The crowd inside the Chrome Room at the Santa Fe Station Hotel & Casino was in for an extra special treat when gifted guitarist Craig Chaquico made an appearance and found his way back to his rock music roots. He blended some classic Jefferson Starship songs, that he had a hand in writing, alongside his more current guitar driven contemporary jazz numbers. The houselights were dimmed and the band began playing "Bobby Sox" from Craig’s "Midnight Noon" CD. A minute of two passed before the spotlight located Craig playing his guitar in the back of the room. From the moment the first beautifully sweet musical tones flowed from his instrument, Craig held the crowd in a spell of rapture. He slowly made his way forward, and paid intimate special attention to the lucky people seated in the plush booths. By the end of the song, Craig stood at center stage.
"Café Carnival," from his highly successful "Shadows and Light" CD was a stunning display of Craig’s fluid Spanish flamingo influenced guitar playing. It impressively evidenced the reasons it became a #1 hit song worthy of spending a long time at the top of the smooth jazz charts. The highly melodic song was one of the night’s highlights, as Craig played with inspired passion and tonal precision. Wade Olson on drums and Jim Reitzel on bass anchored the weighty rhythm section.
Changing gears, Chaquico shot off some vintage Led Zeppelin riffs, and played the solo from "Whole Lotta Love." He used the microphone stand as a slide, running the guitar neck across it, and had the crowd whooping in approval. Someone from the crowd kept requesting "Jane," one of the biggest sellers from the Jefferson Starship’s large catalog; and also one that Craig co-wrote. "I think I remember it," Craig stated with his tongue firmly in cheek. "I could probably play it, but I can’t sing it. I’ll play it if you’ll sing it" he dared the fan. The ruse was then revealed when the fan leaped onstage without an ounce of stage-fright, dressed like a rock star complete with leather pants. He had an extremely powerful voice that could carry to the back of the room without the aid of a microphone. After the song, Craig referred to the fan as his longtime friend, Rolf Hartley. Hartley would return later in the show to do more Starship songs, such as "Stranger," "Find Your Way Back," and the encore "Rock and Roll Is Good Time Music." He would also very capably handle the vocals on Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," a song which would allow Craig to display his rock chops and perform a few guitar tricks; such as picking with his teeth, playing the guitar behind his head, etc.
After "Jane" and "Stranger," Craig played one of his biggest solo hits; the salsa flavored "Luminosa." This truly beautiful song was another number one hit on smooth jazz radio, and one that Craig related as being used on an episode of HBO’s The Sopranos. Craig said that the song is about the light that shines inside all of us. He dedicated it to Bobby Darin’s band director, who was in attendance. The splendid percussionist, Marquinho Brasil, was dazzlingly magnificent on this number.
The title cut from "Acoustic Highway" was another song that peaked at the very top of the smooth jazz charts, and also another song in which Craig displayed great guitar artistry. His tuneful playing created mental images of peaceful breezes and magnificent sunsets.
Repeatedly, throughout the night, Craig provided insight into his songwriting process by relating humorous anecdotes. A masterful storyteller, he was able to draw his audience closer, making them feel a kinship and propinquity. "Sacred Ground," the next song played was a prime example. Craig stated that this song is featured on a Harley Davidson Motorcycle CD alongside such classic rockers as Steppenwolf’s "Born to Be Wild." He gave the tune a long introduction, saying it was written while outside in the desert on an early evening under starlit skies. A peaceful instrumental song, it was enhanced by the addition of faux campfires which added to the atmosphere. Special guest, Gentle Thunder, a female Native American, joined in with some enchanting flute playing to complete the ambiance. Together with Craig, she strolled through the audience, casting a mystical spell. Hauntingly beautiful notes shimmered from his guitar, blending with her spiritual flute and the rhythmic drum earth beats, to create a texture that reached a heavenly "Sacred Ground."
Craig displayed some fast fingerwork to contrast Gentle Thunder’s lulling flute play on "Return Of The Eagle." This composition, inspired by nature, exhibited another example of the conflation of music and power to create a cultural ceremony of ritual in song.
The band then shifted into high gear for "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," Craig leading the way with his wah-wah wailings. Famous guitarist Joe Satriani once stated that the Hendrix guitar solo from this song held the distinction of being his all-time favorite guitar solo. Satriani said: "It's just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity." Craig certainly did Jimi justice with his version, and as I mentioned previously, Hartley was up to the challenge of singing it with raw, ardent power.
"Find Your Way Back," another Starship song co-written by Chaquico, featured versatile keyboard and sax player Bill Slias dueling with Craig’s soaring riffs for the spotlight. The band left the stage, to shortly return for their encore: "Rock And Roll Is Good Time Music." On this final song, Rolf Hartley did an exceptional job on the vocal, with the entire band rocking the room, and Craig once again leading the way with another amazing performance.
The show was over, with the audience having been treated to a magical evening of varied, energetic, and very passionate music. Craig Chaquico, a true guitar virtuoso and master showman, had found his way back.