Legendary Guitarist Reflects on Career and Hopes to Get Back Beloved Guitars

by Robert Kinsler

Photo Credit: Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis

Craig-Chaquico-Les-Paul-438x654Craig Chaquico is that rare rock artist who has found success in two different bands, and subsequently as a solo artist celebrated for his work in a completely different musical genre.

In the 1970s, the Sacramento, California native earned early acclaim for his work as lead guitarist with Jefferson Starship (notably on the 1975 album “Red Octopus,” which includes the hit “Miracles” and the rock favorite “Fast Buck Freddie” he co-wrote with Grace Slick). In the 1980’s several members of that band morphed into the commercial juggernaut known as Starship, where Chaquico played lead guitar on all of the band’s iconic hits including “We Built This City,” “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

After leaving Starship in 1990, the talented Chaquico embarked on a winning solo career as an instrumental smooth jazz and blues guitarist, and scored a Grammy nomination for his 1994 disc “Acoustic Planet.”

I recently had the chance to catch up with Chaquico, where our phone chat focused on a wide-range of areas. He noted that he is working on completing a live DVD/CD release that was recorded on June 13, 2015, the 40th anniversary of the release of “Red Octopus.” That 1975 album reached the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart and remains one of the most beloved rock albums of the 1970s. Chaquico’s live performance last year captured him performing material from his five decade career, including rock, jazz and blues selections.

Craig-Chaquico-Sunburst-Les-Paul-in-Studio-oridinal-hit-maling-Jefferson-Starship-438x300“We recorded it at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley,” explained Chaquico, noting the location of the original Sweetwater was “our local little town watering hole” in Marin County during Jefferson Starship’s early days. “I lived right above that.”

Our conversation quickly turned to Chaquico’s current quest to be reunited with several beloved electric guitars, including two instruments that were stolen in the wake of an infamous riot that played out while Jefferson Starship was on tour in Lorelei, Germany in the summer of 1978.The riot broke out when it was reported to the audience that Grace Slick was not feeling well enough to perform. When the crowd rioted, the band escaped only to return to the scene the next morning and discover the stage had been set ablaze, and their instruments and equipment had been burned and – as with the case with Chaquico’s two Gibson Les Paul guitars – stolen.

Later this spring, the artist is scheduled to go to federal court is hopes of securing the return of his 1959 Les Paul Standard Sunburst guitar.

“On June 13th (of 2016), the 41st anniversary of ‘Red Octopus’ – is the day I go to court,” Chaquico noted.

CraigChaquicowith59Sunburst70sPhotobyRogerRessmeyerCorbis-2It is a long and amazing story, but it has played out like a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” flick with a series of far-flung events including the return of one of Jefferson Starship bassist Pete Sears’ instruments thought destroyed in the fire and a fateful connection made because Chaquico played in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special (which featured Jefferson Starship performing the Chaquico-penned “Light the Sky on Fire”) leading him to connect with someone who provided him with the serial numbers of his lost guitars (via an article published in Germany in the late 1970s that posted the serial numbers).

“The guy said ‘Not only do I have the serial numbers, I know where your Sunburst (guitar) is; in a guy’s collection in Malibu.’,” Chaquico explained.

Chaquico tracked down the collector who had his Sunburst guitar. At first it seemed as if it would be easy for Chaquico to secure the guitar (he had a wealth of documents and photos to prove it); but because the collector wanted to get a return on his financial investment events have led to the most recent developments; for now Chaquico’s guitar is safely in the court’s jurisdiction until a final outcome is determined.

Chaquico has spent tens of  thousands of dollars on legal fees and related costs, and has made five trips to California to try to get back the Sunburst guitar. While he doesn’t believe the person who purchased his guitar initially knew it was stolen, he believes it should clearly be returned to him. In addition, Chaquico is hoping the attention from this story will one day reunite him with the other guitar stolen from him in 1978  – his 1957 Gold Top Les Paul (Serial #7 8793), which Chaquico used during the recording of “Dragonfly” and “Red Octopus.”

“The question is, ‘How can I get it back and help get him whole? No matter what happens…maybe the band (Jefferson Starship) will do a reunion.”

For more information on Chaquico, visit his Web site at CraigChaquico.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/CraigChaquico

 

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