Gary James' Interview With Mickey Thomas Of
He's the voice of Elvin Bishop's hit song "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" and on oh so many hits for Starship, the band. That's Mickey Thomas singing "Jane" and "Sara" and alongside Grace Slick singing "We Built This City". On Labor Day, September 5th, 2011, Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas, performed at Chevy Court in Syracuse, New York at the New York State Fairgrounds. It was pouring rain.
Q - Mickey, I don't know of any place where an audience would stand in a torrential downpour to hear somebody sing. But that's what the people of Syracuse did for you.
A - I know, it was raining all through the concert. I'm so happy we had such a good turnout and people sat there through the steady rain. I was really proud of that New York audience. That was great.
Q - Only a Syracuse, N.Y. audience would do that.
A - I know, man. It was awesome.
Q - After the show, some people were waiting for you to come out to the tour bus. You're back in California. You didn't make it across country in 48 hours in that tour bus, did you?
A - Oh, no. We all flew home. See, the band is scattered all over the place. I got one in Tampa, one in Memphis, one in Austin, Texas, Las Vegas, L.A., San Francisco. (laughs) And I'm in Palm Desert, California.
Q - It's got to be tough when you call rehearsal. You have to find a middle ground to all meet.
A - It is tough to find a time and place to rehearse. Sometimes we just kind of e-mail each other things and then we'll get together at a sound check and hash it out there, if we have time sometimes.
Q - Everybody in your band then has to know exactly what is expected of them.
A - Oh, yeah. I have a great band. We've been together for quite awhile, so we're all very familiar with one another. I've had my drummer with me for 18 years, the keyboard player 17 years, bass player and guitarist for 12 years each. Stephanie is the youngest, but she's been with me for 4 years.
Q - As I watched you sing. I realized the history you bring to the stage. The places you've been. The people you've known. There aren't many performers like you.
A - I've been so lucky. It's been such a great life. One thing you touched on in particular is it's been a very interesting journey for me, not just the things that I've been lucky enough to accomplish and the things I've been able to do, but the people I've come in contact with along the way. (laughs) Some real characters. It's been very interesting. To be in a band with Elvin Bishop for instance and then be in a band with Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and all those guys. It's been a very interesting journey. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing a book or something 'cause the interesting people I've been able to come in contact with is a book in and of itself.
Q - You looked very relaxed onstage. I'm guess this is a very good time in your life.
A - It definitely is. I am probably more comfortable onstage than I've ever been. It is a real happy time. It's so much more fun being on the road these days than it used to be. There's a lot less pressure. A much smaller entourage. (laughs) It just makes it a much more pleasant experience than it used to be. It is a happy time in my life. I'm very happily married. My wife travels a lot with me on the road. We have a lot of fun together. I've got new recording projects which I'm excited about. I just did a Blues album which came out last year. A brand new solo album which just came out. I'm releasing a single from that. The solo album is like all cover songs from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. I did everything from The Beatles to The Stones to Oasis and Muse. I'm really happy with the way that turned out. It was really a lot of fun to do. I'm putting the finishing touches on a new Starship album, all new, previously un-released Starship music, so that's pretty exciting. There hasn't been a Starship album like that in probably 20 years, of all new material. So, that's probably going to come out around the Holidays. I would think maybe the first of the year. (2012)
Q - You have a name, but is it easier or harder for you to get attention for a new project?
A - I think it's harder because the larger labels are not so much involved anymore. So, especially for a Classic Rock artist like myself, I think it's hard to find an audience through the internet and through social networking. Let's face it, all the old record stores are pretty much gone by the wayside. The days of going to Tower Records and spending a couple of hours perusing through CDs, we don't get to do that anymore. For me, I find it a little bit harder to utilize the new ways of trying to get your music to people. But I'm learning as I go. Hopefully the solo album and the Starship album will find its audience.
Q - Your gigs are pretty diverse. You're performing on cruise ships.
A - Yeah, for the first time ever. I've never done that before. I've never even been on a cruise. So that'll be a first for me. It's becoming kind of a popular thing. More and more of that stuff is cropping up, sort of theme cruises around music, a lot of Classic Rock and Blues. I think that's only gonna get bigger. It's kind of a way where people can do a cruise and hear music that they like and love and also get a chance to sort of hang out in a controlled environment with the artist, brush elbows with the artist and hang out for a week and maybe share some meaningful conversation.
Q - You'll probably get some personal questions thrown your way.
A - Oh, yeah. It's all part of the process. It's kind of like one long meet and greet.
Q - One of your gigs is listed as a "Private Event". Is that a corporate event?
A - Yeah. We do some corporate events sometimes as Starship. Sometimes we do some private corporate shows where I bring along some of my friends, guest artists, other singers. Starship will be the house band, so we call it Starship And Friends. I may have Mike Remo from Loverboy or Bobby Kimball from Toto, or John Cafferty or Jimmy Jamison from Survivor. They come and do three or four of their hits with Starship as The House Band. That goes over real well for corporate events.
Q - You saw The Beatles in concert in 1965?
A - Yes, I did.
Q - In Atlanta?
A - Yes.
Q - What was that like?
A - Boy, it was just like all the old black and white footage that you see from Beatlemania. Lots of girls screaming. Pandemonium! It was hard to hear the band for all the screaming that was going on. It changed my life. It inspired me. That's the reason I formed the first band I was ever in. I was inspired by The Beatles.
Q - When you put the band together, you played Beatles / British Invasion music?
A - Yeah. We did a lot of Beatles, Stones, Manfred Mann, Herman's Hermits, Gerry And The Pacemakers, The Yardbirds. All that cool stuff.
Q - You were doing the singing?
A - I did some of the singing. Actually the drummer in my first band did the lead vocals with me.
Q - Did you ever cross paths with The Beatles?
A - You know, I never have. I never did meet any of The Beatles. I've met some of The Beatles' children along the way. (laughs) I met Jack Starky, Ringo's son and I met George Harrison's son. I met a couple of McCartney's kids. But it's not too late! I still have a chance to meet Ringo and Paul.
Q - I would've thought that you would have met McCartney by now.
A - Yeah. I'm pretty good friends with a guy who plays guitar in McCartney's band right now. Maybe through him, I'll be able to meet Paul at some point.
Q - Have you ever taken vocal lessons? You're able to hit those high notes with the greatest of ease.
A - I've never had formal training, but the guy who taught me how to sing, who was my mentor really, was a Gospel singer by the name of Gideon Daniels. Gideon taught me how to sing and kind of how to go to the high notes and how to discover that higher register of my voice. Along the way, I think I've learned, as the years have gone by, how to reach the notes with less and less effort. The good news is, I think I'm still learning, still getting better and that's exciting for me. That's one of the things that really inspires you to keep on going, to keep on singing and making records and touring is because I do think I'm still learning.
Q - What can a guy with all your experience learn at this point?
A - I just think I'm getting better. I'm becoming a better singer, in the studio and onstage
Q - Is that because maybe you're taking better care of yourself?
A - Well, that's probably part of it, but I do think as time goes by, you just try to apply all the experiences that I've had singing, touring and making records and really just learning more about how to become a better singer.
Q - Your group is billed as Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas. Paul Kantner is out there too as Starship. He too can use "Starship"?
A - Yes. He used it illegally for awhile, but I think in the last couple of years he was able to strike an agreement with Bill Thompson, who's the former manager of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship and Grace Slick, to legally use the name. I've been legally able to use the name Starship for the last 20 years. One of the main reasons I like to say "Featuring Mickey Thomas" is because I do like to try and prevent any confusion in the minds of the audience because Paul is touring as Jefferson Starship, sometimes people get a little confused. I've had a lot of friends and fans tell me they go to see Paul's band thinking they're going to see me. (laughs) I just try to make the distinction as clear as I can between the two bands.
Q - Do you have any contact with Grace Slick these days?
A - Yeah, a little bit. We talk occasionally. She lives out in Malibu. She's just involved with her art these days, painting.
Q - The songs you sing are well known.
A - Yeah. I've been lucky that we've had a handful of songs which have really stood the test of time. Songs like "Fooled Around" and "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now", "We Built This City", "Jane". I'm lucky to have those handful of nuggets that have been able to kind of stay with me through all the years that kind of transcend the generations and some of the younger audiences like 'em just as much as their parents do. So we've been pretty lucky in that regard.