Craig Chaquico — first a lead guitarist with rock bands Jefferson Starship and Starship, then a contemporary and New Age jazz artist — takes a walk on the bluesier side with the release of his Blind Pig Records debut, "Fire Red Moon."
Here, the Rogue Valley-based Chaquico puts a positive spin on instrumental covers of William Bell's and Booker T. Jones' "Born Under a Bad Sign," Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'," and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," with vocals on the latter by Rolf Hartley.
"Blind Pig is a premier, roots-blues label," Chaquico says. "When we started talking about doing a blues album, I said, 'I'm not really a roots guy. My roots go back to Cream.' The label thought it was a good idea."
The first generation of American roots-blues artists performed in the '20s and '30s. Some found later success in the '50s with Chess Records and further recognition in the '60s when their music was reinterpreted by such British supergroups as Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. In America, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Foghat and The Allman Brothers Band covered hits by Willie Dixon, Elmore James, Bo Diddley and others.
"My roots go back to those '60s bands," Chaquico says. "They were the second generation of roots-blues musicians. Now their interpretations are 50 years old. In this case, I might be in the third generation of roots-blues musicians."
"Fire Red Moon" was released Oct. 16. The album debuted at No. 15 on Billboard's Blues Albums chart. It's available at Music Coop in Ashland, iTunes, Amazon.com and www.craigchaquico.com.
"When you do classic songs like these, you want to be true to the originals, yet you want your own spin on them," Chaquico says. "The idea for 'Born Under a Bad Sign' was to give the song a modern, ultrastereo rhythm section almost like a contemporary rap beat with the vocal melody interpreted on guitar."
Chaquico used two guitar tracks for the song: a clean, funkier instrumental that illustrates the vocal and another with a rock tone that reflects Eric Clapton's style.
As for the title song, the guitar riffs have a Southern rock feel to them, like Hendrix a la Stevie Ray Vaughan or Billy Gibbons.
"A lot of Texan rock was inspired by Hendrix," Chaquico says. "That song's title comes from a Hendrix lyric in 'Voodoo Chile': 'the night I was born ... the moon turned a fire red.'
"I've always been enamored with the way blues flirts with the supernatural," Chaquico says. "I think music is very spiritual, somewhere between spiritual and scientific. It's invisible, but it can fill a room."
Chaquico played a Hendrix replica guitar — fashioned after the one played in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival — while recording "Fire Red Moon."
"The guitar's certificate of authenticity stated that it was completed on Sept. 26, my birthday," Chaquico says. "I thought it would be appropriate for the song."
Of the seven originals on the album, three play on the roots-blues themes of women.
"Roots-blues is all about women," he says. "There's the spellbinders, the lost girlfriend, the bad woman, the woman you want back. These are traditional themes."
Hartley, lead vocalist in Chaquico's touring band, sings on "Devil's Daughter."
"I wanted different vocal styles for the songs on this album," Chaquico says. "I was lucky enough to get Noah Hunt from the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band for 'Lie to Me' and Eric E. Golbach for 'Bad Woman.' "
It occurred to Chaquico while he was making the record that it might be stereotyping women, even though it has a blues theme.
"I wanted another dimension, so I added 'Little Red Shoes,' a song about female musicians who can play rockin' Texas blues without sacrificing their femininity," he says. "Look at players like Bonnie Raitt, saxophonists Candy Dulfer and Mindi Abair and drummers Sheila E. and Teri Cote. They're remarkable musicians."
Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner discovered Chaquico in San Francisco. His first recording was in 1971 with Kantner and Grace Slick on their album "Sunfighter." He performed and recorded with Jefferson Starship and Starship through 1990.
Chaquico credits his wife, Kimberly, and his son, Kyle, for his second career as a successful jazz and New Age soloist.
"I started playing acoustic during my wife's pregnancy," he says. "It was more welcome around the house, and that led to a second career as a lucky and successful recording artist.
"Now, I feel that I can go back to rock and songs that are truer to the blues."