Joey Covington, a journeyman drummer with roots back in the old-school rock days, played drums with Jefferson Airplane from 1970 to 1972, and co-wrote one of the group's last chart hits. By the time he joined the band, he was a seasoned pro whose range of involvements, versatility, and open-minded attitude were all signs of a superior player. He began playing drums at the age of ten, listening mostly to jazz players and the drum-orgy recordings of Sandy Nelson. His professional career began soon thereafter, playing in polka bands with his mother and father as chaperones. At 14, he somehow managed to elude their company when he began playing to back up strippers, actually one of the few regular gigs available to rock musicians during the '50s and early '60s. In his high-school years he played with teenage rock bands, developing the ability to sing from behind the drum set, and also learned rudiments in the school marching band. At 20, he received an ultimatum from his father: he had one month to find a regular drum gig or he would have to get into some other sort of work.
Covington headed to New York on a Greyhound bus with his drum set and a hundred bucks; schmoozed an agent reference out of none other than Joey Dee of the Starliters; then camped out in this agent's office for hours, progressing from the warm-hearted offer of a bus ticket back home to an actual tour leaving the next day courtesy of frontman Danny Apolinar, whose entire rhythm section had just run out on him. Gigs with acts such as the Supremes and the Shangri-Las followed, as well as a package tour under the direction of the slick Dick Clark. Covington became more steadily involved with the Fenways, a group that recorded many singles in the early '60s, and might have become household words if the leader hadn't decided to turn down a song that was offered to the group with the suggestive chorus "My baby wants to do the hanky panky." (This song turned out to be a giant hit for Tommy James & the Shondells.)
In the summer of 1967, Covington headed for the West Coast, settling into Los Angeles, where one night he came across a violinist from the swing era named John Creach. It was the drummer who came up with the nickname Papa John Creach for this musician and introduced him to the Jefferson Airplane circle, where the violinist made a wonderful contribution. Covington himself tried out for the band several years before actually joining, finally playing a double drum set lineup with the group's original percussionist, Spencer Dryden. When Dryden left to join the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Covington became the group's sole drummer. More important, he was part of the entire circle of side projects involving various members, including the blues- and ragtime-flavored Hot Tuna and a solo effort by charismatic vocalist Grace Slick.
Covington's own songwriting efforts included "Pretty as You Feel," the group's final chart hit and in some fans' minds justification in itself for his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, the Hall of Fame chose not to include his name in the official group roster when it came time for the Jefferson Airplane to appear on-stage at an official induction ceremony. It was not the first time such a judgment had been made about including certain musicians, in effect rewriting rock history. Covington became part of a group of musicians from this era who rebelled against the way the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose to document the music's history, joining forces in verbal protest and even some attempts at legal action, with artists such as the '70s hitmakers Steely Dan and the "Indian of the group," former Mothers of Invention drummer and vocalist Jimmy Carl Black. Since the Hall of Fame receives special tax status as a museum, critics of the institution feel bringing historical mistakes to light in combination with legal action might help rectify what are felt to be injustices. After all, it is not so difficult to find out who the members of well-known bands were. It isn't like sifting through shards of Illyrian pottery. And while "Pretty as You Feel" can hardly be compared to "White Rabbit," the a cappella track "Thunk," which Covington created, shows that he was a viable part of the Jefferson Airplane's appealingly kooky side.
Although some hardcore Jefferson Airplane fans tend to discount his role in the group, or in fact discount the entire group during the early '70s, part of this is a kind of reflective rot seeping back in time from the later recordings of Jefferson Starship, perceived by psychedelic music fans as being something akin to Muzak. While Covington's role in the latter ensemble was quite minor, a more positive way to look at the entire development was that the Jefferson combos in all their incarnations were pressured to come up with hit singles, something the group actually did several times in several decades, with great impact and for two completely different fan base generations.
Upon leaving the group, Covington created one album under his own name, Fat Fandango, and also participated in a project for Peter Kaukonen, the brother of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen from both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Covington subsequently faded from the music business for a few years, but the continuing interest in the San Francisco psychedelic scene eventually created opportunities for him, and he participated in such bands as the San Francisco All Stars, featuring former Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina, and the Cause Band, with a wide range of talented participants including actor Joe Penny on vocals. Joey Covington was killed on June 4, 2013 at the age of 67 when the car he was driving crashed head-on into a retaining wall in Palm Springs, California. It was reported that Covington was not wearing a seat belt. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi