News item: Former Jefferson Airplane drummer Joey Covington is dead at 67.
Joey Covington might be remembered as the Rod Kanehl of rock n’ roll — a man whose modest personal highs were lost in the disaster surrounding them.
Kanehl was a baseball player — a well-traveled minor-league utilityman, experienced at many positions but truly skilled at few, who hustled his way into a major-league job with the expansion New York Mets in 1962.
Kanehl played in 133 games that year, appeared at every position but pitcher and catcher, and set career highs in every offensive category. (Modest career highs — .248, four homers and 27 RBI — but high-water marks nonetheless.)
Still, whatever personal achievements he recorded were swept away by the overall futility of the ’62 Mets, who set a modern major-league record by losing 120 games.
The Mets’ roster, including Kanehl, showed scattered moments of competence. But all in all, it’s hard to argue that anyone on a team that lost three-quarters of its games can truly be said to have played well.
In contrast, Joey Covington found his big career opportunity with a very successful established franchise, not a start-up.
In 1969, he appeared on percussion on a few songs on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album. The next year, he replaced Spencer Dryden as the group’s full-time drummer. He held the job for about two years, appearing on one full studio record and parts of a second.
Like Kanehl, Covington brought multiple skills to the table: He sang and wrote songs, in addition to playing drums.
And sadly, like Kanehl, regular big-league work exposed his deficiencies.
The Airplane’s studio recordings with Covington generally lack the drive and power provided by Dryden, a nimble, jazz-experienced player. And the two Covington-penned songs that appear on Airplane studio albums wouldn’t crack the top 50 in any objective list of the Starplane collective’s greatest songs.
Covington’s only full studio album with the JA, 1971’s Bark, ranks among the sloppiest, draggiest, hollowest, most self-indulgent albums I have ever heard.
Just as the ’62 Mets’ record cannot be blamed entirely on Kanehl, Bark cannot be blamed entirely on Covington. The band was splintering at the time, and each member seems to have brought in songs that amplified and accentuated their worst tendencies. (Paul Kantner, for instance, is at his most charmlessly martial.)
Still, it’s hard to see much upside in his contributions, either. A losing record — on the box score, or on vinyl — reflects poorly on everyone on the team.
(I’ve owned an original pressing of Bark since high school. And for all its flaws, or maybe because of them, it’s a fascinating album, as interesting as the ’62 Mets. I could write a solid two weeks of posts about Bark someday. But make no mistake: Bark is memorable, curious, intriguing, unique and entertaining, but nowhere near good.)
Lest this blog post come across as rank pissery, I will close by noting that both Rod Kanehl and Joey Covington hold small but noticeable claims to fame that no one can take away.
Kanehl, who died in 2004, will live forever in the Mets’ history books as the man who hit the team’s first-ever grand slam, on July 6, 1962.
(I suspect it might have been one of those 285-foot jobbies that the Polo Grounds used to breed like little monsters. But no matter: They’re all bombs in the box score.)
And Covington, along with Marty Balin and Vic Smith, co-wrote “With Your Love,” the mellow-gold Top 20 single from the Jefferson Starship’s 1976 album Spitfire.
“With Your Love” plays like a close cousin of the Starship’s earlier hit “Miracles” — so much so that some have dismissed “With Your Love” as an attempt to carbon-copy the group’s earlier ballad success.
As one who adores “Miracles,” I personally think “With Your Love” is just fine. And it’s a little less richly upholstered, which means that people who find “Miracles” to be just too smoove might prefer its follow-up.
A toast, then, to Joey Covington, hit songwriter (and Rod Kanehl, grand-slam hitter).
They made the big leagues.