Richardson to land in Dover with Jefferson Starship

Jefferson Starship will perform at Dover Downs’ Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center for a sold out show on June 22. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Although 10 years have gone by, Cathy Richardson still has a hard time believing what’s she’s doing for a living.

Ms. Richardson is lead singer for Jefferson Starship — the band that sprung forth following the split of the seminal Jefferson Airplane.

“It’s been an amazing ride,” she said Tuesday afternoon from her Chicago home.

“In the first year alone, we went to England twice, all over Europe. We’ve traveled to Japan, Israel — places I never would have been had I not gotten this amazing opportunity.”

Upcoming for the band, noted for songs such as “White Rabbit,” “Wooden Ships,” “Somebody to Love” and “Jane,” is a sold-out show at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center on June 22.

Ms. Richardson stands in for the unmistakable voice of Grace Slick, who retired from the band in 1989. Stepping in for a legend was not foreign to Ms. Richardson before Jefferson Starship. She portrayed Janis Joplin in the 2001 original off-Broadway run of “Love, Janis” and later toured with Ms. Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company.

“Both Grace and Janis are iconic female rock ’n’ rollers but both very different. They are like fire and ice,” Ms. Richardson said.

“I had never done theater before or since and I was really cast in the role as a singer. There were two other women who did the acting parts. So my job was to try to stand in for Janis’ unique voice.”

She said that job prepared her for what was to come as front person for Jefferson Starship.

“When you’re standing in for an icon, the comparisons will eventually come. ‘She sucks. She’ll never be as good as Janis.’ But I never set out to be anyone but myself. I’d been fronting my own rock bands years before all this. I’ve lived that life,” she said.

“You have to develop a thicker skin about the criticism. It’s the feedback that cuts you to your soul. You can be critiqued in the public eye very harshly sometimes. But in general, 99.9 percent of it has been positive.”

Before becoming lead singer of Jefferson Starship in 2008, Cathy Richardson played Janis Joplin in an off-broadway play and fronted Ms. Joplin’s former band Big Brother and the Holding Company. (Submitted photo by Brad Mahler)

As it turns out, one of Ms. Richardson’s biggest fans has been Ms. Slick herself.

In 2016, Jefferson Airplane received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Since Ms. Slick had retired from singing, producers sought pop star Pink to perform with members of the band, shutting Ms. Richardson out of the show.

That is until a phone call came her way.

“I was out to breakfast and I answered my phone and it was Grace and Paul (Kanter)’s daughter China. She said ‘Mom wants to talk to you.’ She handed the phone to her mother, who said ‘There is no one else I want to do this but you. No one else can do it,’” she recalled.

“I started to cry. I felt like I had won the lifetime achievement award. She’s become my second mother almost. She’s so cool. Having her respect means more than anything in the world. As long as she’s cool with it, I think I’m OK.”

A few years before the offer came from Jefferson Airplane co-founder Mr. Kantner to join Jefferson Starship, Ms. Richardson met Ms. Slick at an art show.

“I bought a self portrait that she had done that still hangs on my wall today. We rapped about music. I walked away from there with this weird connection with her, thinking I had just met the future version of myself,” she said.

“I just felt like we were cut from the same cloth. What attracted me to her was her power, standing with guys and being badass. She has that in droves. She was the original punk rocker. She gave zero (bleeps) and still doesn’t.”

These days, the band consists of original Jefferson Starship musicians members David Freiberg (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Donny Baldwin (drums) along with longtime members Chris Smith (keyboards, synth bass) and Jude Gold (lead guitar).

Mr. Kantner was a member of the band up until his death in 2016 at the age of 74.

Singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Ms. Richardson, 49, was sharing the bill with Jefferson Starship at a string of shows when Mr. Kantner met with her about joining the group.

“He came to my house in San Francisco where I was living at the time. We got some guitars and started to sing just to see what would happen. I had Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship records on vinyl around that I had since high school,” she said.

“I wanted him to see that I wasn’t just some chick looking for a gig. This was in my wheelhouse and I was ready for it. It’s been a dream come true. I never would have imagined I would be in Jefferson Starship.”

She says they now see three generations of folks coming to their shows.

“We have lots of parents coming with their kids and even grandparents coming with their kids. It’s a trip to think that the Woodstock generation is in their 70s. They’re getting up there,” she said.

Although she applies her own vibe to the music, she said band members feel a responsibility and a guardianship over the vast catalogue of songs.

“Everybody in the band brings their own personality and style to the music and brings it forward without feeling like we have to make it sound exactly like the record,” she said.

“But you also don’t want to reinvent the wheel in place of the nostalgia trip. Music is a time machine that puts you back in that place in your youth when you started discovering rock ’n’ roll. You want to give the audience that memory.”

Although she thinks the music is just as relevant now as it was then, the group is writing new songs too. They have a single that they are performing in concerts called “What Are We Waiting For?”

“It’s an homage to Paul. He was always leading the charge,” he said.

“We’re trying to use the microphone to say something meaningful with a message that people can get behind. We still need those anthems. Music is such a powerful force that really whatever megaphone you have, you should do something with it.”

And for Ms. Richardson and the other members of the group, it’s all about the love of the music.

“We have the blessing of the people who created this band and the trust that it represents. We want the music to carry on. None of us make a ton of money off this. We do it for the love for each other, the music and the audience,” she said.

“And when Grace Slick wants you to carry on, you say ‘OK. Yes, ma’am. Whatever the queen wants.’”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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