Sat November 17, 2012
Marc on the Blues

Nine O'clock Blues: Craig Chaquico And A 'Fire Red Moon'

Sacramento California’s Craig Chaquico was born into a musical home. It was inevitable that Craig would play something and, since he grew up in the 1960s, there is little surprise that he chose guitar.

"My mom and dad were musicians and played around the house all the time. I thought everybody played the piano and organ like mom and the sax and accordion like Dad together after dinner," says Chaquico. He learned fast and was on track to a musical career.

Then he hit a roadblock. Or rather, a roadblock hit him.

Craig Chaquico, from 1974
Credit Jim Summaria / Creative Commons

A drunk driver caused Craig multiple serious injuries including 2 broken arms. Faced with a daunting rehabilitation, Craig was challenged by his father. “He told me that Les Paul had once been in a terrible accident and played guitar the whole time to help him heal... My dad said that if I stayed with it and got to the light at the end of the tunnel, once I was back up to speed, he would buy me a Les Paul guitar," says Chaquico. The challenge worked so well that Craig was motivated to become lifelong supporter of organizations that promote and provide music therapy.

At 16-years-old, Chaquico was heard by Paul Kantner. He was so impressed that he invited Craig to record and play concerts with the constantly changing group of San Francisco stalwarts culled from Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead and others that filled the stages of the Bay area in the early 1970s.

Craig Chaquico’s first recording was the Sunfighter album with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, which led to the formation of Jefferson Starship.

Far more of a commercial success than Jefferson Airplane, Starship garnered 20 gold and platinum albums. Given the long and distinguished list of members who passed through Jefferson Starship, it is impressive to note that Chaquico is the only one who was there for every recording and tour throughout the history of the band.

Post Starship, Craig formed a Hard Rock band called Big Bad Wolf, recording one album before becoming caught up in the great New Age/Contemporary Jazz scare of the 1980s and early 1990s. Through a series of gradual sound changes that could be characterized as New Age/Cool Jazz and New Acoustic, in can be said the Craig never did lose the overtones of his Rock and Blues roots.

This brings us to his latest album, Fire Red Moon, just out on the Blind Pig. I must offer a bit of a warning here: If you’re looking for Chicago or Texas Blues guitar in the Buddy Guy or Stevie Ray Vaughan mold, look somewhere else. This is very much a Jazz player’s take on progressive Blues.

I wish to declare that I am convinced that several recent reviews of Fire Red Moon are more expressions of the reviewer’s displeasure over past works than a fair look at the album itself.  

However, I maintain that it is unfair to allow the past to effect any assessment of later works. Jazz and Blues musicians of my ilk tend to look down on what was called Cool Jazz and tend to disrespect the people who played it. While that may be fair in the context of the music they played then, in is patently unfair to allow any factors beyond the realities of a specific work to be taken into consideration when reviewing any work.

My personal view is that this is a very well done and quite contemporary take on the Blues that, while outside my preferences, is a worthy take. What I don’t like about it is that it misses the nod to tradition that I find most essential in Blues that I gravitate towards. What I do like about it is that it offers a path to the Blues for listeners who don’t know those traditions that are important to me and have come down to the present by a different musical path.

Every doorway to the Blues is a welcome portal. Most of all, it is true to Craig Chaquico, what has remained distinctly ‘Chaquico’ over the years is front and center here.

Join me this week on The Nine O’clock Blues for a sample set that will let you decide for yourself if Fire Red Moon by Craig Chaquico is for you.


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