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posted: 7/21/2010 12:01 AM

Starship's Mickey Thomas coming to Elk Grove

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By Raymond Benson

When rockers reach the age of 60, many of them decide that they really are too old to rock 'n' roll - but not Starship's Mickey Thomas. With his trademark strong, high tenor voice, Thomas sounds as youthful as ever as he hits the road with his longtime band.

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas will appear in Elk Grove Village on Tuesday, July 27, to perform the band's many 1980s-era hits such as "We Built This City," "Sara," "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," as well as earlier classics.

"We do mostly Starship songs," Thomas says, "but I cover everything I've ever been involved with. We do a medley that is a historical retrospective of Jefferson Starship and Jefferson Airplane."

And what a history it is.

Originally from Cairo, Georgia, Thomas decided early on that he wanted to be a rock 'n' roll singer. "I was lucky enough to meet gospel singer Gideon Daniels when I was about 20 years old. He took me under his wing, and after a year of singing and traveling with Gideon he taught me to discover my voice. He was my mentor."

After a stint with the Elvin Bishop Group (for which Thomas sang lead vocals on the 1976 hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"), Thomas was tapped in 1979 by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick to join Jefferson Starship, the band that evolved out of the old Jefferson Airplane.

"One of the roadies had heard me sing at a club and made a compilation cassette of my stuff to play for the band. I was blown away at first, it was the farthest thing from my mind. I saw myself going in a different direction from my perception of Jefferson Starship. But the band was ready to change their musical direction and come out with a much harder edge, so I thought maybe what I do might fit in with the band."

Thomas became the identifiable voice behind Jefferson Starship with hits like "Jane" and "Be My Lady." Then, in 1984, Kantner decided to leave and take the band's name with him.

"Everyone else, including Grace, was determined to keep the group together," Thomas recalls. "Paul wasn't on board with the changes we wanted to make, such as exploring different styles of making music and changing producers. He wanted to take his ball and go home. But we ironed it out eventually."

A legal settlement allowed the band to continue under the name "Starship," and Thomas led the group to some of their biggest successes. The 1985 single "We Built This City" was a hugely popular No. 1 hit - and yet at one point VH1 declared it to be the Worst Song of All Time.

"It was pretty funny, actually," Thomas says. "We were in pretty good company! It's like my manager says - if you're going to be on a list, you might as well be number one! But today, it's not the first thing the audience thinks of when we break into it - they're usually on their feet and going crazy. It's our encore!"

The '80s-era Starship disbanded in 1991, mainly because the other members wanted to go off and form Big Bad Wolf. Thomas received manager Bill Thompson and Grace Slick's blessing to continue with a brand new outfit known as "Starship featuring Mickey Thomas" and they've been touring for nearly 20 years. (Paul Kantner also re-formed a new Jefferson Starship lineup that tours separately.)

"I've been playing with these guys - and one gal - for a long time," Thomas says. "It's the best live band I've ever been with."

On reaching the big 6-0, Thomas laughs. "I don't see an end in sight any time soon. I feel great, I have as much energy as ever and I enjoy singing and being on stage more than ever. We're even working on a new Starship album that will be out in the fall."

Thomas is also quick to point out, "And we haven't tuned down the songs, either - everything is in its original key. I like to punish myself!"

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27

Where: Charles Zettek Municipal Complex, 901 Wellington, Elk Grove Village

Admission: Free