MICKEY THOMAS: The Timeless Voice Behind Unforgettable Songs

By Lisa Lynn Morgan
Photos credit: Joe Schaeffer

In the vast realm of American rock and roll, certain voices stand out like few others, and they have that one song that implants itself so deeply in your psyche, that you immediately erupt into a full voiced, fist in the air, sing along whenever you hear it. One of those voices, for me and millions of others, is Mickey Thomas and Starship. The song – “We Built This City.”

I remember exactly where I was when those powerful anthem vocals poured through my car radio in August of 1985. I was driving from Claremont, California, a suburb in Los Angeles County, on my way to what would be my last prenatal doctor appointment before my daughter was born. Driving in my high-top, LA Gear sneakers and scrunchie socks, 19-year-old “knee deep in the hoopla” me felt a fire light up in me when those Grace Slick-Mickey Thomas harmonies rang out: “We built this city… we built this city on rock and roll.” I didn’t even know who “Marconi on the trombone” was, but I suddenly wanted to learn. I felt empowered and in awe of the music that could move me like that. I wasn’t alone.

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Mickey Thomas’s journey to Starship (formerly known as Jefferson Starship) and the multi-platinum record, Knee Deep in the Hoopla, was the result of a sequence of key events. The phone call he received likely would never have happened if it hadn’t been for Rock and Roll and Blues Hall of Famer, Elvin Bishop and his song, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Thomas joined Bishop’s band in the 1970s as a lead and backing vocalist. “We had just finished laying down all the tracks at the studio for the album (Struttin’ My Stuff) and were packing up to leave,” Thomas recalled. “But the producer had the feeling that the record wasn’t quite finished – it needed something more. Bishop’s song, ‘Fooled around and Fell in Love’ was suggested. Bishop tried laying down the vocal track, but his voice wasn’t really working for it. When they suggested that I sing lead on the song, I jumped at the opportunity. I had a really good feeling about that song.” His distinctive voice quickly gained attention, and the Elvin Bishop band achieved commercial success with the hit single.

Thomas’s career reached new heights when he got the call to join Jefferson Starship, a transition that would prove to be a defining moment in his musical trajectory. Thomas officially joined the band in 1979.

The 1980s brought a transformation for Jefferson Starship, leading to a change in the band’s name to simply “Starship.” Under this new moniker and change in musical direction, Mickey Thomas and the band achieved massive commercial success with chart-topping hits, the most iconic among them, “We Built This City.” The song became a cultural phenomenon and remains a staple of ‘80s rock nostalgia. “My favorite part of every show is seeing the crowd’s reaction to ‘We Built This City,’” Thomas shared. The next single released a few months later was “Sara,” a ballad that captured Thomas’s ability to connect emotionally through his singing. The next release, “Jane,” proved to be a song that showcased Thomas as a very capable front man.

Mickey Thomas’s contribution to the world of rock music goes beyond his impressive vocal abilities that seem strangely unaffected by time or age. His stage presence and charisma have made him a beloved figure among fans. His collaborations with other musicians and his flexible adaptability have allowed him to remain a relevant force throughout the decades, despite the many changes that came with them.

The music and Thomas’s signature voice have proven to be phenomenal additions to movie soundtracks over the years. “My favorite placement of ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love,’ was the bar scene in the movie ‘Family Stone,’ (a film featuring Diane Keaton, Sara Jesicca Parker, Dermot Mulroney, and Luke Wilson).” Thomas shared. “It was just a great scene and the perfect place for the song.” Thomas’s son might feel differently. While at the movie theater with friends, watching the 2014 block buster hit, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the song “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” played during a scene where Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) introduces music for the first time to his crush, Gamora (Zoey Saldana), Thomas’ son said to his friends, “Hey, that’s my dad!” His son’s friends were sufficiently impressed. Neither Mickey nor his son were aware of the placement since that is usually handled by the writers, but it was a great surprise. “I love that the music is connecting to younger generations,” the elder Thomas shared.

While Thomas’s contributions to timeless, iconic hits have secured his place in the pantheon of great rock vocalists, he still loves performing and continues to tour regularly. When he’s not touring, Thomas calls the desert home, and is deeply invested in his community. He and his wife own “Bowl of Heaven,” at The Village University Park on 36891 Cook Street, next to Roc’s Firehouse Grille. “My wife and I were at the beach and had the best smoothie we’ve ever had, so we were inspired.” Thomas’ wife has tastefully added some of his Gold/Platinum records and rock memorabilia to the walls, adding to the reasons to drop in for a healthy treat.

My first direct contact with Mickey Thomas was in 2015 when I interviewed him on behalf of Coachella Valley Weekly. He was hoping to record a Christmas album. This past December, he was finally able to make progress on that goal. Thomas released two songs that are the start to an album he hopes to complete by next Christmas (2024) – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” are now available on most streaming services. “I really wanted to capture the feel of Bing Crosby and Judy Garland in these recordings,” Thomas explained. His love for the traditional songs and those early songwriters and performances is evident in his delivery.

It was also clear during our earliest conversations that Thomas is deeply interested in finding ways to connect and contribute to his community. Since then, Thomas has appeared on behalf of YMCA of the Desert’s Charity Golf Tournament twice, appeared as a judge for a charity song writing contest, and is a proud supporter of Animal Samaritans alongside his wife, Rachel. There are few artists of Thomas’s stature who leave such an openly gracious, kind, and giving footprint.

Thomas’s next tour launches from Fantasy Springs Casino Resort January 20, 2024, where Starship will share the stage with Platinum Record recording artists, Fog Hat – pretty much a classic rock enthusiast’s dream lineup.

Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas will be backed by elite band members, most of whom have been with Thomas longer than any other ensemble he’s been in: Jeff Adams – bass; John Roth, -guitar; Phil Bennett – keyboards; Darrell Verdusco – drums; and power vocalist, Cian Coey, will join him. “I love that we’re launching this tour from my own back yard,” Thomas shared warmly.

The tour will take him on to Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, and Florida before ending in April. This is the ONLY CALIFORNIA SHOW scheduled, so be sure not to miss it. Tickets start at $49 and are available at https://www.fantasyspringsresort.com/starship-foghat/.

As we continue to enjoy the timeless melodies and unforgettable performances, it’s clear that Mickey Thomas’s voice will forever be part of the American Song Book, echoing through the corridors of rock music history and woven into the stories of our lives. This show promises to be a Starship through time, and an opportunity to remember and honor the contributions of an artist who is one of our desert’s own.

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