Mickey Thomas has landed in Cedar Rapids “many times” over the years, but this time, he’s steering his Starship hits toward Orchestra Iowa on Saturday night (2/24).
“This is sort of a different kind of show for me, with a night of symphonic rock,” Thomas, 68, said by phone from his home in Palm Desert, Calif., which he shares with his wife of 12 years. “It’s kind of stepping outside of my comfort zone with Starship. It will be a limited set, a short set for me, with four or five songs plus an encore.
“I’ll be doing the major hits, like ‘Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now,’ ‘We Built This City,’ ‘Sara,’ and I think we’re doing ‘Find Your Way Back,’ then I’ll probably jam with the orchestra a little bit at the end.”
A touring band from Los Angeles will help pump up the pop-orchestra overdrive. It’s not Starship, Thomas quickly pointed out, but he has performed with these rockers before, and said they provide the core of the show.
Thomas has been with Starship since 1979, but the south Georgia native blasted into the stratosphere even earlier, singing lead vocals on the Elvin Bishop Band’s 1976 megahit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to have not just hits, but hits that linger in people’s minds that they don’t forget — that were real special, magical moments for people,” he said.
Between wedding songs and pop culture placement, his body of hits keep hitting new generations of fans and reeling them into his concerts. Typical age range for a Starship show is 25 to 65, he said, depending on the venue.
“If we’re playing a theater or a performing arts center, that tends to be more toward the older crowd. If we’re doing something like a casino, it might trend more toward the younger group. We do a lot of festivals during the summer, a lot of outdoor shows, and with those, it’s the whole gamut then, because you get everything, from three generations of families to the shows,” he said.
“I have three kids that range in age from 30 to 21, and they all love classic rock. And it’s not just because of me. It seems like a lot of their friends and a lot of the kids of their generation really love classic rock. Some of it is probably the influence of movies. Starship’s been fortunate to have several of our songs appear in a lot movies geared toward the younger crowd, too, like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘The Muppet Movie.’ That helps a lot to bring in a whole new audience, too — a younger audience.”
Time has been kind to Thomas’ vocals, which continue soaring into the same heights without having to pitch his hits lower, like so many rockers of a certain age.
“I don’t really have any particular secret, other than (being) lucky I guess,” he said with a laugh, adding that he credits his parents for giving him good genes.
“I don’t do anything special,” he said. “I have to warm up a lot. I do steam showers before I go to the gig and try to get enough rest, which is not easy to do sometimes on the road. Other than that, maybe just a lot of good chardonnay.”
He does about 60 or 70 shows a year, and for the musician inspired by seeing The Beatles at age 15 in Atlanta, he still likes being knee-deep in the hoopla.
“Believe it or not, I just enjoy it more now than at any point in my life,” he said. “I read a quote from Bob Seeger a couple of years ago. He said during his heyday back in the ’70s and ’80s that he would find himself sometimes in the middle of a performance onstage, daydreaming and thinking, ‘I’d rather be on my boat, I’d rather be riding my bike rather than being here. And now, as we get older and feel good, we can appreciate it much more. There’s no place I’d rather be, than right there on stage at that moment, singing and performing.’
“I kinda feel that way,” Thomas said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to still do it, to be able to still sing all the songs in their original keys and still be having fun. I really appreciate it more than I did when I was younger.”
When people ask him if he’s thinking about retiring, he always says, “No.”
“When you’ve been fortunate enough to find something that you can do with your life that you love and is so much fun to do, why would you want to stop doing that when you can still do it? And also, usually, when I see people retire, they tend to get old real fast.
“I love to travel. I guess I’m just sort of a gypsy at heart, because I must have that in my soul. Not that I don’t enjoy being home, but when I’ve been home for a few weeks, I get that itch,
still, to be back on the road.”
WHAT: Orchestra Iowa: Symphonic Rock with Mickey Thomas from Starship
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (2/24)
TICKETS: $18 to $54; youth and student prices at (319) 366-8203
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Starshipcontrol.com
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org