Mickey Thomas and his pathway to Heaven
A current photo of the latest version of Starship (Mickey Thomas is third from the left)
There was a stiff price to pay if one wanted to be the lead singer of Jefferson Starship back in the ‘80s. “The rest of the band got to party” after a concert, says lead singer Mickey Thomas, still a bit miffed. “You can change strings on your guitar; I can’t change out my vocal cords.”
So while the band took the festivities that started on stage to another watering hole, Thomas was back in his hotel room sleeping. The exception was when the band had two No. 1 back-to-back singles (“We Built This City on Rock ‘n Roll” and “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now”). “We were on tour when we got the news,” he says. “That night I did party.”
But it wasn’t all self-sacrifice. “Back in those days I brought my golf clubs,” he says. “While they slept in, I was going to golf courses.”
Thomas, whose background was rhythm and blues, joined the band after notorious rocker Grace Slick left to go into rehab. She later rejoined them. The original band, Jefferson Airplane, pioneered psychedelic rock in the 1960s and ‘70s. The name changed to Jefferson Starship and then lost the “Jefferson” in 1985. “By the time Grace came back there was no more drugs, no more drinking,” he says, adding jokingly, “I’d heard all the crazy stories (about her antics on and off stage) and I told her, ‘If you ever fall off the wagon, call me, I want to hang out with you.’”
While Slick was the wild one, Thomas says people thought of him as “Mr. Congeniality.” Slick told him he needed to “dirty up your act a little bit.”
“It was a crazy ride,” he says.
Thomas and his wife, Rachel, are starting a new ride as multi-unit franchisees with Bowl of Heaven, but he’s not giving up the newly staffed Starship. When we first tried to set up a phone interview with him, he was about to embark on a “Blues Cruise” to the Bahamas. Not a bad gig: two shows and the rest of the time you’re one of the tourists.
Thomas and Grace Slick circa 1985
The couple wanted a business they could do together. They discovered Bowl of Heaven, a juice bar/acaí bowls/smoothie concept, when they were driving home from a gig and Rachel wanted fresh juice. “My wife’s health conscious,” he says. They searched for juice restaurants on their phones and found Bowl of Heaven, and the rest, as they say, is history—and a signed contract.
In the beginning they’ll be hands on. “We have a 27-year-old daughter with a BA in design and business management,” he says, who will be helping out with the day-to-day. Thomas envisions doing local television commercials or having “Mickey Bowl Day” where he’ll sing “unplugged.”
But don’t expect Thomas to write any songs for the commercials. “Mine aren’t good enough to sing,” he claims. “I thought of myself as an actor. Let someone write it and I’ll interpret it.”
The first store is scheduled to open in what Thomas calls the “Rodeo Drive of the desert,” in the Palm Desert/Palm Springs area. At first Fransmart’s Dan Rowe, whose company has partnered to do the franchise sales for Bowl of Heaven, was concerned about the high number of older people in Palm Dessert, but Thomas reassured him. “If it was Iowa, you might be right,” he says he told Rowe, “but in the desert they’re all about staying alive and young.” The extreme desert heat drives residents away in the summer, but Thomas says it’s becoming less of a problem.
Thomas performing on stage. Thomas is a new multi-unit franchisee with Newport Beach, California-based Bowl of Heaven.
Running a business is doable, he says, because life on the road is so much easier today—mainly because bands are no longer on the road, but in the air. “Now we have in the contract what equipment we need,” he says, which means no more semi-truck caravans. Instead of going out for months at a time, bands can head out for a few days and come home to the comfort of their own beds.
One of the highlights of his career, he says, was playing at the Grammy Awards. “I was kinda intimidated. Everywhere you look are peers and icons,” he says. “Sting was in the front row. I made eye contact and he didn’t look happy.” Later, Thomas says, laughing, he discovered the source of the sour expression on the former frontman for the Police: “We both had the same jacket on.” We didn’t ask who wore it better.
Today, he’s not worried about copying anyone. After all, that’s being in tune with franchising.