A LONGTIME MEMBER of the San Francisco-based rock bands Jefferson Starship and later Starship was in court this week to hear his lawyers press a claim for an accounting of the royalties he earned and should have been paid for his role as guitarist, vocalist and songwriter with the bands from 1976 through 1991.

Craig Chaquico — pronounced “cha-KEE-so” — sat quietly in court Thursday in an unflamboyant tie and sport jacket as his lawyers explained to U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg why an accounting was necessary. He also listened quietly as lawyers for the defendants explained all the reasons why an accounting was not needed and, if it was needed, had already been provided.

In his complaint, Chaquico described himself as “a renowned musician best known as the lead guitarist and driving force behind the legendary rock bands Jefferson Starship and Starship.”

The bands included musicians from the 1960s band Jefferson Airplane and are known for several hit songs and records in the 1970s and ’80s.

He estimated that he was owed in excess of $20 million, though his papers said the exact amount was unknown and could only be determined once the defendants provided an accounting, that is, the details about revenues and expenses for the period from 1996 through 2021.

His lawsuit, filed in August 2022, initially named a score of companies and individuals as defendants, including various Starship-related corporate enterprises, music companies, former band members and managers, as well as the estates of people who have died.

No way out of litigation

Chaquico alleged that he was an equal member of the Starship bands from 1976 to 1991 and during that time he wrote and/or co-wrote hit songs, recorded albums and participated fully in the bands’ activities. He claimed never to have missed a song, album, video, tour or promotional event with the bands.

As the case proceeded, the defendants were narrowed to two — Jefferson Starship Inc. and Shiprats Inc. — both parties to a key agreement made in 1991 when Chaquico withdrew from the band.

In that agreement — the meaning of which is hotly disputed — Chaquico contends that he withdrew in return for a pro-rata share of artist and merchandising royalties, and also “any other income, royalties or advances” from any “any recording project, album, single or any other material or project in which he participated.”

Craig Chaquico, a longtime member of Jefferson Starship and later Starship, performs in an undated photo. He claims never to have missed a song, album, video, tour or promotional event with the bands during the 15 years he performed with them. (Craig Chaquico via Pagransen)

What appears to be at the heart of the dispute is Chaquico’s contention that there is language in the agreement that his royalty and other income will not be “be subject to any fees, commissions or charges.”

The defendants argue that the provision only applies to songwriting income that would have been charged by a now-deceased manager, not all of the recording and other income.

In addition, the defendants say that they have given Chaquico 300,000 pages of documents in response to his requests and there is literally nothing left to give him.

The defendants asked the court to dismiss the case without holding a trial because they say that there are no material facts genuinely in dispute.

Judge Seeborg appeared most interested in how the 1991 agreement should be read and what the parties relied on to shore up their interpretations. As the arguments progressed, it appeared that the defendants’ reading relied on the history of the band’s relationships going back further in time and also on earlier agreements that governed the bands’ business arrangements while Chaquico was still in the band.

Seeborg did not tip his hand as to how he will rule, but it appeared that many disputed facts remain to be resolved, arguably requiring that a full trial be held.

Familiar strangers

It has been nearly 60 years since Jefferson Airplane rocketed to national consciousness with psychedelic hits like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” The band broke up but the original musicians spawned a number of new bands including Jefferson Starship.

Over the decades, there were many comings and goings from the Starship bands, many changes in style and direction, and, as the original band members aged, a number of deaths. The business affairs of the various bands and band members have spawned litigation before, including a now-settled lawsuit over rights to use the Starship name that Chaquico filed in 2017 in federal court in San Francisco.

In a brief interview outside the courtroom, Chaquico explained that the band hadn’t “had a hit in 50 years that I didn’t play on or write and yet they’re sort of ignoring me and erasing me from history.”

In his view, “I feel like other people are somehow getting the money that should be going to me.” He concluded, “I thought I had to do something about it. I tried to do it amicably and ask questions. But I felt forced to take it to court. I mean, what would you do if you’re me?”

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at [email protected].