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Papa John Creach

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Solo Blues/Jazz Violinist and Member of Jefferson Airplane,  Jefferson Starship, and Hot Tuna

Papa John Creach was one the best known blues violinists of the 20th century, through his membership in the Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, the Jefferson Starship, and his solo recordings.  Skilled equally in pop, rock, jazz, and blues, he played with a rough edged warm tone and wild hot trilling solo licks.  The Blues Foundation honored Papa John as an outstanding blues musician in 1993 with the W. C. Handy Award.   His most noted tracks are "String Jet Rock" (1971), "99 Year Blues" (1972), "Git Fiddler" (1975), and "Sweet Life Blues" (1992).

John Henry Creach was born in Beaver Falls, Pa., in 1917 into a family of five brothers and four sisters.  Members of his musical family played piano, guitar, bass, and drums.  His uncle, a merchant seaman, on a visit to Beaver Falls, brought a violin he purchased in Europe.  After hearing his uncle play hymns, John was enamored with the violin.  His uncle gave him the violin and taught him the basics.  John was soon able to play with his sister accompanying him on piano.  His family of moved to a farm near Benton Harbor when the steel mill where his father worked closed.  In 1935, when John was 18, his family moved again to Chicago where he studied violin at the Conservatory of Music.  A competent musician he was hired under a WPA program as a music librarian for the Illinois Symphony and an as occasional guest artist.  But in the 1930s the doors were closed to African Americans trying to earn a living in classical music.  Seeking to earn more money he found work playing jazz in the Chicago clubs and German and Polish music at dances.

During the 1930's, John Creach formed the cabaret band Chocolate Music Bars that played jazz, blues and popular music.  They toured the United States and Canada.  Later Creach played with Roy Milton's six piece band in Memphis.  In 1943 Creach purchased a National electrified violin and amp allowing him to be heard in larger bands.   Creach moved to Los Angeles in 1945.  For the next 20 years he performed in cocktail lounges in California.  He studied and played classical music by day at a symphony workshops.  At night he played Jazz.  In 1950 he joined Teddy Rudolph's band Three Bits of Rhythm and appeared with them in the nightclub scene of the movie "Cry Danger" starring Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming. 

Creach formed the Johnny Creach Trio with Edgar Mason and Happy Joe Louis in 1951.  They signed a contract with Dootsie Williams' Dootone label and released the recordings "Danny Boy", "Indian Love Call", and "My Little Susie".  The trio also recorded the tracks "Black World Blues" and "Cotton and Corn Blues" with Helen Andrews on the Exelsior label. Creach appeared in the movie "Blue Gardenia" with Nat King Cole in 1953.  During the rest of the 1950’s and early 1960s Creach performed with Nina Russell, Big Joe Turner , T-Bone Walker and others.   Looking for a gig at the LA Musician’s Union he made friends with drummer Joey Covington.

Covington joined the Jefferson Airplane in 1970 and introduced Creach to the band.  They invited Creach to make a guest appearance with the airplane at Winterland in October 1970.  Impressed by the audience’s reaction to Creach’s playing, the made him a permanent member of the Jefferson Airplane and Paul Kanter’s side band Hot Tune. The Airplane members nick named him Papa John.  He performed and recorded with the Jefferson airplane from 1970 to 1975.  Creach departed the Airplane in August 1975 to concentrate on his solo career.  He returned as a guest performer on the spring 1978 Jefferson Starship tour.  He joined Joey Covington’s band the San Francisco All-Stars, performing with them from 1979 through 84.  He also worked with Covington and Spencer Dryden, as a member of the Dinosaurs (1982–89). He also made guest appearances with Hot Tuna. 

Creach released the solo album "Papa John's Friends..." in 1971 on Airplane's Grunt label.  He showcased his ability to play cool jazz with “St. Louis Blues" and ballads with “Danny Boy”.  The album's highlights are "Papa John's Down Home Blues" with Carlos Santana and Bruce Conte on guitar and "String Jet Rock" with Jack Cassidy and Jorma Kaukonen.  Creach appeared the Jefferson Starship’s million-selling Red Octopus album in 1975.  Papa John released several solo albums during the 1970s.  His last solo release was “Papa Blues” in 1992 recorded with the Bernie Pearl Blues Band.   He toured with the Jefferson Starship in 1992 through 1994.  Despite suffering from by arthritis he brought audiences to their feet with soulful electric violin riffs.  In January of 1994 he suffered a heart attack during Northridge earthquake and died from pneumonia in February of 1994 at age 76.


    * First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971) — Hot Tuna

    * Bark — Jefferson Airplane (1971)

    * Papa John Creach (1971)

    * Burgers (1972) — Hot Tuna

    * Long John Silver - Jefferson Airplane (1972)

    * Filthy! (1972)

    * Thirty Seconds Over Winterland - Jefferson Airplane (1973)

    * Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun - Paul Kantner, Grace Slick & David Freiberg (1973)

    * Playing My Fiddle for You (1974)

    * Dragon Fly — Jefferson Starship (1974)

    * Red Octopus — Jefferson Starship (1975)

    * I'm The Fiddle Man (1975)

    * Rock Father (1976)

    * The Cat and the Fiddle (1977)

    * Inphasion (1978)

    * Historic Live Tuna (1985)

    * I Predict 1990 - Steve Taylor (1987)

    * Papa Blues (1992)

    * Best Of Papa John Creach (1994)