1985. “Knee D​eep in the Hoopla” Starship. R.C.A. B.M.G.

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We Built This City” MTV Music Video from the 1985. “Knee D​eep in the Hoopla” album. Star­ship. R.C.A. B.M.G.

Record­ed at “The Record Plant” in Sausal­i­to, Cal­i­for­nia, & “The Music Grinder” in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia.

This is the last “Star­ship” album I would do. I left the band just before the next one was start­ed. Peter Wolf (not to be con­fused with the singer) had become the bands pro­duc­er for this album and he set up a sequencer com­put­er (syn­clavier) in the con­trol booth.
He slow­ly built up all the songs from a drum machine base…overdubbing vocals, real gui­tars and some per­cus­sion. He even sam­pled my bass (I had stopped play­ing key­boards after David Freiberg left the band, it was no fun for me any­more) then quan­tized it after I played it into the com­put­er on a bass key­board.
The band would only con­sid­er pos­si­ble hit AM Radio mate­r­i­al at this point. I remem­ber Peter Wolf and Mick­ey search­ing through a stack of cas­settes from out­side song­writ­ers look­ing for hits. All lyrics had to be about love and oth­er things…nothing wrong with that, but only singing about love wasn’t what “Jefferson​ Star­ship” had stood for up to that point. It had always been a band where (for bet­ter or worse) indi­vid­ual writ­ers could express them­selves through their music with­out wor­ry­ing about it being com­mer­cial enough.

Jean­nette and I were heav­i­ly into try­ing to spread aware­ness of the civ­il wars rag­ing in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca (the US were back­ing right wing dic­ta­tor­ships, many of whom were com­mit­ting geno­cide on their own peo­ple, specif­i­cal­ly Guatemala and El Sal­vador).
Jean­nette and I were also help­ing refugees from the war hid­ing out in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area. We did a radio dri­ve to raise food and cloth­ing for them. I was impressed by the will­ing­ness of Bay Area Rock radio to help, and we end­ed up with a tremen­dous response from the pub­lic as well as toy and cloth­ing com­pa­nies.
Dur­ing the mak­ing of “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” Jean­nette and I wrote a human rights song called “One More Inno­cent” (every time you close your eyes, one more inno­cent dies), but Mick­ey and the pro­duc­er (the record label had giv­en them all the pow­er, and Grace had been pushed into a back-up singer role…they want­ed to make us sound like “Jour­ney”, an impos­si­ble task) want­ed us to change the lyric to “One More Inno­cent Lie”…a protest song about geno­cide to a sap­py love song? No way…I told them I’d rather not have it on the album.
They once tried to fire my close friend Bill Laud­ner because he wouldn’t dri­ve them around to par­ties or golf cours­es and such. Bill had been a Mer­ry Prankster, and was the Jef­fer­son Air­plane, Jef­fer­son Star­ship road man­ag­er for many years and all they want­ed was some sort of go-for per­son. Def­i­nite­ly not in Bill’s job descrip­tion or personality…I spoke up for him at a meet­ing and called them all (except Grace who liked Bill) spoilt. He wasn’t fired.
I was increas­ing­ly at odds with them, so it was just a mat­ter of time before I was out of there.
“We Built This City” became a big hit, as was “Sara” writ­ten by Peter and Ina Wolf…a very skill­ful­ly craft­ed song. Peter Wolf was a skill­ful key­board play­er also…but he and the band were try­ing too hard to move with the times. Every­thing began to sound con­trived. I guess I was too old school…whatever that is.
We did a stu­pid MTV video for a hor­ri­ble movie called “Man­nequin” which used our song “Noth­ings Gonna Stop Us Now”…which became a sort of hit. The only good thing I got out of shoot­ing the video was meet­ing the famous cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Dave Myers (he shot Woodstock)…we had a pro­found con­ver­sa­tion over the food table and became close friends until his death (he was much old­er than I). Jean­nette and I still vis­it his wife Bar­bara Myers who lives in Mill Val­ley and is a won­der­ful artist.

You are a part of a band or orga­ni­za­tion and some­times it changes so grad­u­al­ly and imper­cep­ti­bly that you can’t see the for­est for the trees. The “Star­ship” I left in 1987 was unrec­og­niz­able from the “Jef­fer­son Star­ship” I joined in 1974.
The major break of course was the riot in Ger­many in 1978 when Grace left the band for one album and we found a new singer, Mick­ey Thomas. With Lar­ry Cox no longer at the helm, dif­fer­ent pro­duc­ers would do their best to make us into some­thing we were not…a slick pop band…which we were just no good at.

I was hap­py to be out of there…although I had to go into ther­a­py for about a year after­wards. My main ther­a­py though was plung­ing back into the blues with peo­ple like Nick Gravenites…playing clubs like the “Saloon”, and the “Sweet­wa­ter”.
I almost got a band togeth­er with Frank Mari­no of “Mahogany Rush” and Ayns­ley Dunbar…but we couldn’t find a singer we liked…I have a fan­tas­tic instru­men­tal record­ing we did in my stu­dio though. We had a record com­pa­ny inter­est­ed.
My income lev­el dropped dras­ti­cal­ly, and my broth­er in law (who I was very close with) got bust­ed for smug­gling Hash and sen­tenced to ten years in Ter­mi­nal Island under Reagan’s new Min­i­mum Manda­to­ry Sen­tenc­ing laws.

Jer­ry gave me a big card­board box full of live Grate­ful Dead cas­sette tapes so I could try out for the key­board slot left by the trag­ic death of Brent Myd­land.
I had played key­boards a lot with Jer­ry, Bob­by and Mick­ey, but my role had nev­er been as a vocal­ist since my start as a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian in 1964.
Jer­ry and Bob­by came over to my house in Mill Val­ley with their acoustic gui­tars and I jammed with them upstairs on my grand piano for a bit…then Jer­ry said, well that works. We then went down to my stu­dio where I had my syn­the­siz­ers set up…I did this because I’d been told by what I thought was a reli­able source that they weren’t real­ly look­ing to replace Brent on piano and B3, but want­ed more of a synth play­er (which I hat­ed at the time). I tried to sing as best I could, but it just didn’t feel right. After that meet­ing every­one at the office and sound com­pa­ny were actu­al­ly telling me they’d heard I had the job…but I’d say “no, it just doesn’t feel right”.
I was called down to Front Street to audi­tion with the band…I stu­pid­ly set-up my synth gear (which I hat­ed and didn’t have much of any­way) instead of just play­ing what they already had set up.
I had told myself ear­li­er that I nev­er want­ed to play a synth again after the “Star­ship” fiasco…I just want­ed to play piano and B3. The irony of it.
Any­way, when we got to the par­al­lel high lead vocal bit on “Playin In The Band” I knew I wasn’t the right guy for the job. As I left the build­ing, Vince was sit­ting there wait­ing to play…I knew already he was the right man because of his strong vocal chops, and he was a great play­er as well of course. Trag­ic what hap­pened to him. Bob Hunter and I sat out­side and he helped me process things for a bit…then I got in my car and drove home feel­ing a bit shell shocked. I knew I hadn’t done that well…I told myself I should have just gone in and jammed with them…do what I do.

After a while I got the call from Den­nis McNal­ly who told me they had decid­ed to go with Vince.
Jer­ry also called and told me I was vot­ed num­ber two, and Joel Selvin of the Chron­i­cle said he’d heard the same from a reli­able source. (That’s prob­a­bly what they told all the guys 🙂 I have since heard from two peo­ple who were extreme­ly close to Jer­ry that he had vot­ed for me…who knows?
It was prob­a­bly for the best any­way.
I took some singing lessons for a while after that…it at least gave me some con­fi­dence on the mike.
Jer­ry once put me and David Nel­son togeth­er and said we ought to get a band together…he arranged for David to come over my house. We hit it off…I liked him a lot. The prob­lem was Dave had been exper­i­ment­ing with sequencers and syn­the­siz­ers pro­gram­ming this amaz­ing Bach music…I was doing every­thing pos­si­ble to get away from that stuff (sequencers…not the Bach) and just play piano and B3. Any­way it wasn’t the right time for us…but I now play with David when we get the David Nel­son Band togeth­er a cou­ple of times a year for fun. David is the real deal…he was very close with jer­ry, and the “New Rid­ers”, his main gig sound great. My old Hot Tuna band-mate Michael Falzara­no also plays with them. I love David’s root­sy writing…and he and Hunter have been work­ing togeth­er a lot.
Soon after all that we lost our house in Mill Val­ley and moved to Woodacre. I did the “Earth Day” show at Crissy Field in San Fran­cis­co with my bud­dy Nick Graven­ites.
In 1988 I pro­duced the music and pro­cured the musi­cians for the “Sovi­et Amer­i­can Peacwalk” at the Band Shell in Gold­en Gate Park which drew 20,000 peo­ple thanks to my friend’s Jer­ry Gar­cia, and Grace Slick etc.

Jean­nette and I got into pro­duc­ing a non-prof­it human rights video about the Geno­cide of the Mayan peo­ple in Guatemala that was fund­ed by Jer­ry Gar­cia. Made an album with a sav­ing the earth theme, where Jeannette’s lyrics reflect­ed our con­cerns over human rights, the dis­ap­pear­ing rain­forests and oth­er envi­ron­men­tal issues. It was called “Watch­fire” and Mick­ey Hart, Jer­ry Gar­cia, David Gris­man, Mimi Fari­na, Baba Olatun­ji and oth­er friends joined me on the album which was put out by Hol­ly Near’s “Red­wood Records” and lat­er by “Grate­ful Dead Records” at Jerry’s urg­ing. It was a very non-com­mer­cial album…recorded live in the stu­dio with many weird instru­ments and giant choirs etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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