'Papa' John Creach; Violinist With the Jefferson Airplane

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Papa" John Creach, a violinist who studied with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, segued to jazz and blues, and wound up playing rock with the Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 76.

Creach died at Midway Hospital where he was being treated for heart and respiratory problems.

Perhaps best known for his years with the Airplane, Creach last year earned the W. C. Handy award as an outstanding blues musician from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation.

For the past two years, Creach had toured with Jefferson Starship despite arthritis and failing hearing. In 1992 he made his first compact disc album, "Papa Blues," with the Bernie Pearl Blues Band. The album received widespread acclaim.

One of 10 musically inclined children from Beaver Falls, Pa., Creach first picked up a violin--his uncle's--at age 10. Eight years later, when the family moved to Chicago, Creach studied with symphony players but also discovered jazz.

Playing in small bands and cocktail trios throughout the United States and Canada, Creach often had trouble making his violin heard. But in 1943, National Steel introduced the electric violin, an instrument Creach would make his own.

The result enabled Creach's rapid-fire, be-bop bursts of notes and graceful slides through the upper registers to stand out anywhere.

Creach settled in Los Angeles in 1945.

He played small clubs for a couple of decades until Joey Covington brought members of the Airplane to hear him at the Parisian Room in 1970.

Covington, who later joined the band as its drummer, nicknamed Creach "Papa" to emphasize the irony of a white-haired mid-50ish fiddle player performing with the young rockers.

Creach is survived by his wife, Sylvia (Gretchen) Creach, a former schoolteacher who managed his band, as well as two brothers and a sister.

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