David Freiberg of Jefferson Starship

by Dan MacIntosh

David Freiberg is the last man standing from the original Jefferson Starship, a group with a family tree full of twisted tendrils and lots of incredible songs. In the '60s, when the group's progenitor, Jefferson Airplane, was anchoring the San Francisco scene, Freiberg was in Quicksilver Messenger Service, a spectacular live act in the same ambit. (Along with the Grateful Dead, whose lyricist, Robert Hunter, wrote some songs with Freiberg.) In 1972, Freiberg joined late-stage Airplane, which in 1974 became Jefferson Starship. He left soon after their transformation to Starship in 1984 when Paul Kantner (Freiberg's roommate pre-Airplane) moved on, taking the name with him. Led by Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas, Starship had three #1 hits: "We Built This City," "Sara," and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."

Kantner re-fired Jefferson Starship in 1991; Freiberg came on board in 2005 and has been there ever since (Kantner died in 2016).

Some of Freiberg's key contributions to the group include co-writing the hit "Jane" and developing the organ riff on "Miracles," both of which he talks about here. But we'll start with the story behind a musical masterpiece from the debut Quicksilver Messenger Service album.
Jefferson Starship (L-R): Cathy Richardson, Chris Smith, David Freiberg, Donny Baldwin, Jude Gold

Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): You wrote songs for Quicksilver Messenger Service in addition to reworking songs from the folk revival and singer-songwriter repertoires. One called "The Fool," for instance, is more of a jam than a singer-songwriter song. Is there a story behind writing that one?

David Freiberg: I like "The Fool" best of any of the tunes I was involved in. Gary Duncan and I were credited with writing it. I did write the words – they were in my typewriter when I came down from an LSD trip.

It might sound like a jam, but, for the most part, all the parts were played pretty much the same every time. It was really a composition.

I had the most fun in 1967-68, though there were some really nice tunes when Dino Valente joined.

Songfacts: Although your roles in bands have been more as a singer and an instrumentalist, how do you feel about songwriting?

Freiberg: I've enjoyed collaborating with people writing songs, when the mood strikes. I enjoyed working with Bob Hunter on a few tunes. There's a tune on Red Octopus called "Tumblin'" that I wrote the music, and Bob Hunter and Marty Balin wrote the lyrics. Influences come from everything that comes through the air!

Red Octopus (1975) was a big album for Jefferson Starship. It marked the return of lead singer Marty Balin, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane who left the group in 1971. His taste for soul music led to his departure (well, that and his bandmates' drug use). Back in the fold, he wrote and sang "Miracles," which became the album's hit single and helped it sell over 2 million copies in America.
Songfacts: I read where your departed shortly after the formation of Starship in early 1985 due to creative differences over the selection and recording of "We Built This City" with Grace Slick. Listeners are quite divided over that song, as I'm sure you know. I assume, though, you sing it every night now. What are your thoughts, then and now, about the song?

Freiberg: When the band became Starship, it became more of a "produced" band. Songs came from outside hit songwriters [including Bernie Taupin on "We Built This City"]. They needed a virtuoso keyboard player, which I wasn't, and there really wasn't much for me to do. So, by mutual consent, I left.

Definitely one of the best things I ever did. I played for a while with Gary Duncan's Quicksilver Messenger Service where I met a wonderful singer named Linda Imperial, fell in love, and we are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary.

As for "We Built This City," etc., since Donny [drummer Donny Baldwin, who was in Starship] played and sang on them and there are people that think it's Jefferson Starship, due to collection albums of both bands put out by RCA, we will play a few Starship songs. After all, they might be someone's wedding song. And, I must admit, it's really fun to sing them.

Songfacts: Your song "Jane" is credited with moving Jefferson Starship in a harder rock direction. Did you have that direction in mind when you wrote it? Also, is there a real Jane, and what can you tell me about her?

Freiberg: Actually, when Jim McPherson and I wrote "Jane," I was trying for the style of the Rolling Stones baroque period of the '60s. It was Craig Chaquico who came up with the great hard rock arrangement, and thank goodness for that! Let us say that it was loosely about an old girlfriend of mine whose name wasn't Jane.

Songfacts: You've been credited with developing the distinctive organ riff of Marty Balin's "Miracles." Can you explain how you came up with that riff?

Freiberg: We had rehearsed all the tunes for Red Octopus for quite a while, but that lick didn't show up until we were recording the basic tracks in the studio and we seemed to get a really great mix in headphones. I could really hear what everyone was playing really well and that lick just kind of rolled off my fingers. Everyone said, "Hey, can you do that again?" So, I gladly did!

Songfacts: What else do you typically contribute when it comes to making music in a band?

Freiberg: My favorite thing in music is harmony. I love singing or playing the note that makes things sound just a bit better.

October 15, 2020
More at jeffersonstarship.com

Further reading:
Dennis DeYoung
Martin Page

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