Dave Woodhall talks to West Coast legend David Freiberg.
The saying that if you remember the sixties you weren’t there might be true in some cases, and some aren’t around to remember anymore. But there are always survivors and one of the most intact is David Freiberg, bassist and keyboard player with Jefferson Starship, whose iconic status has endured through almost fifty years of hard living, myth and legend.
The band are currently touring Europe and are playing locally this week.
“This is the best time I’ve had in England for many years. I can’t say how much fun it’s been, it’s been great. Despite the weather, it’s been a fantastic time. You expect the weather – you get California ‘s share of the rain here. The audiences have been wonderful, people still enjoy our music and so do we. It’s still fun to play even though I really didn’t think I’d be doing it at my age.”
Fun. That’s a word often overlooked in the music business, but it should be right at its heart.
“Well, you’re as old as you feel I certainly didn’t think I’d feel this way when I was 75 but here I am, enjoying it still. But you’re right, everything is about sequencers now. Everyone seems to have their own sequencers, the spontaneity has gone.”
Under their various names the band have always had a fluid line-up but they’ve always attracted some of the brightest and the best West Coast musicians.
“Kind of, it just grew. I was in Quicksilver Messenger Service, then there was a vacancy in Jefferson Airplane when I happened to be out of a job. That’s the most important thing about making it in life, to be out of a job at the right time. I joined Airplane and it gradually morphed into Jefferson Starship then when it morphed again into Starship I thought it was time for me to go so I went back to computers and got to be pretty competent in the studio. When Paul asked me to come back in 2005 I did and so it just grows. Right now we have Cathy Richardson singing the Grace Slick songs, she’s just fantastic. I have more fun singing with her than I could ever imagine having. It’s all so much fun.”
That word ‘fun’ again.
“That’s what it is. I’m loving it.”
Listening to him talk, and particularly catching David’s obvious enjoyment of life, it’s not hard to see why he’s been described as ‘The nicest man in San Francisco’.
“Did somebody say that? I don’t know, but okay. I try to be, I’m a practicing Buddhist and basically the whole thing is to teach everybody that they’re the nicest person in the world but they just don’t know it.”
That must have been difficult at times, particularly with the type of characters you came cross during the band’s heyday. You’re reputed to have shared a house with David Ccrosby and Janis Joplin; that must have tried your patience.
“You know, these legends kind of grow. David Crosby did stay with us for a while and Janis did sleep on the floor a few times but they never lived with us. All the stories get combined and turn into one big legend. Of course, if the legend’s better than the truth, print the legend.
There have been three or four times in the history of rock music when the time, the place and the environment was right to produce a scene that changed the world. Memphis in the mid-fifties was one, London in 1976 was another and San Francisco provided a third.
“That’s the other thing. You have to be out of a job and in the right place. If you were a musician in San Francisco in 1964 or’ 65 you were made.
“It couldn’t have happened anywhere else. You look at what was happening in England, the mod and rocker kind of thing. Then later you have Black Sabbath coming from Birmingham which is very industrialised. You couldn’t have bands such as Jefferson or Quicksilver Messenger service coming from anywhere else than San Francisco. There has to be a time and a place, and how it all comes together, that’s magic. Trying to find that moment, we keep looking for it”
Bob Harris, the radio presenter, said that every morning he opens his eyes, realises he’s still alive and thinks “Result.” Do you feel that way – that life is a bonus and every day a big adventure?
“Yes, sometimes you forget it, but that’s the big idea. Now is the time. There is no other time except right now. There might be an influence in what you’ve done in the past but now is the only time where you can do something. Do it now.”
You have two local gigs coming up, at two very different venues.
“Yes, the Robin is great. It’s a real rock’n’roll venue. Then there’s the Artrix theatre, but theatres are enjoyable as well. It’s hard to get up and stand and run around, but that’s good for maybe our older fans. They aren’t all old fogies though, we get a lot of new fans.”
Jefferson Starship are playing the Robin, Bilston, on Tuesday 28th January (www.therobin.co.uk) and the Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, on Wednesday 29th January (www.artrix.co.uk)