Craig Chaquico is back in the music scene on Higher Octave Music with his instrumental CD, The Acoustic Highway. It was nothing but a pleasure speaking to Craig, about his album, and his plans. Ready for something different? Try this out for size:
George: My guest is Craig Chaquico, formerly of Starship. He currently has an album on Higher Octave Music, titled “Acoustic Highway.,” which is number 2 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart. Craig, where are you from?
Craig: Sacramento, California. That’s where I was born. Now I live in Mill Valley, California, which is just north of San Francisco.
George: What are your influences, music that you’ve grown up liking?
Craig: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Weather Report, Earth Wind & Fire. My first album was Quicksilver Messenger Service and it was my only album and I played it forever and then I got another record and I played it forever. My record collection was pretty limited when i was playing guitar, and it was pretty eclectic. On one hand, I had the first couple Led Zeppelin albums, Hendrix, Cream, you know, Pink Floyd. All that shit influenced me. You can hear it on my new record too, really, the way those records were produced and such. On the other hand I had like Chet Atkins, Wes Montgomery, Weather Report, Mysterious Traveler, Earth Wind & Fire, and Sly and the Family Stone, so I had this kind of black-funk-country-western-psychadelic-heavy metal kind of influence. You might throw Johnny Winters and Bebe King in there too because I had their albums and kind of this blues thing going, somewhere along in there too.
George: Are there any albums released recently that you are into, in like the past year or so?
Craig: I like the Enya record. I am still into stuff like Van Halen and Aerosmith is one of my favorites right now, but probably my most favorite of the recent stuff that’s out there is the Four Non Blondes album. I really like that.
George: When did you know that you wanted to go into music?
Craig: When I grew up in Sacramento, I grew up on a farm, and I think it was a law back then that acoustic guitars and farms had to go together. I was really turned on to all the wranglers and horses and cowboys who played guitar, so I was really turned on to this acoustic guitar thing. So that was when I first thought I wanted to play guitar, and then I heard guitar on the radio, and my friends played guitar, and that’s how I got started.
George: What happened after that, did you have a band before Starship or was Starship your first band?
Craig: No, I had a band before that. And when I first started I played acoustic guitar, for a couple of years. Then I was in a bad car accident where I broke both my arms, my leg, my thumb, my wrist. The first thing I asked for after I woke up from three days of cerebral concussion was for my acoustic guitar. My doctor encouraged me to keep playing because it was good for my circulation and to keep my muscles from atrophying, keep my fingers moving and stuff. I was still playing even though my arm was in a cast. On my left arm, my wrist and my thumb were covered because they were busted, but my little fingers could still stick out. And on my right arm it was the same thing, my elbow was covered and my wrist was broken, but my thumb and fingers stuck out of the cast so I could still play guitar. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded because I didn’t have to go to school for three months. All I had to do was play guitar and it got me going. After all my wheelchairs and crutches and therapy and all that, I still played guitar. I graduated to electric guitar because my dad told me about Les Paul who was in a bad car accident and busted his hand, and he said if you keep trying and keep practicing and you can get through this, when you do I’ll buy you and electric guitar. So that was my inspiration. I finally got my first guitar and it was a Les Paul, because my dad got me one and it led to other things. I was in a band in high school, and I got heard by Grace Slick and I got asked to play on their studio records and then I was asked to join Jefferson Starship. My band, Steel Wind, which actually recorded a record, on the same label that Jefferson Starship ended up being on, opened that show for what was called Jefferson Starship, and I played in both bands and then they asked me to be in Jefferson Starship. One thing led to another and I did all those records and then to make it full circle, when I went off to do my acoustic, my first solo album ended up being acoustic, and the first place I played with my acoustic material, after the record was done, was the hospital I was in 26 years ago, when I broke both my arms and my leg. I went back and played at the ward where I was.
George: Where do you get the inspiration for your music, whether it is from multiple sources or just one?
Craig: Well, I think everybody is inspired by their environment and the things that happen to them and the things they feel and that’s true with me. So literally, every song on this record was inspired by a place, or a feeling you can get within an day’s motorcycle ride of where I live in Mill Valley, in Northern California, so every song on there is about a place or a feeling that is my environment. So it’s all artist. I am inspired by my emotions and the things that happen to me and my environment. So I think this record is the most emotional playing I’ve ever had the chance to do, because all this stuff really came form the heart. Whether it is like happy songs, celebrations of life and different places on this record, or whether it’s more the kind of romantic feelings, or some of the more slower tunes, some of the more sensual songs, on the record, they are all inspired by things you come upon in a day’s ride. The first song, “Mountain in the Mist” is about the sunrise on Mt. Tamalpais, which the American Indian translation for is “the sleeping lady”, and it looks like a giant woman when you see it. To me it’s amazing, you see the shape of her nose, and her lips, and her chin, the neck, and the chest, and the stomach. It’s all on the silhouetted the mountain. And when the light hits it just right, you can see the eye sockets and her cheek bones, and her hair, and it’s a 2,800 foot mountain here in Northern California that inspires that song “Mountain in the Mist.” That’s the first place, at the start of the ride, and the rest of the album is like a whole day’s ride of the places and feelings you would get from the Redwood Forests to Stimpson Beach , and the feelings that you get along the way.
George: Why and when did you decide to release the solo album?
Craig: Well I’ve been in the Jefferson Starship for all the albums and tours, and I always wanted to make an instrumental record. I felt like being the guitar player, in the band, my job was to reflect the emotions and the feelings of the lyricist and the singer, and they got to tell the story via the lyrics and the guitar just got to reflect that mood, whatever it was, whatever feeling. So, I always wanted to do a record where the guitar could tell the story and the lyrics would be spoken in the language of music, through the guitar. The melodies would tell each story from beginning to middle to end. And that is what made me want to do an instrumental record. I thought that leaving the band would be more challenging and exciting as an artist, to do something different, instead of doing another band type thing. So it definitely has been a whole new territory for me, being able to get out and to explore something I haven’t done is really exciting and challenging and very rewarding at this point to me. And it’s being number two is like, “Wow, someone else liked it!”
George: How long did it take to write and record the album?
Craig: Well, it took a little over a year to do all of that. So many ideas had been started before that, and everything actually originated… I have to take that back, because my son is two years old in July and I started working on the material before he was born, while my wife was pregnant, which is kind of how it got started. My wife being pregnant made me start playing more acoustic guitar around the house and then as I stayed home a lot, playing for her to soothe her, and playing for my son when he was born, it seemed to help calm him down too. Everything just ended up being written on an acoustic guitar and playing acoustic makes you play different. It’s harder to play so you have to work at it more. So I guess I have to say that the writing began over 2 years ago and the actual recording took a whole year.
George: Do you have a favorite track from the album?
Craig: I have favorites for different reasons. “Sacred Ground” is my favorite in a lot of ways because it was written about one evening I was running on Mt. Tam and I running a little bit later than I usually do, and it was getting a little darker and I fell on the trail. My headphones went flying, I skinned my knee, and I went flying into the dirt. There I was, my headphones were like down in this ditch, and was I laying there in the silence listening to my heart beat and I was like, “Shit!”, you know, but in the silence I realized that it really wasn’t silent at all. I just became aware on this mountain, on this trail, after sunset, of the sound of the wind in the tress above me, and the sound of the creek in the canyon below me, and around me I heard the sound of animals, the tree trunks creaking in the wind, and the sound of the crickets everywhere, the frogs from the creek, and all of a sudden I realized that I was surrounded by this symphony of nature. I was reminded of how the Indians worshipped the spirit of the wind and the trees, they worshipped the spirit of the creek, and the spirit of the wild animals. I heard my heart beating, I remembered that they worshipped all of this as like a big picture, a big spirit, and they were a part of it too. They felt a part of nature and they lived in harmony with it and worshipped it. I got in touch with that feeling, for a minute, out there, and realized that a lot of the times when I’m running with my headphones on, I’m not aware of it. Or when I’m driving in my car and sitting in rush hour traffic, I forget that this is sacred ground and that the Indians knew it, and they worshipped it, and I want to know it too, and I want to worship it, be aware of it. So I wanted that to be part of this song, “Sacred Ground.” Originally, the idea came from my co-writer, Ozzie Ahlers. He had the melody, and then this experience on the mountain really tapped into what I wanted to create emotionally, on the guitar, when I played it. And I helped Ozzie finish the song and write it. So I came home with that whole feeling fresh in my mind and went straight into the studio, with my knee bleeding and my dusty running shoes, and everything, and I sat down because I wanted to get that feeling on tape. And because I felt that I got that across on the record, it’s one of my favorite songs.
George: How did you come to meet Ozzie?
Craig: I always liked Ozzie. I used to go see him play in all of his bands, and he used to play keyboards for Jerry Garcia and Van Morrison. He was working on a movie that he asked me to play guitar on, and I went in and worked on that with him. When we were in the studio I saw a ten-speed in the control room and I went, “Dude is that yours?” and he said, “Oh yeah, I ride my ten-speed everywhere.” I said that I liked bikes, but I like motorcycles better, and I do a lot of running on the mountain, which is like the same kind of thing, in nature and stuff and I was thinking about doing an album about all these places in Northern California where you can like go on a bike ride. He said, “Great, let’s work on it together!” I had the same kind of thought in the back of my mind. He played me some ideas, and I played him some ideas, and the next thing you know we were working on the record together.
It’s so great working with him, because he is so supportive of me, as a guitar player, instrumental, and in Starship that was the case too, but a lot of the times I had to fight for every second of guitar solos. So Ozzie was totally into this album being all about the guitar, and everything we did, we co-wrote together, so it’s as much him as it is me. But because the focus is the acoustic guitar, my name is on there, but it’s totally a co-written, co-performed, co-produced thing.
George: Does he tour and play with you as well?
Craig: Yeah, he plays with me on the road. Our bass player is Mario Cipolini, who plays bass with Huey Lewis and the News, of course, but he pays in my live band. And the drummer is Wade Olsen, so it’s a four piece band.
George: Do they mention them on this CD?
Craig: No they didn’t play on the CD. The whole record was done with me and Ozzie, but now that we play live, we’ve got Mario and Wade playing with us.
George: What has become of Starship?
Craig: Well there are two Starships out there. They each have one guy that used to be in the band, and so it’s a little confusing and I’m not in any of them, but there are two out there. They are not recording, just touring and stuff, so it’s kind of weird. People see ads with me in it and they wonder if I’m in it, but I’m not. I’d like people to know that I’m not in it, so they don’t expect me there and then wonder, “What, was Craig too hung over that night to go to the gig or what?”
George: So what do you like to do in your spare time?
Craig: I love riding my bike, it’s a way to get away from everything. No phones, no people bugging me, and I like the 360 degree view, and I like feeling the wind on my skin, and the different temperatures as you ride through different areas. I like smelling the different smells, like freshly mowed lawn, the smell of the earth as you ride by horses, and I just like being aware of all my senses when I am traveling and riding on the bike. The road will blur beneath your feet. You never get that when you are in car, and you can look all around and you can feel things and smell everything. It’s just wonderful, I love that, I just love to get away.
Another thing I like to do is run. I am an avid long distance runner. That gets me high. It’s documented that when you run, you release endorphins, and you get a buzz, and I love that high and I love it for the same reasons I like riding the bike. I just love the feeling I get afterwards, and while I’m doing it. It’s just so much fun.
I love to scuba dive for the same reasons. Scuba diving is the most like flying that I can imagine, because you’re weightless. I love to ski, for the same reasons, all that. So those are my big loves. I also like astronomy. I’m really into that. I love the science of astronomy. Also, my first love is with art, with drawing and painting, and I do that too.
George: What now, what happens next?
Craig: We’re starting to play, doing a lot of live shows, which I love to do and then there will be another record, for Higher Octave. The same kind of idea, an acoustic record, something a little different, but along the same lines. And more artwork. I’ve done a series of drawings, that go along with the poems and songs on the record. Eventually I’d like to do art shows, where I display the drawings that were inspired by the music, and play the music in an art gallery. The Bill Graham Collection actually has one of my pieces of artwork out. One of my pieces was just auctioned off at a celebrity art auction. I used to think that art would be my job, that I would be a commercial artist and that music would be my hobby, but as it turned out, music is my job, which I love, and art is my hobby. So it’s sort of funny how that reversed like that.
George: Are you planning on doing any lyrics or are they all going to be acoustic type things?
Craig: Well, for Higher Octave I want them to be all instrumentals. Grace Slick actually came to one of my shows, and it was funny because I liked seeing her there, and she gave me one of the best reviews of my album when it first came out, she just wrote me this really nice letter about it, and I kind of jokingly told her it’s been fun to tell the whole story on guitar rather than having the singer do it, because instead of just waiting for my eight bars in the middle solo, I get to do the whole song. I tell the story on guitar, from beginning, to middle, to end. She just kind of laughed at me, and said maybe on the next album I should just tell the whole story on guitar and have her come in and just do eight bars in the middle, sort of have a vocal solo. I like that idea, so I may have to take her up on that.