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Published: 2013/06/07
by Jeff Tamarkin

Joey Covington, Jefferson Airplane Drummer, Dead at 67

Joey Covington, who replaced Spencer Dryden as Jefferson Airplane’s drummer in 1970 and wrote and sang the band’s final hit single, “Pretty As You Feel,” was killed in an automobile accident in Palm Springs, Calif., on Tuesday. Covington, 67, was driving alone at the time and died instantly when his car veered off the road and struck a retaining wall head-on. The cause of the crash remains under investigation, according to his longtime partner, singer-songwriter Lauren Taines.

Born Joseph Michno in Johnstown, Pa., in 1945, Covington taught himself to play drums and moved to Los Angeles in 1967. The following year he met Airplane singer Marty Balin, and two years later Covington was invited to audition for the band. He became a member of the Airplane’s inner circle but was not immediately asked to join their ranks. In the meantime, he began jamming with Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady informally, a side project that would soon develop into the nascent Hot Tuna. Covington was invited to play percussion on the Airplane’s 1969 Volunteers album and, the following year, when Dryden was booted from the band, he became the Airplane’s newest recruit, bringing a harder thrust to the music, which was becoming increasingly electrified and jam-centric.

For some time Covington worked with both Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane. He ultimately left Tuna and is featured prominently on the Airplane’s 1971 Bark album, both as drummer throughout the recording and as author and vocalist on “Pretty As You Feel,’ a song that evolved out of a jam that also included Carlos Santana and drummer Michael Shrieve. The single reached number 60 in Billboard, the last Jefferson Airplane single to chart. Covington also contributed “Thunk,” a freewheeling, a cappella Frank Zappa-esque oddity, to Bark.

Bark is also notable in that it includes the violin work of “Papa” John Creach, an African-American who was already 50 when Covington met him in 1967. Covington introduced Creach to the Airplane, who inducted him into the band in the fall of 1970. Creach remained with the Airplane until the band’s 1972 demise and subsequently played in both Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship, which morphed out of the Airplane.

Covington was let go from the Airplane in April 1972, six months before the band’s dissolution, replaced by the group’s fifth and final drummer, John Barbata. Covington remained part of the Airplane family, however, recording an album, Joe E. Covington’s Fat Fandango, which he released on the band’s Grunt label in 1973. Covington’s involvement with the members of his former group dwindled in subsequent years. In 1976, he co-wrote the hit single “With Your Love” for Jefferson Starship, but he increasingly spent the bulk of his performing time in various configurations of musicians bearing names such as the San Francisco All-Stars. He gigged regularly until the end of his life, primarily in Southern California.

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