Craig Chaquico gives credence to the oxymoron “rock and roll prodigy.” Indeed Chaquico wrote his first song at age 12, played professionally in a popular San Francisco band at age 14, and joined in a professional studio session at age 16. Immediately upon graduation from high school, Chaquico joined the celebrated Jefferson Starship band and played with the group until 1990. He never missed a performance nor a recording session. After the demise of Starship, Chaquico embarked on a solo career in the musical genre of new age jazz, writing and performing uniquely poetic melodies for acoustical guitar.
Craig Chaquico (Cha-kee-so) was born in Sacramento, California on September 24, 1954 and was raised in a close-knit family environment with his parents who were particularly fond of music. His mother, a pianist and organist, played at church and his father played saxophone semi-professionally. Chaquico’s admiration for his parents flourished over time. Although he idolized his first rock and roll heroes, “... Hendrix, Page, Clapton and Beck,” Chaquico confided in retrospect to E.K. of
Born September 26, 1954 in Sacramento, CA; raised in Sacramento, CA; married to Kimberly; one son, Kyle, born 1991;
Career: member of Steelwind from age 14; in 1971 played with Papa John Creech session with Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, and Graham Nash, including Jerry Garcia; first professional gig at age 16; lead guitar of Jefferson Starship, 1974-1990; first solo album Acoustic Highway, Higher Octave Music, 1994; released Acoustic Planet, 1994, A Thousand Pictures, 1996.
Awards: Billboard Magazine Top New Age Indie Album, for Acoustic Highway, 1994; Best Instrumental Guitarist of the Year, Guitar Player Magazine; BAMMY (Bay Area Music Awards) for Acoustic Highway, Outstanding Independent Album, 1994; Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.) artist of the month, May 1996.
Adresses: Record company —Higher Octave Music, 23852 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 2C, Malibu, CA 90265
the Rock N’Roll Reporter, “Now that I have a family and am older, I realize my parents were my real heroes.”
As a child, growing up on a farm in northern California, Chaquico imagined himself as a singing cowboy with a guitar on his knee. He first started to play acoustical guitar when he was in grade school, around ten years old. He loved the instrument and one day it became particularly precious to him. It was his guitar that kept his young life from falling apart after a serious auto accident when he was 12 years old. The Chaquico family, out in the family car, was struck by a drunk driver. The three were lucky to escape alive, although Chaquico himself suffered two broken wrists, a broken thumb, a triple fracture of one leg, and a cerebral hemorrhage which left him unconsciousness for three days immediately following the accident.
For some time afterward his life was a blur of wheel chairs, crutches, and corrective shoes. Unable to return to school for three months; Chaquico passed the time playing the guitar. He didn’t simply strum the guitar but played riffs and arpeggios all over the frets. His doctor, along with his parents, encouraged him to play as much as possible as a form of therapy to help recapture the dexterity in his wrists and thumb. All he could really use was one finger because of the casts that confined his hands and fingers. Chaquico’s father promised to buy him a new guitar, an electric model, as an incentive to work hard and recuperate fully. Dauntlessly, Chaquico practiced, his fingers flew. He composed his first substantial melodyduring that painful convalescence, with his arms still wrapped in casts. The tune, “E-lizabeth’s Song,” was named for the doctor who brought him through that difficult time and for the E-string on the guitar, because that was all that he could reach with his fingers wrapped up in plaster. Although the entire song was composed for one string, high E, it is nonetheless lively, a busy song with an astonishing profusion of melodic riffs. In time, the creative 12-year-old healed, and he received the coveted electric guitar as a gift from his father. So dramatic was Chaquico’s recovery in fact, that by the time he started high school he was truly a skilled guitarist, despite the debilitating accident.
Chaquico was only 14 when one of his teachers, Jack Traylor, invited him to join a band called Steel Wind, a popular combo in the San Francisco bay area. Chaquico was so young that he disguised his appearance with pasted-on whiskers in order to work in the clubs late at night. Steel Wind meanwhile caught the ear of Gracie Slick and Paul Kantner of the top-selling rock group the Jefferson Airplane. Slick and Kantner invited Chaquico to join in a recording session to back up Airplane violinist Papa John Creech for a solo album release called Sunfighter on Grunt Records—Slick and Kantner’s own label. Chaquico, only 16 years old, was honored to play in the session with rock and roll greats David Crosby, Graham Nash, and the late Jerry Garcia.
In 1974, after Chaquico finished high school he went straight to a world-class rock group, the Jefferson Starship, a reincarnation of the former Jefferson Airplane, under the direction of Slick and Kantner. Years of practice as a youngster, playing his old wooden guitar while healing from the auto accident, and jamming on his electric guitar as a teenager with Steel Wind paid off for Chaquico who stepped onto the stage and played lead guitar behind the world famous singer Gracie Slick. Chaquico’s first performance with the Jefferson Starship was truly memorable because his high school band, Steel Wind, played the opener of Chaquico’s debut concert with Jefferson Starship. Chaquico played with Steel Wind and then played with the Starship for the duration of that same concert.
After that first concert, Chaquico has played on every Jefferson Starship recording through 1984, at which time the group turned over and lost the rights to use the word Jefferson in their name. At that time the band was renamed to Starship, and Chaquico kept playing lead guitar. Eventually he held the distinction as the only member to play on every record and in every performance of Starship, including the band’s time as Jefferson Starship. Chaquico stayed with Starship until 1990 when the group spontaneously dissolved. Starship earned a combined total of 13 gold and platinum albums during those years.
After Starship, Chaquico intended right away to assemble a new band and keep on performing. He first attempted to assemble a band called Big Bad Wolf. The failure of that group in part, combined with his wife’s first pregnancy, led Chaquico to re-invent himself. Chaquico discovered very quickly that his pregnant wife Kimberly much preferred the soothing sounds of his old acoustic guitar to the brash electric instrument. In due time Chaquico was not merely playing his old guitar for his wife, he was singing to their unborn child, and writing songs for each of them. By the time son Kyle was born in 1991, Chaquico substantially had written the score of an entire CD release.
His first solo album, Acoustic Highway, was released in 1993 and was followed by a sequel, Acoustic Planet in 1994. Chaquico meanwhile worked with Washburn Guitar Company to design just the right acoustic guitar to suit his own ear and meet his professional needs. The collaboration resulted in the Craig Chaquico signature series guitar, a Washburn EA-20 model, with custom Chaquico features including wider frets, lower action, and steel strings. Chaquico, a die-hard environmentalist who lives by a redwood forest, negotiated with the Washburn company to “give something back,” by planting a tree for every Chaquico guitar made. Overall the effect Chaquico achieved with his instrument design was that of an acoustic guitar that plays, feels, and sounds in many ways like an electric; and Chaquico plays the instrument as if it were electric, employing bends, stretches, hammer-ons, and other electric techniques. After taping Acoustic Highway, Chaquico gave his first live performance at the very same hospital where he had received treatment many years earlier as a 12-year-old auto crash victim.
His next album, Acoustic Planet toppled an album by new age conductor Yanni for the number one spot on the Billboard music chart in November of 1994. Acoustic Planet also received a Grammy nomination. Chaquico wrote a song for every memory of life it seems. He wrote the tongue-in-cheek “Sweet Talk” for his wife, after observing some men getting fresh with her as she sat in the audience one day while he performed on stage. Another song, “Autumn Blue,” Chaquico wrote in a classic style for his father who passed away in 1995. Chaquico wrote “Kyle’s World, like so many of his acoustic compositions, for his son. Chaquico’s Acoustic Highway was inspired by the image of traveling along California’s coastal Highway One, preferably by motorcycle. On a broader scale the album is about anything that “doesn’t have to do with work or school.” Chaquico, who loves to travel California’s many highways on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, promoted his first solo album by taking a series of guitar workshops on tour for Washburn Guitars. He took the tour around the United States on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
As new age act, Chaquico quickly assembled an assortment of popular jazzmen to fill out the sounds of his music. He collaborates almost exclusively with Ozzie Ahlers and generally tours and records with a band consisting of partner Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards, drummer Wade Olson, and bassist Jim Reitzel. Whenever possible, Chaquico employs the saxophone styles of John Klemmer. Chaquico also works frequently with flutist Douglas Spotted Eagle. Many of Chaquico’s compositions were in fact based on stories of Native American legend related to Chaquico by Spotted Eagle. Chaquico’s love affair with the earth and with nature is clearly displayed by the strong Native American influence in his work. In 1993, Chaquico joined Guitar, Saxes & More, a jazz tour with featured headliners Richard Elliot, Peter White, and Rick Braun. The tour has been all over the United States, from Oklahoma City to Pompano Beach, Florida, to Anchorage Alaska.
Privately Chaquico is a husband and father. His son, Kyle, was born on July 11, 1991, at 7:11 a.m. during a solar eclipse, a real treat for Chaquico who is fascinated by astronomy. The family lives in Mill Valley, in California’s majestic Marin County. Chaquico loves the whole outdoors. In July of 1998, he performed at the JVC Winter Park Jazz Festival in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, a festival where patrons are instructed to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” He is an avid longdistance runner, and he loves scuba diving, especially the feeling of weightlessness. As a youngster he thought that music would always be a great hobby, since he planned to study commercial art. Instead he finds that drawing and painting are now his hobbies and music his career. Chaquico also writes poetry, as published on the jacket of his Thousand Pictures album.
Chaquico’s professional involvements extend far beyond concerts and recording sessions. It is him playing Gumby’s guitar on the soundtrack of the Gumby movies! In May of 1996 Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.) named Chaquico as the artist of the month, citing in particular his social commitment. In the winter of 1997 he performed a benefit concert at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla for the Bread and Roses organization, a social consciousness group that brings live music to confined populations. Chaquico is especially committed to the National Association of Music Therapy (N.A.M.T.). His involvement with that organization is intensive. He works with pediatric, geriatric, and psychiatric patients in particular, averaging about one performance per week for patients. His work with N.A.M.T. included a concert he played for survivors of the 1995 bomb blast in Oklahoma City. When Chaquico plays at a hospital or medical facility, he regularly leaves behind at least one musical instrument, a Chaquico signature guitar from Washburn. In 1997, he was honored by the Mayor of his home town Sacramento, for his extensive work with N.A.M.T.
Chaquico, distinctive in his art, paints pictures without colors and writes poetry without words. His every song tells a story and proffers a piece of either his personal life or his views on living—from love relationships to the size and shape of the universe…. His songs are his poems. He is a man of extremes and extreme sensitivity.
(with Jefferson Starship) Dragon Fly, 1974.
Acoustic Highway, Higher Octave Music, 1993.
Acoustic Planet, Higher Octave Music, 1994.
A Thousand Pictures (includes “Kyle’s World”), Higher Octave Music, 1996.
Once in a Blue Universe, Higher Octave Music, August 26, 1997.
Billboard, 5, June 1993.
Bread & Roses Newsletter, Winter 1997.
Jungle Beat Artists Interviews, July 1993, available at
Music Connection, 7 June 1993 to 20 June 1993.
Rock N’ Roll Reporter, December 1995.
Washington Sunday Times, 25 February 1996.
“Craig Chaquico,” Jungle Beat Artist Interviews, http://www.simplesystems.com/beat/inter/jb-int2.htm (August 2, 1998).
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