They’ve donned different names over the years — Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and simply Starship — but through it all, one title remains: Rock & Roll Hall of Famers.
The latest lineup plays the historic Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
“Expect to hear things from the whole Jefferson experience, from Airplane all the way up through our new release, ‘Mother of the Sun,'” singer/guitarist David Freiberg told WTOP.
Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, California, Jefferson Airplane’s early years consisted of Marty Balin (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass) and Spencer Dryden (drums).
After their debut album “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off” (1966), their second album “Surrealistic Pillow” (1967) delivered a massive hit with Slick belting “Somebody to Love.”
“Her poise and her sense of presence on stage was unique to her,” Freiberg said. “Nobody else was like her. Her presence came through the microphone.”
It also featured the psychedelic “White Rabbit,” painting “Alice in Wonderland” imagery.
“It works because one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you [small] — I mean come on — it’s pretty overt,” Freiberg said. “We don’t try to make it sound just like the record or anything like that, we play it as if we were playing it [new], but respecting its roots.”
In 1969, the band headlined Day 2 of Woodstock, taking the stage at 8 a.m. after an all-night show of Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and The Who.
“I think they stayed up all night,” Freiberg said. “With half a million people there, that would keep you awake. … I was playing with Quicksilver [Messenger Chair]. We were making an album with Nicky Hopkins back in San Francisco. He had just finished an album with Jefferson Airplane too, ‘Volunteers,’ so they asked him to come back and play Woodstock.”
Freiberg joined the band in 1972 as it rebranded its name to Jefferson Starship.
“After I left Quicksilver, Marty Blain had left Jefferson Airplane, so Paul and Grace asked if I would come join them and sing,” Freiberg said. “Paul had made an album of his own, his first solo album called ‘Blows Against the Empire’ about a bunch of hippies hijacking a starship and populating the universe … so obviously we’d call it Jefferson Starship.”
Under a new banner, the band embarked on a new era of hits like “Miracles.”
“On the very first official Jefferson Starship album, Marty came back and sang one song that he had written with Paul, so the person I replaced came back,” Freiberg said. “Marty wrote ‘Miracles’ and that was on the second album, ‘Red Octopus,’ and that is probably — between that or ‘Jane’ — one of the highest-performing songs that [we] ever put out.”
By the mid ’80s, Freiberg and Kantner departed, prompting another name change to simply Starship for hit songs like “We Built This City,” “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” the latter of which was penned by Diane Warren and Albert Hammond.
“Paul left the band because he didn’t like the direction it was going and eventually I left because it wasn’t what I did either,” Freiberg said. “It was a produced band. That’s what they wanted to be, the majority of the band wanted to be produced. All of the songs had to be guaranteed hits, so they came from outside writers and the band didn’t write the songs.”
Either way, the original lineup was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
“It was just the original lineup that went in,” Freiberg said. “I’m proud of them.”
In 2016, Jefferson Airplane received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Grace didn’t sing on it, but she insisted that Cathy [Richardson], our lead singer, sing ‘Somebody to Love’ on the performance on the television show,” Freiberg said. “She has her own pipes. She can sing pretty near anything she wants and she’s a great performer.”
Recent compilation albums have only further blurred the lines between lineups.
“It got real confused because the record company would put out a compilation of hits and they’d combine Jefferson Starship and Starship songs on the same album, so that casual listeners wouldn’t know the difference,” Freiberg said.
Today, the band makes sure to play songs from every era to please the fans.
“People will come to a Jefferson Starship show and expect to hear their wedding song, which is ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,'” Freiberg said. “We decided after Paul passed away to go ahead and play those songs. They’re really good songs. Why not sing them?”
That’s right, you can expect to hear all of the hits next week in Hagerstown.
“You won’t be sorry. You’ll have a good time, because we always have a good time.”