Jefferson Starship touching down in Rochester for Riverside finale
After a summer of dynamic shows at Mayo Park, the Think Bank Down By the Riverside free outdoor concert series has one more bill to offer ─ and some rock ‘n roll legends will send the summer off in style.
Jefferson Starship, the arena rock product that spawned from the end of ‘60s psychedelic rock stalwart Jefferson Airplane, will headline the final show in the 2018 series. The group found prominence in the late 1970s, and after a decade of turmoil regarding the lineup and the name of the group, the reunited Jefferson Starship has spent the better part of 25 years recording music and touring the country. Even after founder and rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner passed away in 2016 at age 74, the remaining members have continued the band in his honor.
We talked with two members of the band: David Freiburg, the acoustic guitarist and vocalist who was part of the original lineup (and spent time in Jefferson Airplane immediately before their breakup), and Cathy Richardson, the Grammy-nominated lead singer who has been with the group on-and-off for the last decade. Here are some highlights from the interview.
MCB: The Jefferson Starship lineup has continuously changed over the years. How have you managed to keep the band’s sound consistent through these changes?
Cathy Richardson: The sound definitely evolves too ─ those of us who are new, we’re not being asked to do an imitation. Our guitarist (Jude Gold) is amazing and has his own style. He’s not trying to imitate anyone, but he’s influenced by the originals. It’s a living, breathing, evolving thing ─ and that’s what David and Paul (Kantner) are trying to do. I’m not going to be Grace Slick, but I know I have the freedom to be myself up there.
David Freiburg: Jude always gives homage to the originals in his solos too. If I’m singing a Marty (Balin) song I’m not trying to be Marty, but I know the way he sang it and that influences me.
CR: I will say, this is just a wonderful opportunity to be in a band like this. It just feels like the perfect fit. This really is the perfect band.
DF: It’s turned into something that’s really the perfect band to be doing something like this. Every part works together.
CR: There’s no personality conflicts at all. We’re all friends … I guess, we’re a family. Our keyboard player is David’s son-in-law! We really all feel like family ─ one big extended family. In the old days of this band, there was a lot more drama and a lot more ego ─ we don’t have any of those issues anymore.
MCB: Are you continuing to write music? What’s your writing process like?
DF: Well, I’m glad you asked that question. When we started out at my home studio, we just jammed a few tunes together. We came out with a lot of stuff, and we recorded one of those songs and it’s almost mixed and ready to go. It’s called What Are We Waiting For.
CR: Donny (Baldwin) gave us a drum groove, we just started jamming, and we fleshed it out into a form. This song is completely inspired by Paul Kantner. We were the band in the last years of his life. The song is a homage to Paul and trying to use the platform to say something meaningful ─ social justice, peace, and love. That’s the gift of being in this band: being able to use our voice for positive change.
DF: Absolutely, peace and love … and we’ve had a bunch of real interesting jams lately. Here’s a bunch of new ideas ready to go.
CR: This has been a more collaborative effort than in years past. We’ve been getting everyone involved, and when you get so many talented people in a room, you get something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. We want to take advantage of the time we’re together and making music, because we’re so spread out across the country: some of us are in LA, some in northern California, and I’m living in Chicago. When we’re together on tour, the ideas just flow.
MCB: Speaking of touring, you guys are going all over the place in the next couple months. You’re coming from Colorado the day before to be in Rochester on Sunday. Does that get tiring at all?
DF: I find that I have more energy touring than when I’m not touring. If I’m just sitting around the house, I need to go do something or else I’ll get tired. Playing shows really does get me going more than anything.
CR: I’m like David. I’d get anxious sitting around the house, I gotta go do something! There’s definitely adrenaline involved, though ─ playing shows feels amazing, but by the end you realize how physically taxing being on the road is. I’ve gotta get on the David Freiburg health program, though.
MCB: What’s the David Freiburg health program?
DF: Wow, I don’t even know. I walk a little bit.
CR: No, you walk a lot. What, like ten miles a day? That treadmill gets some work.
DF: It’s not that much! (laughter) Honestly, something around five miles a day. I’m nearly 80, though. If my basketball team goes to double overtime, I might go septic.
MCB: Well, you’re coming to a town with a pretty good hospital, so I think we have to let them know about this program.
DF: We’ve gotta let Mayo Clinic know! It’s groundbreaking stuff.
MCB: So after all this, what calls you to keep making music?
DF: It’s kind of a mystery. Since I was a kid, every time I try to do something that isn’t music, I get fired … or get busted. I really can’t do anything else. I’ve been called to it for sure ─ but I never grew up thinking I could be a musician, mainly because it doesn’t feel like work.
CR: Like David, I really can’t do anything else. It’s tough though, because you go to your parents and say ‘I wanna be a rock star,’ and they’ll say ‘Okay, but find a backup plan.' Well, don’t have ‘something to fall back on,’ or you will. It’s that simple. I tried to do other things, and it honestly made me depressed. My parents came back to me and said ‘what will make you happy?,’ and I said it was to make music. They said ‘okay, let’s make a plan.’
MCB: then is there a formula to success in music? There’s a lot of people who want to make it in the industry, but that’s no small feat. How did you two do it?
DF: I’ve found it’s good to be in the right place at the right time. I caught a break, you know … it was pretty lucky to be in music in San Francisco in the 1960s. And really, as long as Cathy takes care of herself, she’s gonna be fine. She’s such a natural talent.
MCB: have one more for both of you ─ about one of your old bandmates. How is Paul Kantner’s influence still felt in your music and performances?
CR: He’s with us all the time. Dragonflies fly around us all the time on stage. We do ‘the clump’, where we get together ─ it’s not a prayer, but we get together and scream his initials. His child China is there physically a lot too. Paul was a loyal person. Once you’re in, you’re in until you quit. He loved his band more than anything, and living that gypsy life. His suitcases would be filled with crystals and fiji water and stuff, cash, knives, setlists, crackers, just everything.
DF: You never know when you might need crackers. (laughter) His mind was so interesting. He never graduated college but he had so much literary knowledge. He made the wildest leaps in his writing. It’s hard to explain, there’s not another person like him. I’ve known him well since 1962, he was my oldest friend. We had some crazy adventures together. He really was special.
What: Jefferson Starship with The Chubs
When: Sunday, August 12 at 7 p.m.
Where: Mayo Park (behind the Mayo Civic Center)
Isaac Jahns is a 2015 graduate of Mayo High School and a current journalism student at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories. Follow Isaac on Twitter.
Story produced with support from Riverside Concerts
Cover image courtesy Damion Lloyd Photography