Q&A: Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas
A fixture on the classic rock tour, Mickey Thomas’s band sounds as youthful as ever while continuing to prove that nothing’s gonna stop Starship from laying it on the line for fans.
Mickey Thomas was recruited in 1974 to sing with the Elvin Bishop Group, which had a No. 3 hit in 1976 with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” That was the year he released his first solo album; three years later, he was asked to join the band Jefferson Starship. At the time, the band had recently transitioned from the seminal psychedelic outfit Jefferson Airplane, which had hits in the 1960s with “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.”
Replacing founding Airplane member Marty Balin, Thomas sang lead vocals and duets with Grace Slick. But when member Paul Kantner left the band in 1984, he took the Jefferson part of the name with him.
Calling themselves simply Starship, Thomas and Slick went on to record the biggest success for any incarnation of the band since 1975 — Knee Deep in the Hoopla, which was released in 1985. It spawned two No. 1 singles (“We Built This City” and “Sara”).
Two years later, the band was back in the No. 1 slot with “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” featured on the soundtrack to the film Mannequin and on the band’s follow-up studio album, No Protection. Slick left the band in 1988.
After some internal issues, Thomas changed the band’s name to Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas and has been a fixture on the classic rock tour circuits ever since.
Q: You released an album, Loveless Fascination, in 2013 and it had a more aggressive tone, for a lack of a better term. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or just how the songs presented themselves?
A: That was a conscious move on my part. We got Jeff Pilson, who was in Dokken, plays with Foreigner and has produced a number of bands, to produce that album and write some songs for us. I wanted it to feel more like a ‘70s album than the ‘80s or ‘90s – a little more spontaneous and diverse. He understood that and has a knack for writing songs that, even though they’re new, feel familiar and timeless. I think we achieved that. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of people heard it.
Q: Clearly, the music industry has changed with digital media, and seems to have shifted back to a singles-driven market. How much do you think that affected the last album and how does it affect how you function as a band moving forward?
A: Yes, the industry has changed and that was a big part of it. Obviously, touring and live performance is what we’re best at and where our livelihood is. Our audience is not that interested in new music by heritage bands. If they’re not that interested, I can see why a lot of artists aren’t interested in putting out new music. Putting together a new album takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears. It can be a frustrating experience when your audience really doesn’t respond. We still have the stage, though, and that’s where I think we’ve always excelled.
Q: You've currently got Stephanie Calvert singing with you, largely filling Grace Slick's role. How did that match come about, and how has that worked out?
A: Stephanie has a background in musical theater, so she brings a lot of personality to the stage, which has been great. Plus, she can hit all of the notes and cover pretty much anything we ask or want. We had gone for a few years without a female in the band, and although we could play all of the songs, it wasn’t really working for us, because we’d always had a female voice. Stephanie was the first person we auditioned and met. I knew immediately, we didn’t have to go any further.
I’ve been really lucky in that respect. Whenever the situation has come about that we needed to replace a member, it has almost always been the first person that comes to me. Whether it’s destiny, fate or whatever, it just feels like it’s been prearranged that I’m supposed to go through this journey with certain people.
With Stephanie, right away there was a natural chemistry. It’s always been a lot of fun to be onstage with her because she brings so much to the show. Even if we have a little rift or disagreement backstage before the show, when we hit the stage it’s all left behind. She’s been fantastic.
Q: After so many years, what is it that keeps you on the road and pursuing music?
A: I keep doing it because I’m addicted to singing and performing and being on that stage. That’s what keeps me going and keeps me happy. I know I’d get really restless if I wasn’t on the road and making music. I guess I’m just a gypsy at heart.
You know, I’m really excited about this show because I’ve known Eddie [Money] for 40 years or longer. I count him as a friend. You make a lot of acquaintances in this business, but not many friends. It’s always a treat when we get to play with friends like him. We’re coming straight from a show in the Dominican Republic, so we’ll be rested and ready. It should be a great time for everyone.
Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas
The Joint | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
Nov. 16: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend
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