published Friday, June 10th, 2011

Starship still shoots for the heavens

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, center, will perform hits from Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship.
Contributed photo
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, center, will perform hits from Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship. Contributed photo

When Georgia native Mickey Thomas joined the popular band Jefferson Starship as its lead singer 30 years ago, little did he know the band would one day bear his name: Starship featuring Mickey Thomas.

Jefferson Airplane morphed into Jefferson Starship, and, ultimately, Starship.

The band has recently been reconstituted, and its show features an expanded set list that includes the hits of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship. Also included in the transformation is the addition of female vocalist Stephanie Calvert.

“I consider myself lucky that I’ve not only been able to have hits along the way of my career, but to have songs that are lasting and enduring,” Thomas said in a telephone interview. “People associate songs like ‘We Built This City’ and ‘Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now’ with the fabric of their lives. They can remember certain events in their lives based on the songs. I’ve got five or six of those that are lasting. That’s why in our show we go back and pay tribute to the entire musical history of the band. The fans want to hear it.”

Thomas said he enjoyed growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.

“We got to experience the British Invasion first with music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and more,” Thomas said. “It had a profound effect on me and led me to where I am today.”

After high school, Thomas left his southern Georgia hometown of Cairo for college at Valdosta State, 60 miles away.

“I thought my band days were over,” he said. “But when I got to college, I found there were other musicians like me, and we started jam sessions and formed a college band. As fate has it, I met a gospel singer who wanted me to sing with his band. I moved to California and sang with him for a year and developed my own singing style. I was 21.”

Meanwhile, the folks back home were shocked that Thomas left Georgia for the West Coast. His family still lives there today.

“I remember my father saying, ‘Son, for everyone who makes it in California, there are 10,000 people washing dishes.’ But it was something I had to go for.”

Thomas said he got his big break when he began singing with the Elvin Bishop Group. One of the band’s songs, “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” was a No. 3 single in 1976.

In early 1979, Thomas was asked to join Jefferson Starship after the departure of Marty Balin and Grace Slick, according to mickeythomas.com. Slick would later rejoin the band for another six or seven years.

Local singer/musician Robert Grier (who’ll perform July 8 at Nightfall with the A.J. Valcarcel’s Bitter Lesson band) said Jefferson Airplane is one of his favorite rock bands from the 1960s.

“Since I’m 57 and can well remember the ‘Summer of Love,’ the original Jefferson Airplane will always be one of my favorite psychedelic rock bands from the ’60s and early ’70s,” Grier said.

“It’s interesting to note that for [Jefferson] Starship’s final commercial success, roughly 1985, all the big hits were written by outside sources,” Grier said. “The rights to the name Starship are held in part by Thomas, who continues to perform under that name. He’s an excellent singer.”

Thomas said Starship has fans of all ages.

“Younger people are coming on board,” he said. “We’re a large part of the appeal of classic rock. When they come to see us play, they see that we can deliver the goods on stage. By and large, new bands/new artists don’t translate that well to the stage.”

In addition to Thomas and Calvert, Starship band members include Phil Bennett, keyboard and background vocals; Darrell Verdusco, drums; Jeff Adams, bass and background vocals; and Mark Abrahamian, guitar.

If you go

  • What: Starship featuring Mickey Thomas
  • Where: Riverbend’s Bud Light Stage
  • When: tonight, 7:45-9 p.m.
about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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June 10, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.
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