John Henry Creach aka “Papa John Creach”

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There is so much that can be said about a blues musician. It’s amazing to read up on various artists get to know their background, and how they stayed the course and never gave up until they succeeded and realized their dream. The late Papa John Creach did just that and played with many great bands during his career.  His violin skills were very impressive and he was loved and respected by many.

John Henry Creach (May 28, 1917 – February 22, 1994), better known as Papa John Creach, was an American blues violinist, who also played classically, jazz, R&B, pop, and acid rock music. Early in his career, he performed as a journeyman musician with such luminaries as Louis ArmstrongFats WallerStuff SmithCharlie ChristianBig Joe TurnerT-Bone WalkerNat King Cole, and Roy Milton.

Following his rediscovery by drummer Joey Covington in 1967, he fronted a variety of bands (including Zulu and Midnight Sun) in addition to playing with Jefferson AirplaneHot TunaJefferson Starship, the San Francisco All-Stars (1979–1984), The Dinosaurs (1982–1989) and Steve Taylor.

Creach recorded a number of solo albums and guested at several Grateful Dead and Charlie Daniels Band concerts. He was a regular guest at the early annual Volunteer Jams, hosted by Charlie Daniels, which exposed him to a new audience that was receptive to fiddle players.

Life and career

Creach was born at Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. As a child, he was introduced to the violin by an uncle, and he received both tutorings in the instrument and conservatory training. He began playing violin in Chicago bars after his family moved there in 1935, and also did some symphonic work when he was in his early 20s, which was unusual for a black musician at the time. At one point, he joined a local cabaret trio called the Chocolate Music Bars and toured the Midwest with them. 

According to Creach, knowing how to play in a variety of style was a necessity to survive as a musician in Chicago at the time:

[B]ecause of all the nationalities [there], I had to learn to play everything. At some jobs, it was strictly German music or Polish. Now, they used to dance and knock holes in the floor.

He had some difficulty in learning to play jazz violin, having to adjust his bowing technique, but was helped when he purchased an electric violin in 1943.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1945, he played in the Chi-Chi Club, worked on an ocean liner for five years, appeared in several films, including with Nat King Cole in Fritz Lang‘s The Blue Gardenia, and performed as a duo with Nina Russell.

Creach initially met and befriended drummer Joey Covington at a union hiring hall in Los Angeles in 1967. When Covington joined Jefferson Airplane in 1970, he introduced Creach to them. In the fall of 1970, he was invited to join both Jefferson Airplane and Hot TunaJorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady‘s sideband. He remained with both groups while also recording and touring as a solo artist for Jefferson Airplane’s Grunt Records. During this period, his backing band Zulu included guitarist Keb’ Mo’.

Creach left Hot Tuna in 1973 but remained on board when Jefferson Airplane was reorganized as Jefferson Starship in 1974. He toured and recorded with Jefferson Starship from 1974 to 1975, a period that included platinum-selling album Red Octopus (1975). In August 1975, Creach left the band to focus on his solo career. Nevertheless, he remained on amicable terms with the group and briefly returned as a touring member for the band’s spring 1978 engagements.

A year later, Creach renewed his working relationship with Covington as a member of the San Francisco All-Stars. He also performed with Covington’s Airplane predecessor Spencer Dryden as a member of The Dinosaurs. Creach continued to make occasional guest appearances with Hot Tuna. He was performing with them at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1988 when Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna reunited with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick for the first time on stage since 1972.

In 1992, Creach joined Kantner as a member of the relaunched Jefferson Starship and performed with them until he succumbed to congestive heart failure on February 22, 1994. A heart condition had been causing bouts of pneumonia from continual fluid build-up in his lungs. He was 76.[7]

Jefferson Starship performed a benefit concert to raise money for his family after his death and released tracks from their performances as the album Deep Space/Virgin Sky.

    Live at the Paramount Theater Denver Colorado 02/16/1992

 

    Hot Tuna – Papa John’s Down Home Blues Recorded Live: 3/4/1988 – Fillmore                Auditorium – San Francisco, CA

 

    Live at the Black Forest Houston, TX 08/30/1992

    Discography

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “John Henry Creach aka “Papa John Creach”

  1. I’ve been missing in action. I’ve read about and heard about this guy when reading about the San Francisco music scene. I hope you and your family are doing well.

    The guy that I work with…the only person I have in IT right now passed away at age 42. Concussion and he went to sleep. I’m in shock…

    1. This man was rocking and rolling with some of the best. I saw him in a Jefferson Starship video and wanted to know more about him. He was outstanding on the violin.

      My family and I are hanging in here. My mother had surgery on 9/04 and is now in a rehabilitation center. We all swap out going to stay with her there so someone can be with her and she won’t feel all alone, and we can give her all the support she needs to help her with her physical therapy. She is 90 years young, and a tough woman!

      My sister that has lupus had surgery last week on one of her arms. Her bones are deteriorating due to that lupus.

      I am so sorry to hear about your co-worker. I know you are in shock. My prayers to you, his family, and friends. My best friend lost her husband on Friday. We are in shock. He passed away at the company that he owned in his office of a heart attack.

      I hope you and your family are found well.

      1. I hope you mom continues to improve…I’m sure having you all around will do that.

        That is terrible about our sister. I’ve heard of that but never knew what it was really.

        I’m sorry about your best friend’s husband. That is awful. We don’t have great news to each other this time…I hope you are doing well and keep that under control.

        1. Thank you for your kind words. We are all praying that our mother will continue to improve and gain some or all of her independence back. She is doing great with her therapy, even when she doesn’t feel like doing anything, she still gets up and does her best.

          My sister is doing better, she has several restrictions, but she is moving right along. Lupus is a rheumatoid disease. I pray they find a cure for these diseases soon.

          It hurts to hear the pain in my best friend’s voice. I talk to her, pray with her, and just try to be a pillar of support for her.

          It’s good to hear from you, and no, we didn’t have good news to tell each other did we? It will all get better, that’s what I keep telling myself and those around me.

          1. I feel so bad for your friend…that is something you can’t get over.

            Yes it will get better. I have to find someone else at work because being the only one will not work…

            Have a good night take care of your friend, sister, mother, and most of all yourself.