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Mon, 05.28.1917

Papa John Creach, Musician born

Papa John Creach (1974)

*Papa John Creach was born on this date in 1917.  He was a Black musician. 

Born John Henry Creach, he was from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.  As a child, he was introduced to the violin by an uncle, and he received both tutoring in the instrument and conservatory training.  He began playing violin in Chicago bars after his family moved there in 1935, and he also did some symphonic work when he was in his early 20s, which was unusual for a Black musician at the time.  At one point, he joined a local cabaret trio called the Chocolate Music Bars and toured the Midwest with them. 

According to Creach, knowing how to play in various styles was necessary to survive as a musician in Chicago at the time: “Because of all the nationalities [there], I had to learn to play everything. At some jobs, it was strictly German music or Polish. Now, they used to dance and knock holes in the floor.”   Better known as Papa John Creach, early in his career, he performed as a journeyman musician with Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Stuff Smith, Charlie Christian, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, and Roy Milton.  

He had some difficulty learning to play the jazz violin and adjusting his bowing technique but was helped when he purchased an electric violin in 1943.  Moving to Los Angeles in 1945, he played in the Chi-Chi Club, worked on an ocean liner for five years, appeared in several films, including with Nat King Cole in Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia, and performed as a duo with Nina Russell.  Creach met and befriended drummer Joey Covington at a union hiring hall in Los Angeles in 1967. When Covington joined Jefferson Airplane in 1970, he introduced Creach to them. In the fall of 1970, he was invited to join Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady's sideband. He remained with both groups while also recording and touring as a solo artist for Jefferson Airplane's Grunt Records. During this period, his backing band Zulu included guitarist Keb' Mo'.  

Creach left Hot Tuna in 1973 but remained on board when Jefferson Airplane was reorganized as Jefferson Starship in 1974.  He toured and recorded with Jefferson Starship from 1974 to 1975, including the platinum-selling album Red Octopus (1975). In August 1975, Creach left the band to focus on his solo career.  Nevertheless, he remained amicable with the group and briefly returned as a touring member for the band's spring 1978 engagements.  A year later, Creach renewed his working relationship with Covington as a member of the San Francisco All-Stars. He also performed with Covington's Airplane predecessor Spencer Dryden as a member of The Dinosaurs. Creach continued to make occasional guest appearances with Hot Tuna. He performed with them at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1988 when Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna reunited with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick for the first time on stage since 1972.

In 1992, Papa John Creach joined Kantner as a member of the relaunched Jefferson Starship and performed with them until he fell ill and died from congestive heart failure on February 22, 1994. A heart condition had been causing bouts of pneumonia from continual fluid build-up in his lungs. He was 76.  Jefferson Starship performed a benefit concert to raise money for his family after his death and released tracks from their performances as the Deep Space/Virgin Sky album.  

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