Papa John Creach
Text copyright 2000 Adrian Brown
Born in 1917 in Beaver Falls, PA, “Papa” John Creach began playing violin in Chicago bars when the family moved there in 1935, and eventually joined a local cabaret band, the Chocolate Music Bars. Moving to L.A. in 1945, he played in the Chi Chi Club, spent time working on an ocean liner, appeared in “a couple of pictures”, and performed as a duo with Nina Russell.
In 1967, while playing at the Parisian Room, he was “discovered” by drummer Joey Covington. When Covington joined the Airplane in 1970, he introduced them to Creach, who was invited to join the band. The audience reaction to his tune-up alone convinced the rest of the Airplane that he was a worthwhile addition to the bands line-up. In addition to playing with the Airplane, Creach also joined Hot Tuna, and the Jefferson Starship, before leaving in August 1976 to concentrate on his solo career. Despite this, he returned as a guest performer on the spring 1978 Jefferson Starship tour. A year later, he renewed his working relationship with Joey Covington as a member of the San Francisco All-Stars (1979-84), and also Covington’s Airplane predecessor, Spencer Dryden, as a member of the Dinosaurs (1982-89). He also continued with occasional guest appearances with Hot Tuna, and was on stage at the Fillmore West that night in 1988 when Casady and Kaukonen were reunited with Kantner and Slick for the first time since the end of the Airplane. Papa John Creach died in February 1994 at the age of 76.
(pictured at left)
Text copyright 2000 Adrian Brown
While at San Luis Obispo (CA) High School, he started drumming in a band called the Sentinals, who recorded two albums before he graduated in 1964. In 1966, he joined the Strangers with Joel Scott Hill (later of Canned Heat) and Bob Mosley (later with Moby Grape). He then joined the Turtles from 1966 to 1969, and then Crosby Stills Nash & Young (1970). He also became an in-demand session musician, appearing on some 60 albums up to 1975 by Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Dave Mason and others.
When Joey Covington quit the Airplane in 1972, David Crosby recommended John Barbata as a replacement, and he appeared on “Long John Silver”, as well as the live “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”. When the Airplane collapsed in 1972, he continued working with Kantner and Slick, appearing on their solo projects, before becoming the original drummer for Jefferson Starship.
He drummed for the band all through the multi-million selling 1970′s, but was forced to leave the band following a serious road accident in October 1978, in which he was badly hurt and his passenger died. By the time he recovered from his injuries, he had been replaced by Aynsley Dunbar. He subsequently went on to form a band with Spirit bassist Alex Staehely, and later returned to session work. He now lives in Oklahoma, and still plays the drums regularly.
Text copyright 2000 Adrian Brown
Self-taught in percussion at the age of 10, Joey Covington started out playing drums in polka bands. By the time he was 14, he had graduated to backing strippers at a club in Johnstown, PA. Moving to New York in 1965, he got his professional break backing singer Danny Apollinar, before joining the Fenways in 1966. He then moved to California, where he met fiddler Papa John Creach in the summer of 1967. Despite their 28-year age difference, they became lifelong friends.
In California, he joined a band called Tsong, and sometime around 1968, met Marty Balin and Bill Thompson. This meeting resulted in Joey being invited to play and record with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady leading to the formation, in 1969, of Hot Tuna. He later guested on Volunteers, and sometimes drummed onstage alongside Spencer Dryden. When Spencer was fired from the Airplane in 1970, Joey was the natural successor. Unfortunately, this was the time the band began to fragment into its various factions. Quitting Hot Tuna in 1970, following a dispute which also ended Marty Balin’s brief tenure as a member of that band, he later quit the Airplane sometime about April 1972.
He only appears on one full Jefferson Airplane album, “Bark”, on which he co-wrote two songs including the band’s last chart single “Pretty As You Feel”. He also played the drums on Paul Kantner’s “Blows Against The Empire”. By the time of the band’s last studio album “Long John Silver”, he was involved in a great many other projects, and only appears on two songs. Unhappy with his position within the band, he sat out the final tour, and , although still officially a band member at the time, does not appear on the live “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”.
Following his departure from the band, he appeared on Peter Kaukonen’s “Black Kangaroo”, before forming his own band, Fat Fandango. Following the failure of this band, he faded from view, briefly re-surfacing as co-writer of Jefferson Starship’s “With Your Love” in 1976.
Text copyright 1998 Greg Gildersleeve
David Freiberg has played a varied role in San Francisco rock. He started out as bass player and vocalist for Quicksilver Messenger Service, but found fame and fortune as bassist and keyboard player for Jefferson Starship. In between, he was brought in to replace Marty Balin as lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, a role for which David, who has been described as amiable and easy-going, seemed ill-suited.
David was born August 24, 1938, in Boston, MA, but grew up in Cincinnati, OH. His family had a background in classical music — his grandfather, an orthopedic surgeon, was an amateur violinist — and David even made the Ohio All-State Orchestra as a violist and violinist while in high school. After graduating in 1956, David married, then moved to California in 1959. The marriage soon ended, however, and David taught himself the guitar and began performing in folk clubs. In 1962, he began singing in a duo called David and Michaela, who played their last show on February 9, 1964, the night the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. David also joined a trio called the Folksingers of Peace, who reportedly were deported from Mexico for being subversive.
During 1963-64, David lived in a “proto-hippie commune” in Los Angeles with Paul Kantner and David Crosby. According to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joel Selvin, David found himself busted for drugs on two separate occasions in 1965. During the first stretch in jail, he was visited by Paul, who announced the formation of his new band, Jefferson Airplane. On the night before he began his second sentence, he heard his other friend, Crosby, singing with the Byrds on the radio. In an LSD-induced epiphany, David decided that rock ‘n’ roll was the way to go. Upon his release, he learned to play bass and soon co-founded Quicksilver Messenger Service.
QMS achieved notoriety as one of the last major San Francisco bands to sign a recording contract; after watching many of their contemporaries get burned, they refused to sign until Capitol Records agreed to all of their demands. But after a promising start with two legendary albums — their eponymous debut in 1968, and Happy Trails in 1969 — QMS fell prey to personnel changes and drifted aimlessly. In 1970, they achieved a moderate hit with Fresh Air, but faded into obscurity just a few years later.
While in QMS, David married Julia “Girl” Dreyer. Although it was a marriage of convenience, intended to keep the teen-aged runaway out of jail, they stayed together for several years and had a daughter, Jessica (b. ca. 1967).
In September 1971, David began yet another jail sentence for drugs, which effectively ended his tenure with Quicksilver. He did session work and lived on unemployment for a time, until his old friend, Paul Kantner, called in 1972, and asked him to join Jefferson Airplane for its upcoming tour. David handled the vocal chores abdicated by Marty Balin and appeared on the live set, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973).
David soon began collaborating with Paul and Grace Slick, and was given equal billing on their 1973 effort, Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. He also assisted Paul in completing Grace’s solo album, Manhole (1974). Largely out of the public eye since leaving Jefferson Starship in the 1980s, David owns Free Mountain Studios near Novato, CA, and occasionally sings with the refurbished QMS, known simply as Quicksilver. He contributed backing vocals to their albums Piece by Peace (1986) and Shape Shifter (1996), and guested on Quicksilver’s 2000 tour. While recording Piece by Peace, he met singer Linda Imperial, with whom he’s been romantically involved ever since.
Text copyright 2000 Adrian Brown
One of the original members of Jefferson Airplane, Signe Toly was a respected folk singer before joining the band. Soon after joining the Airplane, she married the Matrix’s lighting director (and former Prankster) Jerry Anderson. It was her departure in 1966, following the birth of her first daughter, which bought Grace Slick into the band.
Following her departure from the band, she returned to Oregon, where she sang for nine years with a ten-piece band. Then, in 1975, she was diagnosed with cancer, which she eventually beat. By 1977, she had married a local building contractor, Michael Alois Ettlin, and had decided to retire from singing.
In recent years, she has made the occasional guest appearance with both the KBC Band and Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation, but remains in official retirement from performing, and currently works in a department store. Sometime around 1996 she had some further medical problems, which caused serious atrophy of her legs. Fortunately, medical intervention corrected this problem, but caused severe financial hardship for Signe and her family.
Alex “Skip” Spence
Text copyright 1998 Greg Gildersleeve
Alex “Skip” Spence is better known as guitarist for another legendary San Francisco band, Moby Grape, but he managed to play drums for Jefferson Airplane just long enough to appear on their first album. Unfortunately, both of his music roles became overshadowed by decades of mental illness exacerbated, if not brought on, by drug abuse. Today, Skip, who died in 1999, is remembered either with fondness as a lost genius of the ’60s, or as one of rock’s most tragic drug casualties.
Alexander Lee Spence Jr. was born April 18,1946, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the son of a decorated war hero of the Canadian Air Force. Skip’s father was also a jazz pianist whose career resulted in several relocations — to Cincinnati, New York, Arizona, and, finally, California. Skip reportedly grew up as a normal kid whose sole eccentricity was phoning Little Richard to protest the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s decision to give up music for the ministry.
Upon being discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1965, Skip auditioned as guitarist for an early version of Quicksilver Messenger Service. QMS were rehearsing at the San Francisco club the Matrix.
The Airplane’s Marty Balin thought Skip looked like a drummer and invited him to join, even though Skip had only limited experience playing drums. Skip proved to be a quick study, however, and reportedly mastered the drums in two weeks.
But Skip was ill-suited to being the drummer and longed to be a front man. Then in May 1966, shortly after the album was completed, Skip was allegedly fired for missing rehearsals. The 20-year-old drummer had taken a holiday to Mexico without telling the rest of the band. (Reportedly, he did tell manager Matthew Katz, who failed to inform the others.)
Skip didn’t seem to mind being fired; he was already laying plans to form his own band, also to be managed by Katz. He remained on friendly terms with the Airplane, who recorded his song My Best Friend for their second album, and even released it as a single. (In a small touch of irony, My Best Friend became the Airplane’s first chart single six months after Skip left.) (Another of Skip’s songs for the Airplane, the enigmatically titled J.P.P. McStep B. Blues, would later be resurrected on Early Flight.)
In September 1966, Skip formed Moby Grape, which also included guitarists Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller, bassist Bob Mosley, and drummer Don Stevenson. Moby Grape went on to become briefly famous and the subject of everlasting notoriety. Fondly remembered as one of the best of the San Francisco groups, they specialized in short, psychedelic pop tunes instead of run-on jams. But their commercial appeal was sabotaged when their record company released all ten songs from their debut LP as five singles. Radio stations, not knowing which song to promote, stayed away from all of them.
Then, in a move that further reduced Moby Grape’s reputation to gimmickry, their second album contained a song that could only be played at 78 rpm. The members of Moby Grape, of course, did their own part to undermine their chances of being taken seriously. Skip, along with Lewis and Miller, was arrested in the company to under-aged girls. Then Skip’s already tenuous hold on reality was compromised further by drugs. After running amok with a fire axe, Skip was confined to the prison ward of Bellevue Mental Hospital in New York, in 1968. There, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Moby Grape continued without him for a time before splitting up and reforming several times, with and without Skip.
Skip returned to the music business long enough to record his only solo album, Oar, in 1969. Proving once again that he was a quick study, he played every instrument. Rolling Stone Magazine, however, dismissed it as a “joke,” full of “haphazard folk music” and “sad, clumsy tunes that seem to laugh at themselves.” Oar reportedly became the lowest selling album in Columbia Record’s catalogue and subsequently a much sought-after collector’s item.
Before vanishing from an active role in music forever, Skip played one final, crucial role in launching another very successful band. When West Virginia drummer John Hartman came west to join an aborted Moby Grape reunion, Skip introduced him to guitarist/singer Tom Johnston. Hartman and Johnston went on to form the Doobie Brothers.
Skip spent most of the next two decades in and out of mental institutions and battling alcoholism. He was named a ward of Santa Cruz County and, by 1994, was living in a residential care home in San Jose. He had only recently been reunited with his four children. He continued to perform occasionally and, in 1996, was briefly reunited with Moby Grape. That year, he also wrote and recorded a song for the X-Files movie soundtrack, featuring his old Airplane colleague, Jack Casady. The song, Land of the Sun, was not selected for the final cut. (It subsequently showed up as a bonus track on the 1999 Tribute album More Oar.)
Meanwhile, Skip’s health continued to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. On April 5, 1999, he entered a Santa Cruz hospital and died there on April 16, two days before his 53rd birthday.
Skip’s talent, however, continues to inspire musicians such as Robert Plant, Tom Waits, and Beck, who recorded their own versions of his songs on More Oar two months after his death.