what they wanted to do was become a produced band with all the songs coming from an outside producer. Not that that’s bad, it’s just not what I was doing or where I belonged.
When (band co-founder) Paul Kantner asked me to come back in 2005, it was back to being an ensemble and it was fun again. From the very first gig, it was too much fun and I had to keep going and I never stopped. When he passed away, his family and Grace Slick asked us if we wanted to keep the band going.
I enjoy keeping the legacy going and we have such a huge song book that needs to keep being sung. I don’t want to let it go. So here we are, carrying the fire.
Since you are one of the founding members of Jefferson Starship in 1974 following the end of Jefferson Airplane, what has your experience been throughout the different lineups and iterations of the band?
It always seems to change. Even with Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick wasn’t even our first female singer. Anybody that has the spirit seems to join the band and when they feel like leaving, they leave. And if anyone wants to come back they’re welcome as long as they don’t mess with the good fun we’re having now. It’s very liquid.
And right now this is the longest the band has gone without changes. We’re the band that was playing with Paul when he passed away, and since then nothing has changed a bit. Our drummer Donny Baldwin has been the drummer since the “Starship” era and he’s still groovin’ like only he can. Cathy Richardson joined us in 2008 and she was a Jefferson Starship fan from when she was 14 and knew the songs better than we did! She’s one of the best singers I’ve sung with. Our keyboard player Chris Smith joined in 1998 so he’s probably been the longest continuous member of Jefferson Starship. It’s been almost ten years since we added Jude Gold in 2012.
Legendary rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres once called you a “glorified back up member” of the band and yet here you are still going strong. Looks like you proved him wrong.
Actually, he took that back! There was just a movie about him at the Mill Valley Film Festival called “Like A Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres” and we had an afterparty where he asked me to sing. He decided he loved my voice and took back that comment. I actually hadn’t even known he said that!
Jefferson Starship’s style and discography is what a lot of people nowadays would refer to as “dad rock.”
Where do you think dad rock fits in today’s musical landscape or even within the rock genre?
Rock is rock. I don’t know, you’re part of the time you’re alive and you’re playing, so stuff does sneak in. People have ears and they hear things so you do change and become influenced with [the] times. But we want to keep the same feeling and gist of what these songs were about even if we bring them up to date a little bit.
There was an acoustic song we have called “Embryonic Journey” on our “Surrealistic Pillow” album and back when Paul was alive he decided we were going to go out and do the entire album. Jude asked if he should do it on acoustic guitar but Paul told him to play the song the way he wanted to and now that version of “Embryonic Journey” is on our new album. You wouldn’t believe that all those sounds came off just his one guitar. But the original song is still in there, so we don’t go too far with changing things. There is going to be something of every individual in the song. We’re not just recreating the original records as they were recorded, that’s not what we’re trying to do and that’s not what we ever did.
As Paul used to say, when we recorded those songs in the studio, we didn’t really know how they’d go. It was only after we started to play them live that we figured out how they go. Whoever you’re playing for influences what you do, it’s give and take.
Who would you say is Jefferson Starship’s target audience right now?
We’re targeting everybody. Sometimes we go out and the audience is lots of grey hair. There are other times when those grey-haired people bring their grandchildren, and they seem to like it too. Good music is universal and doesn’t have to appeal to just one little segment of the audience.
You mentioned your new album “Mother of the Sun,” which came out in 2020. Did the coronavirus affect the production?
Not the production. “Mother of the Sun” was done before COVID-19, it just came out right when the pandemic happened. So when it came out we couldn’t promote it, so we did what we could with Zoom meetings and going to each other’s studios and passed the recordings around. It’s somewhere on YouTube, it came out pretty damn good.
But to be honest you really can’t play on Zoom. There’s too much delay. You can’t sing a duet. It’s impossible.
How has touring been different during the pandemic?
We’re watching out for ourselves and wearing masks but not everyone out there is, so we have our own protocols around the band to keep everyone safe. We’re traveling around so we don’t want to give it to anyone else either. I pretty much keep my mask except for when I’m singing or when I’m around the band since we’re all vaccinated.
The restrictions are just something you have to pay attention to. Everyone has to be masked when you get on a plane and I assume they’re not login when they say clean the planes thoroughly. They do pass around little packets of disinfectant and I’ve noticed that people actually wipe down their seats when they sit down now. So things are a little bit changed.
Tell me more about how this current tour has been for you.
It’s been fun. All the gigs are great, it’s just a pain in the butt to travel. We’re playing at three Canyon Clubs including in Santa Clarita on the 18th so that’ll be a fun show. We haven’t played The Canyon Clubs in a while.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you never want to stop performing and touring. At the ripe, young age of 83, how do you keep going?
I’m noticing it, you know the body does change. But I’m still on my feet and I can still walk through the airports. Once I start playing, it’s magic to me like it always is. I hope they tell me when it’s time for me to quit, but so far I don’t think it is yet. I definitely don’t want to.
Are you looking for something new each time you go on tour or is it trying to recapture that sense of fun when playing music?
Like the other members of this band, I can’t wait until we get together again. It’s everyone’s favorite thing to do. I just can’t wait to get back out there, like “Oh boy, I get to leave tomorrow and go to Tennessee to play!”
Between performing live on tour and creating new music in a studio setting, it seems like you have a preference.
Playing live is definitely my preference but getting stuff done in the studio was really fun too, but it’s kind of hard because we all live in different parts of the country. Trying to get together is the hard part. Usually when we’re together we’re going somewhere to play. We do have a live album that’s getting ready to come out soon.
So what can Santa Claritans expect from your upcoming concert in town?
It’s going to be a lot of fun! We’ll definitely play some new stuff and there’s plenty of old stuff. We’ll play something from every era of Jefferson Starship, some Jefferson Airplane and maybe even some songs from Quicksilver Messenger Service. I’ve never heard anyone complain about our song selection.
Where do you think Jefferson Starship’s place in music history is and how do you think you fit into the modern music scene?
That’s up to the people. But I’ve noticed that when we play something new it gets as good a reaction as the old stuff. The audience seems to really like our new work. There’s people that remember all of our stuff and there are people who are hearing it for the first time, but I don’t think anyone has been disappointed.
Jefferson Starship isn’t just one sound, it’s a whole bunch of sounds but it’s rock ’n’ roll and good singing. It’s hard to pigeonhole it since it comes from so many different parts, but it all somehow holds together and you can tell it’s from the same place and has the same energy. It’s just music and music is wonderful.
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