Thursday, December 1, 2011 , Updated 3:59 p.m., December 19, 2011
A few weeks ago I found myself in Marshall, Texas at the most unlikely of venues.
MARSHALL Music has changed so much over the past 50 years and not all for the better. In my opinion, some of the stuff they now call music is really nothing more than noise: a bombardment of obscenities and vulgarities wrapped around an attempted rhythm that is in no way appealing to me. But, that’s my opinion. When it comes to music, I like a lot of today’s country, but my “roots” will always be the rock and roll of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
I am a child from another era, and because of that, I grew up listening to great artists such as Janis Joplin, The Who, Big Brother & the Holding Company, CCR, the Rolling Stones and a list of others. Some of those “others” are still around, still touring, still packing houses and bringing their brand of old time rock and roll to a brand new generation.
A few weeks ago I found myself in Marshall, Texas at the most unlikely of venues. An old brick building that was originally constructed during the early 20th century as the “City Laundry” has now been renovated and transformed into the Marshall Visual Arts Center. Approaching the old red brick exterior with its steel framed 12-pane windows you might think that walking through the doorway would be like stepping back in time. But upon entering the building, any thoughts of antiquity quickly disappear as obvious changes and updates to the interior immediately catch your attention. As a person who loves history, I found it comforting to know that there were still those who would keep what has been around for so many years and transform it to conform to the needs of today. Too often we find old buildings bulldozed to the ground to make way for something new and trendy. But, for those who are looking, there is still a lot of life left in things that have withstood the test of time. On this night, taking the stage was a band who helped shape a generation of people. Yes, the building has survived and flourished, as have the performers taking the stage.
Jefferson Starship, originally known and forever to me as Jefferson Airplane, sprang upon the world of rock and roll music over 40 years ago. The music of that era, like the times, was very different back then with young men dying in a very unpopular war in a faraway place known as Vietnam while many others in this country were protesting that war. A common denominator for both sides was music, and some would say that those 37 bands that performed at Woodstock in 1969 forever changed a generation. Taking the stage that day in August was Jefferson Airplane and, while that may seem like a long time ago, I would have to say they sound even better now. Yes, some of the faces have changed, and it’s hard to hide aging faces under stage lights, but the sound and the energy coming from that stage was incredible; just as incredible now as it was then.
I had the unique opportunity to spend some time with members of Jefferson Starship backstage before the show. I have always found the best way to interview anyone is to simply let them talk by keeping my questions to a minimum. The justification for that is simple: I can get all the statistical data simply by doing a little research. I wanted to hear what they had to say and was not surprised at how candidly they talked about their music, the changing times of music and life on the road.
I did have to ask though, “Is it Starship or Airplane?” And was pleasantly surprised at the answer. It was agreed that most of the “catalog” of songs they perform are from the Airplane era, with just a few spilling over into Starship and while some of the faces to the band are “new,” there is no mistaking the sound, the attitude and the “give it all to them” performance so true of Jefferson Airplane. According to Cathy Richardson, lead female vocalist of the group, “We really don’t play much past 1979... we are more psychedelic than that and the roots go much deeper.” In addition to their own songs, it was quickly pointed out to me that once the show gets started they could just as easily step off into song and verse from other greats such as the Beatles, David Bowie, Heart, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The band had performed in Little Rock, Arkansas the night before and was scheduled to be in Houston in two days for one last performance before they ended their tour for the year. So how does Jefferson Starship end up in Marshall, Texas? Cathy Richardson quickly summed it up with, “The hard part about touring is all the down time, the traveling and the driving. It’s when we get on stage, it’s like time evaporates and it’s awesome. I love being able to go to all of these little towns that I would otherwise never get to see.”
The auditorium was packed as Jefferson Starship took the stage. There was no “grand” entrance with pompous fanfare, waving of hands and pumping for applause. In fact, it was quite the opposite as band members seemingly ran onto the stage, grabbed their instruments, and immediately burst into “Somebody to Love,” bringing the audience to their feet, and there was no doubting that on this night, Jefferson Starship owned the Marshall Visual Arts Center.
I would have never recognized David Freiberg on the street. Though his hair (now completely gray) is still longer, the glasses and his physique transform him into a different looking person. Having said that, when Freiberg picked up his guitar and began to sing “Jane” (a song which he wrote,) there was no mistaking who the man was. Chris Smith on the keyboards never quit smiling the entire show. Slick Aquilar held the audience spellbound with his guitar as they “talked” to one another. Donnie Baldwin has been on the drums for the band since 1979 and still hits as hard and steady now as then, proven as his drum solo halfway through the show had everyone on their feet. Sadly, Paul Kantner, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, was missing this night as he was recovering from a back injury. But the band played on without him. Cathy Richardson has taken the role of lead vocals made famous by Grace Slick, and there is no mistaking that Cathy owns that role now. Not to take anything away from Grace, but I have to say that Cathy brings her own style of enthusiasm and melody to the songs that make them hers, and she was awesome!
From the beginning to the end of their over 90 minute show, people were on their feet, singing, dancing and having a great time while the band played and sang such hits as “Miracles”, “Count on Me”, “Jane” and the famous “White Rabbit.” It was a great concert, and while taking many of us back to another time, it also made great memories for a lot of the younger crowd and new fans in the audience. As a dear friend of mine would say, “It was off the chain!” and surprisingly enough, it was right here in Marshall, Texas!