Early 1970s in San Francisco, California
More than any other band perhaps during the rock music era, Jefferson Starship (as well as its mid-'80s variation Starship) boasts a confusing, nebulous history. Essentially, the group experienced at least two separate careers within its roughly decade-long initial existence. For about half the time, the Starship was a mellow '70s soft rock band dominated by frequent lead vocalist Marty Balin. Then it transformed into a guitar-oriented arena rock band centered primarily on new singer Mickey Thomas. It's arguable that there was even another distinct period before the pop era of Starship began. Read on to find out.
Primary '80s-Era Band Members:
- Mickey Thomas (born John Michael Thomas on December 3, 1949 in Cairo, Georgia) - Lead vocals, songwriter
- Craig Chaquico (born September 26, 1954 in Sacramento, California) - Lead guitar, songwriter, synthesizer, backing vocals
- Paul Kantner (born Paul Lorin Kantner on March 17, 1941 in San Francisco) - Guitar, songwriter, backing vocals
- Grace Slick (born Grace Barnett Wing on October 30, 1939 in Evanston, Illinois) - Lead vocals, backing vocals, songwriter
- Pete Sears (born May 27, 1948 in Bromley, Kent, England) - Bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, songwriter
- David Freiberg (born August 24, 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio) - Keyboards, bass guitar, backing vocals, songwriter
- Aynsley Dunbar (born Aynsley Thomas Dunbar on January 10, 1946 in Liverpool, England)- Drums, percussion
From early 1974 through 1978, Jefferson Starship centered mostly around the lead vocal talents of Balin, which graced the most successful hits of this mellow, soft rock period that included the classic tunes "Miracles," "Count on Me" and "Runaway." Ties to parent group Jefferson Airplane certainly remained at this point, even as Chaquico supplied something approaching hard rock guitars. Nevertheless, the eclectic, ensemble nature of the band's music during this stretch gave way to an increasingly album-oriented rock (AOR) approach as the '70s came to a close. The departures of both Balin and (temporarily) Slick in 1978 opened the door completely for this rather drastic stylistic shift.
'80s Embrace of Arena Rock Sound:
With the addition of formerly blues rock singer Thomas, the second phase of Jefferson Starship kicked off with a bang on 1979's Freedom at Point Zero. The full-tilt melodic riff rock of the impressive single "Jane" showed immediately that Thomas's voice could function effectively within a moderately hard rock style. 1981's "Find Your Way Back" continued to showcase the contributions of songwriter Chaquico as well as the talented ensemble. Still, following the rocking "Layin' It on the Line" from 1984's Nuclear Furniture, the band began to move into a mainstream pop direction Kantner could no longer live with, evidenced perhaps most on the popular single "No Way Out."
Kantner's Exit Forces Another Major Transition:
Kantner may have endured and perhaps even encouraged the Starship's initial move from mellow classic rock to arena rock and hard rock, but he was flatly unwilling to stay on for an unabashed evolution into commercial pop/rock. Therefore, by summer of 1984 Kantner had abruptly left the band he started, taking the "Jefferson" part of its name and opening the door for a Thomas/Slick makeover of the group into a scarcely rock-oriented adult contemporary pop outfit. Sears remained for one album, but the previously mentioned pair of singers joined with production specialists to launch the new but not necessarily improved Starship.