Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band from San Francisco. The band was one of the pioneers of the psychedelic rock (or acid rock) genre of rock music, which is rock music influenced by the effects of LSD, a psychoactive substance. Their past and present members include rock music heavyweights such as Grace Slick. Though fans often refer to the band using the short name "the Airplane", its official name is "Jefferson Airplane", not the Jefferson Airplane.
The band was instrumental in launching the nascent psychedelic music scene that developed around the city of San Francisco in the mid-1960s and was regarded as its "flagship" act. They were the first San Francisco group to perform at a dance concert -- the seminal 'happening' at the Longshoremen's Hall in October 1965 -- the first to sign a contract with a major record label, the first to appear on national television, the first to score hit records and the first to tour to the U.S. East Coast and Europe.
Throughout the late 1960s Jefferson Airplane was one of the most popular and expensive concert acts in the world. Their records were sold in large numbers, and they scored two US Top 10 hit singles and a string of Top 20 albums. Their 1967 LP Surrealistic Pillow is still often regarded as one of the key recordings of the so-called "Summer of Love".
The band underwent steep decline and disintegration in the turbulent era of the 1970s. Some of the musicians in Jefferson Airplane later reunited and formed successive incarnations of the band. These incarnations have existed and performed under distinct names and evolving lineups: Jefferson Starship, and later simply Starship before becoming Jefferson Starship The Next Generation in 1991. Due to its historical impact, Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Formation and early career
Jefferson Airplane was founded in San Francisco in 1965, emerging from the San Francisco Bay folk music boom in the context of American folk music revival. Although the Airplane were considered the prominent San Francisco group of the period, Kantner was the only native San Franciscan member.
The group's founder was singer Marty Balin, who had established a minor career as a pop singer in the early Sixties and made several recordings on his own. In mid-1965 Balin raised funds to establish a new nightclub, the Matrix and soon after he met folk musician Paul Kantner at another local club, the Drinking Gourd.
Kantner had started out performing on the Bay Area folk circuit in the early 1960s, along with Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Janis Joplin. He has cited folk group the Kingston Trio as a significant influence. He briefly moved to Los Angeles around 1964 where he worked in a folk duo with future Jefferson Airplane/Starship member David Freiberg, who subsequently became a part of Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Balin and Kantner then set about selecting other musicians to form a group that would be the "house band" at the Matrix. Balin heard female vocalist Signe Toly Anderson at the Drinking Gourd and invited her to be the group's co-lead singer; however Anderson became pregnant with her first child in late 1965, which led to her eventual departure in late 1966.
Kantner next recruited his old friend Jorma Kaukonen, an adept blues guitarist from Washington D.C. Kaukonen had moved to California in the early Sixties and met Kantner while studying at Santa Clara University ca. 1962. Kaukonen was invited to jam with the new band and although initially reluctant to join, he was won over after playing his guitar through a tape delay device that was part of the sound system used by Ken Kesey for his famous Acid Test parties. The original lineup was completed by drummer Jerry Peloquin and acoustic bassist Bob Harvey.
The origin of the group's name is often disputed. "Jefferson airplane" is a slang term for a used paper match split open to hold a marijuana joint that has been smoked too short to hold without burning the hands -- an improvised roach clip. An urban legend claims this was the origin of the band's name, but according to band member Jorma Kaukonen, the name was invented by his friend Steve Talbot as a parody of blues names such as Blind Lemon Jefferson. A 2007 press release quoted Kaukonen as saying:
- "I had this friend [Talbot] in Berkeley who came up with funny names for people," explains Kaukonen. "His name for me was Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane (for blues pioneer Blind Lemon Jefferson). When the guys were looking for band names and nobody could come up with something, I remember saying, 'You want a silly band name? I got a silly band name for you!'"
The group made its first public appearance at the opening night of the Matrix club on August 13, 1965. Peloquin was a seasoned musician whose disdain for the others' drug use was a factor in his departure just a few weeks after the group began. Although he was not a drummer, singer-guitarist Skip Spence (founder of Moby Grape) was then invited to take over the drum stool by Balin.
They drew inspiration from groups such as the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Lovin' Spoonful, gradually developing a more pop-oriented 'electric' sound. The other members soon decided that Harvey's bass playing was not up to par. He was replaced in October 1965 by guitarist-bassist Jack Casady, who had played with Kaukonen in a band named the Triumphs when both lived in the Washington DC area. Casady played his first gig with the Airplane at a college concert in Berkeley, California, two weeks after he arrived in San Francisco.
The group's performing skills improved rapidly and they quickly gained a strong following in and around San Francisco, aided by rave reviews from veteran music journalist Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle; after seeing the band at the Matrix in late 1965 he proclaimed them "one of the best bands ever." Gleason's support raised the band's profile greatly, and within three months their manager Matthew Katz was fielding offers from record companies, although they were yet to perform outside the Bay Area.
Two very significant early concerts featuring the Airplane were held in late 1965. The first was the now-legendary dance at the Longshoremen's Hall in San Francisco on 16 October 1965, the first of many such 'happenings' in the Bay Area, and it was here that Ralph Gleason first saw the Airplane perform. At this concert they were supported by another local folk-rock group the Great Society, which featured Grace Slick as lead singer, whom Kantner met for the first time that night. A few weeks later, on 6 November, they headlined a benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the first of many engagements for rising entrepreneur Bill Graham, who eventually became their manager.
In November 1965 Jefferson Airplane signed a recording contract with RCA Victor, which included a then unheard-of advance of US$25,000. On 10 December 1965 they played at the first Bill Graham show at the Fillmore ballroom, supported by The Great Society and others, and they also appeared at a number of Family Dog shows promoted by Chet Helms.
The group's first single was Balin's "It's No Secret" (a tune he had written with Otis Redding in mind); the B-side was "Runnin' Round the World", the song that subsequently led to the band's first major clash with RCA.
Their debut LP Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was completed in March 1966, and soon after, during the spring of 1966, Skip Spence abruptly quit the band. He was eventually replaced by an experienced jazz drummer recruited from Los Angeles, Spencer Dryden, who played his first show with the Airplane at the Berkeley Folk Festival on 4 July 1966.
Manager Matthew Katz was fired in August. The legal fallout from this action was to affect the band and its members for decades; the case was finally settled in 1987. After Katz's sacking Balin's friend and flatmate Bill Thompson was installed as their permanent road manager and temporary band manager. Thompson, a staunch friend and ally of the band, was a former Chronicle staffer who first convinced reviewers Ralph Gleason and John Wasserman to see the band. Thanks to Gleason's influence, Thompson was able to book the group for prestigious appearances at the Berkeley Folk Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Jefferson Airplane takes Off was released in September 1966. Folk music very much influenced the album, which included such staples as John D. Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road" and Dino Valente's "Let's Get Together", as well as original ballads "It's No Secret" and "Come Up the Years." The LP garnered considerable attention in the USA and eventually became a gold album.
RCA initially pressed only 15,000 copies, but it sold more than 10,000 in San Francisco alone, prompting the label to reprint it. It was at this point that the company deleted the track "Runnin' Round This World" (which had appeared on early mono pressings), because executives objected to the use of the word "trip" in the lyrics. They also substituted altered versions of two other tracks ("Let Me In" and "Run Around") because of similar concerns about lyrics. The original pressings of Takes Off featuring "Runnin' 'Round This World" are now rare collectors' items worth thousands of dollars.
Arrival of Grace Slick
Signe Anderson gave birth to her son in May 1966, but by October she had decided that it was impossible to continue performing, so she reluctantly announced her departure. Her final gig with the Airplane took place at the Fillmore on 15 October 1966. The following night, her replacement Grace Slick made her first appearance with Jefferson Airplane. Grace, a former professional model, was already well-known to the band -- she had attended the Airplane's debut gig at the Matrix in 1965 and her previous group the Great Society had often supported the Airplane in concert.
Slick's recruitment proved pivotal to the Airplane's commercial breakthrough — she possessed a powerful and supple contralto voice, well-suited to the group's amplified psychedelic music, she was strikingly good looking, and her dynamic stage presence greatly enhanced the group's live imapct.
Slick was no mere "girlie singer" however. She was a remarkable individual: feisty, often outspoken, highly intelligent, well-educated, widely read and an accomplished multi-intrumentalist and songwriter. Crucially for the Airplane, she brought with her two superb compositions -- "Somebody to Love", written by her brother-in-law, Great Society guitarist Darby Slick and "White Rabbit" (which she had written in just half an hour) and which drew inspiration from the psychedelic drug LSD, then extremely popular in San Francisco, Maurice Ravel's "Bolero", and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland).
The Great Society had recorded an early version of "Somebody To Love" (under the title "Someone to Love") as the B-side of their only single, "Free Advice"; it was produced by Sylvester Stewart (soon to become famous as Sly Stone) but it reportedly took more than 50 takes to achieve a satisfactory rendition. The Great Society decided to split in the autumn of 1966 and they played their last show on 11 September. Soon after, Slick was asked to join Jefferson Airplane by Jack Casady (whose musicianship was a major influence on her decision to join) and her Great Society contract was bought out for US$750.
The Newsweek magazine in December 1966 published an article about the prosperity of San Francisco musical scene featuring Jefferson Airplane significantly. The article and subsequent media coverage, however, led to a large migration of youths to San Francisco and caused the later commercialization of the hippie culture.
In the early 1967 Bill Graham took over from Bill Thompson as the group's manager and in January 1967 they traveled to Los Angeles to record the tracks for their next LP, as well as making their first visit to the US East Coast. On 14 January 1967 Jefferson Airplane headlined alongside the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service the now-legendary "Human Be-In", the famous all-day 'happening' staged in Golden Gate Park which is now generally acknowledged as the one of the key events leading up to the so-called "Summer of Love."
During this period the band gained their first international recognition when they were namechecked by rising British pop star Donovan, who saw the them during his stint on the US West Coast in early 1966 and mentioned them in his song "The Fat Angel," which subsequently appeared on his Sunshine Superman LP.
Jefferson Airplane's second LP was Surrealistic Pillow. It was recorded in Los Angeles over 13 days with producer Rick Jarrard at a cost of US$8000 and helped the band to attain international fame. Released in February 1967, the LP entered the Billboard album chart on March 25 and charted for over a year, peaking at #3.
The album was a major international success, and alongside the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it is widely regarded as one of the seminal albums of the so-called "Summer of Love." The name Surrealistic Pillow was suggested by the 'shadow' producer of the album, Jerry Garcia, when he mentioned that, as a whole, the album sounded "as Surrealistic as a pillow." The record company would not allow Garcia's considerable contributions to the album to garner him a "Producer" credit, so Garcia is listed in the album's credits as "spiritual advisor."
As well as their two best-known tracks, "White Rabbit" and the rousing anthem "Somebody to Love," the album featured one track by former drummer Skip Spence ("My Best Friend"), Balin's driving "Plastic Fantastic Lover," and the atmospheric Balin-Kantner ballad "Today." A reminder of their earlier folk incarnation was Kaukonen's solo acoustic guitar tour de force, "Embryonic Journey" (his first composition), which referenced contemporary acoustic guitar masters such as John Fahey and helped to establish the popular genre exemplified by acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke.
The first single from the album, Spence's "My Best Friend," failed to chart, but the next two singles rocketed the group to prominence. Both "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" become major US hits when released as singles -- the former reached #5 and the latter #8 on the Billboard singles chart -- and by late 1967 the Airplane were national and international stars and had become one of the hottest (and highest-paid) groups in America.
This phase of their career peaked with their famous performance at the epochal Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 and two songs from their set were subsequently included in the D.A. Pennebaker film documentary of the event. Monterey showcased leading bands from several major music "scenes" including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and England and the resulting TV and film coverage gave national (and international) exposure to groups that had previously had only regional fame.
All these bands were also greatly assisted by appearances on nationally syndicated TV shows such as the Johnny Carson Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. The Airplane's famous appearance on the Sullivan show performing "White Rabbit," which was (fortunately) videotaped in color and augmented by recent developments in video techniques. It has been frequently re-screened and is notable for its pioneering use of the Chroma key process to simulate the Airplane's customary psychedelic light show.
Change of direction
The band's direction was stable until 1970, during which time they recorded five more albums and performed extensively in the USA and Europe, but the group's music transformed significantly after Surrealistic Pillow and the influence of founder Marty Balin began to fade away after their first commercial peak.
The band delved deep into acid rock with their third LP, After Bathing at Baxter's. The product of many sessions over several months, it was released on 27 November 1967, and it entered the charts in December, eventually peaking at #27. Its famous cover, drawn by renowned artist and cartoonist Ron Cobb, features a whimsical re-imagining of the group's Haight-Ashbury house on Fulton Street, depicted as a Heath Robinson-inspired flying machine soaring about the chaos of American commercial culture.
Key influences on the group's new direction were the emergence of Jimi Hendrix and in particular the first headlining US tour by British supergroup Cream, which prompted many groups including the Airplane to adopt a 'heavier' sound and to place a greater emphasis on improvisation.
This was evident on Baxter's, which took more than four months to record, with little interference from the nominal producer Al Schmitt. Where the previous LP had consisted of unconnected songs, the new album was dominated by long multi-part suites, demonstrating the group's growing engagement with psychedelic rock. It also marked the emergence of Kantner and Slick as the band's major composers and the concurrent decline as major contributor of Marty Balin, who was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the "star trips" and inflated egos that their runaway commercial success had produced.
Batxer's also marked the end of the Airplane's brief run of success on the singles chart. Both "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love" were US Top 5 hits, but the single lifted from Baxter's, "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil", peaked at a mediocre #43. None of their subsequent singles made it into the Top 50 and several did not chart at all.
Despite this, Jefferson Airplane continued to enjoy significant success as "album" artists and between 1967 and 1972 they scored a remarkable run of eight consecutive Top 20 albums in the USA, with both Surrealistic Pillow and Crown of Creation making the Top 10.
In February 1968 manager Bill Graham was fired after Grace Slick delivered her "either he goes or I go" ultimatum to the group. Bill Thompson took over as permanent manager and he set about consolidating the group's financial security, establishing Icebag Corp to oversee the band's publishing interests and purchasing a 20-room mansion at 2400 Fulton Street in the Haight-Ashbury district, which became the band's office and communal residence.
The Airplane undertook their first major tour of Europe in the late summer and early autumn of 1968, co-headlining with the Doors, performing in the Netherlands, England, Belgium, Germany and Sweden. A notorious incident involving Jim Morrison took place at a concert in Amsterdam; while they were performing "Plastic Fantastic Lover," a heavily intoxicated Morrison appeared on stage and began dancing. As the group played faster and faster, Morrison spun around wildly until he finally fell senseless on the stage at Marty Balin's feet. Not surprisingly, Morrison was unable to perform his set with the Doors and Ray Manzarek was forced to sing all the vocals.
Jefferson Airplane's fourth LP Crown of Creation (released in September 1968) was a transitional record, more concise and structured than its predecessor, and much more commercially successful, peaking at #6 on the album chart. Notable tracks include Grace Slick's Lather, which is said to be about her affair with drummer Spencer Dryden.
"Triad" was a mildly risqué David Crosby piece that had famously been rejected by the Byrds because they deemed its subject matter (a ménage à trois) to be too "hot" to record. Slick's searing sex and drug anthem "Greasy Heart" had been released as a single in March 1968. Several tracks recorded for the LP were left off the album, including the freeform Grace Slick / Frank Zappa collaboration "Would You Like A Snack?"
In February 1969 RCA released the live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head, which was culled from late 1968 live concert performances at the Fillmore West on October 24-26 and the Fillmore East on November 28-30. It became their fourth US Top 20 album, peaking at #17.
In early August 1969 the band headlined at a free concert in New York's Central Park and a few days later they performed in an early "morning maniac music" slot at the Woodstock festival, for which the group was augmented by noted British session keyboard player Nicky Hopkins. When interviewed about Woodstock by Jeff Tamarkin in 1992, Paul Kantner still recalled it with fondness, although Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden had less than rosy memories.
Immediately after Woodstock, sessions began for their next album using new 16-track facilities at the Wally Heider Studio in San Francisco and this proved to be the last recordings by the "classic" lineup of the group.
Volunteers was released in the USA in November 1969 and it continued their run of Top 20 LPs, peaking at #13 early in 1970. It was their most political venture, showcasing the group's vocal opposition to the Vietnam War and documenting their reaction to the increasingly repressive political atmosphere in the United States. The title track, "Volunteers," "We Can Be Together," "Good Shepherd," and the post-apocalyptic "Wooden Ships" were all highlights. The album track "Wooden Ships," which Paul Kantner co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, was also recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash on their debut album, but as both groups released the song the same year and as it was co-written by members of both bands, both versions are considered to be original versions of the song.
RCA voiced objections to the phrase "up against the wall, motherf***er" in the lyrics of Kantner's song "We Can Be Together," but the group were able to prevent it from being censored by pointing out that RCA had already allowed the offending word to be included on the cast album of the rock musical Hair -- although the company did replace it with the word "fred" in the accompanying lyric sheet.
In December that year they played at the infamous Altamont Free Concert held at the Altamont Speedway in California. The concert, which was headlined by the Rolling Stones, was marred by crowd violence. Marty Balin was knocked out during a scuffle with Hells Angels members who had been hired to act as "security." The event became notorious for the now-famous "Gimme Shelter Incident," due to the fatal stabbing of black teenager Meredith Hunter in front of the stage by Hells Angels "guards" after he allegedly pulled out a revolver during the Stones' performance (this incident was the centerpiece of the documentary film Gimme Shelter).
Spencer Dryden quit the band in February 1970, burned out by four years on the "acid merry-go-round" and deeply disillusioned by the events of Altamont which, he later recalled "... did not look like a bunch of happy hippies in streaming colors. It looked more like sepia-toned Hieronymus Bosch." He took time off and later returned to music in 1972 as a drummer for the Grateful Dead spin-off band New Riders of the Purple Sage. Dryden's replacement was Joey Covington, an L.A. musician who had been sitting in with Hot Tuna during 1969.
Touring continued through the spring and summer of 1970 but the group's only new recording that year was the single, "Have You Seen the Saucers?" b/w "Mexico." The B-side was an attack on President Richard Nixon's Operation Intercept, which had been implemented to curtail the flow of marijuana into the United States, while the A-side marked the beginning of a science-fiction obsession that Kantner would explore with his music over the rest of the decade.
During 1969 Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen launched their side project, a return to their blues roots, which they eventually dubbed Hot Tuna. This began as a duo, with the pair performing short sets before the main Airplane concert, but over the ensuing months other members of the Airplane, as well as outside musicians (including Joey Covington), often sat in for Hot Tuna performances.
During late 1969 Casady and Kaukonen recorded an all-acoustic blues album, which was released in the spring of 1970, and it was remarkably successful, reaching #30 on the US album chart. Over the next two years Hot Tuna began to occupy more and more of their time, contributing to the growing divisions within Jefferson Airplane that would come to a head during 1972.
However, the Hot Tuna project also led to the addition of a new band member who, for a time, reinvigorated the group's sound. Covington had met veteran jazz-blues violinist Papa John Creach in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s; he invited Creach to sit in with the Airplane for a concert at Winterland in San Francisco on October 5, 1970 and as a result Creach was immediately invited to join Hot Tuna, and he soon became a permanent member of the Airplane touring lineup as well.
This concert also marked a turning point of another kind for the Airplane -- it was a memorial for their old friend Janis Joplin, who had died in Los Angeles from a heroin overdose the previous day, and because of her death, her close friend Marty Balin refused to perform with the band that night.
During this period, Paul Kantner had been working on his first solo album, a science fiction-themed project recorded with members of the Airplane and other friends. It was released in December 1970 under the title Blows Against the Empire, and credited to "Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship". This "prototype" version of Jefferson Starship included David Crosby and Graham Nash, Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart and Airplane members Grace Slick, Joey Covington and Jack Casady.
Jefferson Airplane ended 1970 with the release of their first "Greatest Hits" album, the perversely titled The Worst of Jefferson Airplane, which continued their unbroken run of chart success, reaching #12 on the Billboard album chart.
Decline and dissolution
In 1971, Jefferson Airplane confronted a year of major upheaval. A relationship between Grace Slick and Paul Kantner had started in 1970 and their daughter China Wing Kantner was born on January 25, 1971. Shortly before this, Grace's divorced from her first husband. However, she and Kantner agreed not to marry.
In March 1971, Airplane's founder and co-lead singer Marty Balin decided to leave the band. He had been deeply affected by the death of his friend Janis Joplin, and he had also begun to pursue a healthier lifestyle, studying yoga and giving up drinking, which further distanced him from the other members of the group, whose prodigious drink and drug intake continued unabated.
On 13 May 1971 Grace Slick was badly injured in a near-fatal automobile accident when her car slammed into a wall in a tunnel near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Her recuperation took several months, which forced Jefferson Airplane to cancel all concert and touring commitments for the rest of 1971.
The band returned to the studio in the late summer of 1971. Their next LP Bark (whose cover featured a dead fish wrapped in an A&P-style grocery bag) was issued in September 1971 as the inaugural release on the band's Grunt Records label and although it was the final album owed to RCA under the band's existing contract, manager Bill Thompson eventually struck a deal with RCA to distribute Grunt.
The single lifted from the LP, "Pretty As You Feel" was written by and featured lead vocals by drummer Joey Covington, and it was the last Jefferson Airplane single to make the US singles chart, although it only got as high as #60.
By this time, creative and personal tensions within the group were becoming a major factor and the Airplane had effectively split into two camps, with Slick and Kantner on one side and Kaukonen and Casady on the other. (Jorma Kaukonen's song, "Third Week In the Chelsea," from Bark, chronicles the thoughts he was having about leaving the band). These problems were exacerbated by escalating drug use, which caused the Airplane to become increasingly unreliable in their live commitments and led to some chaotic situations at concerts.
By the beginning of 1972 it was evident to most people close to the group that Jefferson Airplane had effectively reached its "use-by date" but the band held together long enough to record one more LP, Long John Silver, which was begun in April 1972 and released in July. It was clearly a rather desultory effort from this once great group, since by this time the various members were far more engaged with their various solo projects -- Hot Tuna, for instance, had released a second (electric) LP during 1971, which proved even more successful than its predecessor. The Long John Silver LP is notable mainly for its cover, which folded out into a humidor (presumably for the storage of marijuana).
Joey Covington quit the Airplane soon after Long John Silver was recorded and moved on to a group led by Jorma Kaukonen's brother Peter, Black Kangaroo, which was also signed to the Grunt label. Covington was replaced by John Barbata, who had been the drummer in the touring lineup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. With the addition of Kantner's old friend David Freiberg on vocals, Jefferson Airplane began a tour to promote the Long John Silver LP in the summer of 1972, their first concerts for over a year following Grace Slick's 1971 car accident. This tour included a major free concert in Central Park that drew more than 50,000 people.
They returned to the West Coast in September, playing concerts in San Diego, Hollywood and Alberquerque, culminating in two shows at Winterland in San Francisco (Sept 21-22), both of which were recorded. At the end of the second show the group was joined onstage by a surprise guest -- Marty Balin -- who sang lead vocals on the final song, "You Wear Your Dresses Too Short".
Although no official announcement was ever released, the Winterland shows proved to be the last live performances by Jefferson Airplane (until their reunion in 1989). By the beginning of 1973 Casady and Kaukonen had left the group permanently to concentrate on Hot Tuna and Kantner and Slick created their own Airplane offshoot, Jefferson Starship, as well as recording further solo albums.
Jefferson Airplane's second live album, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland was released in April 1973. It is now best remembered for its cover art, which depicts a squadron of flying toasters, a design that the band later alleged was plagiarized for the famous "After Dark" computer screensaver design.
In 1974, a collection of leftovers -- singles and B-sides, including "Mexico" and "Have You Seen The Saucers," as well as other non-album material -- was released as Early Flight, the last official Jefferson Airplane album.
Jefferson Starship / Starship
See main article on Jefferson Starship
In 1974, four years after Blows Against the Empire (the Jefferson Starship-prototype album with Paul Kantner), the Starship was formally united with lead singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin, among other members. They scored success in the 1970s with the Balin-composed "Miracles", "With Your Love", and "Count On Me".
In the 1980s, after Balin and Slick left the band, Mickey Thomas became the group's leader as it turned its focus on hard-edged rock. Slick later rejoined the band, but Kantner left soon after, and took legal action against his bandmates over the Jefferson name. After Kantner won his lawsuit, the band became simply Starship, scoring hits such as "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now".
Reunion and remnants
For most of the 1970s and early 1980s the careers of Slick, Kantner, Kaukonen and Casady were occupied with their various solo projects, Hot Tuna and with what became Jefferson Starship (which later mutated into Starship).
In 1981, Marty Balin issued a self-titled solo album which featured the hit singles "Hearts" and "Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love)." In contrast to the revolutionary rock of his Jefferson Airplane days, "Hearts" was a soft pop ballad and also gave Balin a moderate Adult Contemporary chart hit.
In 1985, following his departure from Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner reunited with Balin and Jack Casady to form the KBC Band, releasing their only album, KBC Band (which included Kantner's hit, "America"), in 1987, on Arista Records. The KBC Band also featured keyboardist Tim Gorman (who had played with the Who) and guitarist Slick Aguilar (who had played with David Crosby's band).
With Kantner reunited with Balin and Casady, the KBC Band opened the door to a full-blown Jefferson Airplane reunion. In 1989, during a solo San Francisco gig, Paul Kantner found himself joined by former bandmate (and lover) Grace Slick and two other ex-Airplane members for a cameo appearance. This led to a formal reunion of the original Jefferson Airplane (featuring nearly all the main members except Spencer Dryden, who had been kicked out of the band years earlier. A self-titled album was released by Columbia Records to modest sales. The accompanying tour was a success, but their revival was short-lived, and Jefferson Airplane's 'definitive' line-up officially disbanded for good.
Today, there are two versions of 'Jefferson Starship' — one (with Thomas at the forefront) is officially billed as 'Starship featuring Mickey Thomas' which focuses on newer music of Jefferson Starship/Starship from 1979-1990. The other is a revived 'Jefferson Starship' (often called 'Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation' or 'Jefferson Starship-TNG') which is a throwback to the original Jefferson Airplane, with Kantner and Balin as leaders, and Diana Mangano replacing Grace Slick as female singer (although Slick did do guest vocals on Jefferson Starship's 1999 album Windows Of Heaven). This latter band plays frequent concerts, and on occasion, Jack Casady joins them as well. In 2005, longtime bassist David Freiberg rejoined the group for their "Jefferson Family Galactic Reunion" Tour, and continues to tour with the band, as of 2006. Mangano is an expressive and effective singer, and this revived Jefferson Starship can often capture a good deal of the feeling of the original Airplane. The current line-up also features former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten.
As of 2007 Jefferson Starship continues to tour with a lineup of Paul Kantner (vocals, guitar), David Freiberg (vocals, bass, keyboards), Diana Mangano (vocals), Slick Aguilar (lead guitar), Chris Smith (keyboards) and Prairie Prince (drums). The band sometimes features guest musicians such as Balin, Gould, Gorman and former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten. Jefferson Starship is scheduled to play three songs on NBC’s The Today Show on June 30, 2007.
Jorma Kaukonen still tours as a solo act, often playing over 100 acoustic shows a year at small clubs throughout the country. Occasionally, Jack Casady joins him, and the pair perform as Hot Tuna. Kaukonen also operates a guitar camp in southern Ohio, where he teaches would-be guitar virtuosos his unique style of finger-picking blues.
In 2004, Marty Balin pointed out, with well-deserved pride, that unlike many of their contemporaries, all of the original members of Jefferson Airplane survived the 1960s; all except original drummer Spence (who died on April 16, 1999) lived to see the 21st century. The unfortunate Dryden, who had long languished under financial and health problems, succumbed to colon cancer on January 10, 2005 at the age of 67.
The original 'Jefferson Airplane' - along with the Byrds, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas and the Papas, Tommy James & the Shondells and, to some degree, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - will always be associated with the more melodic end of the North American rock spectrum and in due course other groups, such as Steely Dan and Eagles, continued to blend elements of folk, jazz and rock and bring the results to a global audience. Of all these bands, Jefferson Airplane excelled in the psychedelic domain and in their penchant for pretentious track titles, which came to characterize the era of 1965-75.
British bands apparently influenced by the mellow lyricism of the West Coast sound included Barclay James Harvest, David Bowie, Curved Air, Family, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, the Moody Blues, the Small Faces, Pentangle, and Yes. The Beatles have always stressed the influence that the Beach Boys had on their musical development (especially Pet Sounds), but it seems likely that other music from the West Coast also spread eastward, to play a key part in making pop music more symphonic and less predictable than it had been before 1965. The era of trans-Atlantic jet travel and the ability to send television broadcasts by satellite, also facilitated a greater interplay of musical influences across the Atlantic. Donovan was evidently one of the first British pop musicians to become aware of them, and was undoubtedly influenced by the group to some degree; he famously namechecked the band in his 1966 song "The Fat Angel" (included on his album Sunshine Superman in 1967), written many months before Jefferson Airplane achieved international stardom.
Record producers who worked with the original band included Greg Edward, Rick Jarrard, Matthew Katz, Ron Nevison, Tommy Oliver and Al Schmitt.
In popular culture
- The 1996 movie The Cable Guy features the protagonist performing a karaoke version of "Somebody to Love".
- "White Rabbit" has been used in a number of films and television shows including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Platoon, The Game , episodes of The Sopranos and The Simpsons.
- The group was referred to in an episode of Sex and the City, wherein the character Samantha's hairdo was described as "very Jefferson Starship", in reference to Grace Slick's hairdo.
- The final Friends episode The Last One closes with "Embryonic Journey"
- The 2006 movie Crank features the Jefferson Starship song "Miracles" in the final scene.
- Rock band Relient K wrote a song entitled "Jefferson Aero Plane" that was included on Two Lefts Don't Make a Right...but Three Do
- The Abbie Hoffman Rally scene in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump features the Jefferson Airplane song "Volunteers".
- A remix of "White Rabbit" and the original version of "Somebody to Love" appear on the EA video game Battlefield Vietnam for PC.
- The title of the 1971 novel Go Ask Alice (a fictional diary of a teenage girl who falls into drug addiction) is taken the lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane hit "White Rabbit".
- One of Virgin America's airplanes is named the Jefferson Airplane.
- The opening scene of John Singleton's movie, Four Brothers (2005) features Jefferson Airplane's song "Somebody to Love".
- In the 1995 film Apollo 13, Jefferson Airplane's song "Somebody to Love" can be heard playing from Jim Lovell's daughter's room in one scene.
- "White Rabbit" also appears in the Sopranos.
Notes and references
- Dellar, Fred and Barry Lazell, NME Encyclopedia of Rock (1978 revised edition), (NME, 1978)
- Tamarkin, Jeff, liner notes for Jefferson Airplane Loves You 3-CD boxed set, (BMG Records, 1992)