Rock band to perform hits, including Jefferson Airplane classics, in Ojai
David Freiberg remembers Paul Kantner, who co-founded Jefferson Airplane and stayed when the band became Jefferson Starship.
“Paul could be a curmudgeon. And he could be the funniest guy you ever met. He loved poetry, he loved music, he loved freedom,” Mr. Freiberg, the vocalist and rhythm guitarist who played with Jefferson Airplane and still performs with Jefferson Starship, told the News-Press by phone from his Marin County home.
“He was one of a kind. There will be never be another Paul Kantner,” Mr. Frieberg said about his bandmate, who died in 2016 at age 74. “Who else would write a song about a bunch of hippies that hijacks the first starship and take it out to space? What a concept!”
Mr. Kantner and Mr. Frieberg left in 1984 when Jefferson Starship became simply Starship, the band famous for the 1985 anthem “We Built This City (On Rock and Roll).” But the band has been known as Jefferson Starship since the 1990s, and Mr. Freiberg is back with it.
“It’s great being on stage with this band. It’s really fun for me at this point in my life,” Mr. Freiberg, 82, said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”
Mr. Freiberg said he expects China Slick Kantner, the daughter of Jefferson Airplane singer (and former Jefferson Starship and Starship vocalist) Grace Slick and Mr. Kantner, will show up in the audience when Jefferson Starship performs Saturday in Ojai. Ms. Kantner is a TV, movie and stage actress who lives in Los Angeles.
The concert is set for 5 p.m. at the Libbey Bowl, 210 S. Signal St., where Jefferson Starship has played previously.
The band’s long history began when Jefferson Airplane was formed in 1965 in San Francisco. Mr. Freiberg joined Jefferson Airplane in 1972 and stayed when it became Jefferson Starship.
Between 1974 and 1984, Jefferson Starship released eight gold and platinum albums, 20 hit singles and sold out concerts around the world.
But Mr. Freiberg said he left when the band became simply Starship in 1984 because he didn’t like the fact the group was playing songs written by people outside the band.
“That wasn’t fun for me, not having anything to do with the creation of the songs,” he said.
Mr. Kantner also left the band in 1984, and Ms. Slick left in 1988. After Starship was dissolved, Mr. Kantner revived Jefferson Starship in 1992.
“Paul asked me in 2005 if I wanted to come and sit on a set,” Mr. Freiberg said. “I sang lead on a couple of songs, and it was fun. Then he asked me to play the next gig with him, and I did. I never stopped.”
Today, the band consists of Mr. Freiberg on vocals and rhythm guitar, Grammy nominee Cathy Richardson on lead vocals, Donny Baldwin on drums, Chris Smith on synth bass and keyboards, and Jude Gold on lead guitar.
Jefferson Starship continues to play “White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” “Miracles,” “Count on Me,” “Jane” (penned by Mr. Freiberg), “Find Your Way Back,” “Sara” (a Starship song that Mr. Freiberg loves) and, of course, “We Built This City.”
Fans have considered “We Built This City” to be about San Francisco because Jefferson Airplane and its subsequent bands were from there. And the song features a DJ talking about traveling onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Guess again, Mr. Freiberg told the News-Press.
“They were closing all these cool rock clubs in Los Angeles. That’s what the song was about,” Mr. Freiberg said.
He said Jefferson Starship is careful to play the hits from all of the band’s eras under different names. “We do Starship songs because you wouldn’t want to leave out someone’s wedding songs.”
Mr. Freiberg said he likes the songs from the various eras, including those from the Jefferson Airplane period.
“ ‘Somebody to Love” is a really nice song, written by Darby Slick, a guitar player from the Great Society and Grace’s brother-in-law,” Mr. Freiberg said.
Mr. Freiberg remembers when Ms. Slick, who hasn’t sung professionally in recent decades, was with the band. “She was a lot of fun to sing with.”
Ms. Slick has been involved with Jefferson Starship’s recent efforts to produce new songs. She co-wrote the lyrics on “It’s About Time,” one of the songs on “Mother of the Sun,” a Jefferson Starship album released last year.
“ ‘It’s About Time’ is a great song,” Mr. Freiberg said.
He said the song explains “it’s about time women ruled the world, and it’s about time men realize they always did.”
Ms. Slick doesn’t sing on the album, but finds other ways to be creative, Mr. Freiberg said. “She has a good time painting. She’s quite a good artist. She sells her paintings; she does pretty well with that.”
Mr. Freiberg noted Jefferson Starship has had its share of personnel changes.
“Right now, we have a very cohesive band,” he said.
“Cathy Richardson, the lead singer, joined us in 2008,” he said. “Chris Smith, the keyboardist, has been playing in Jefferson Starship since 1998. He’s been there a good long time, 23 years now. Donny Baldwin, the drummer, joined Jefferson Starship in 1982. Jude Gold joined in 2012.” (Mr. Baldwin left when the band became Starship in 1984, but returned in 2008.)
Mr. Freiberg said Ms. Richardson is similar to Ms. Slick with her take-charge attitude. “And she can interpret Grace really well. She can sing her songs really well, without imitating her, just by being herself. Yet, you can still hear Grace there.
“She’s an extremely powerful personality and a great singer,” he said. “She had been a Jefferson Starship fan since she was a teenager. She had two favorite bands. One was Heart. One was Jefferson Starship.
“When she joined us, we realized she knew all our songs, including the Jefferson Airplane songs, probably better than Paul did.”