Apr 25, 2019
by Robert Feuer
Pete Sears refers to himself as “an aging rock ‘n’ roll musician” in our recent interview, describing the genre as “an all-encompassing form of music, influenced by everything.” He hit the big stage in 1974, as bassist and keyboardist for Jefferson Starship. It was a utopian era of unbridled optimism, when hopes, dreams, and hallucinations merged with reality.
He’s currently a member of the local bands, Moonalice, the David Nelson Band, and the Green Leaf Rustlers with former Black Crowes vocalist, Chris Robinson.
Sears is easily identified on stage. For many years, he’s worn a fedora he describes as being shaped like an old English farmer’s hat. He denies its purpose is to cover his bald spot.
Born in England in 1948, he grew up in a neighborhood he calls “a bomber alley,” an area badly bombed during WWII. With early bands, he sometimes traveled the British Isles in a beat-up old van. In 1967, Jimi Hendrix sat in at one show for a night of “intense jamming.”
Arriving in America in 1969, Sears spent his first three months living with a friend at the beach in Venice. A management deal with radio deejay Tom Donahue brought Sears to San Francisco, where he played with one of Donahue’s bands, Stoneground. After a period of touring between the U.S. and England, including playing on several of Rod Stewart’s earliest albums, in 1974 Sears joined Jefferson Starship at the request of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, continuing with them until 1987.
The post-Starship years allowed him to connect with John Cippolina in founding the band Copperhead. Sears also played and recorded with Nick Gravenites. By invitation, Sears joined Hot Tuna for two nights on keyboards at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater in 1992, leading to a ten-year alliance.
Discussing the musical spontaneity of his youth, Sears says, “I feel lucky to have been part of the innovation of that era.”
He sees the ‘80s as a downward turn for rock ‘n’roll. It developed into more of a business, as musicians became intertwined with record companies who, driven by greed, controlled the airwaves and tried to change a band’s sound in a more commercial direction. Musicians often make their own recordings these days, he says, but “it’s more and more difficult for them to make a living. I don’t know where it’s going to end up.”
Sears, who lives in San Rafael, enjoys discussing his grandchildren and his life with the woman he married in 1975, Jeannette, who wrote lyrics for some Starship songs. They’ve collaborated on projects and music supporting environmental and human rights groups. In 1988, Jeannette wrote the lyrics to Sears’ album “Watchfire,” about human rights violations in Guatemala. The band included Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Mickey Hart. It’s one of Sears’ three solo albums.
“If you stick around long enough, you play with so many different people,” Sears says. “I told myself, when I turn 70 I’m going to start cutting back, but I’m playing more than ever before.”
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