Jefferson Airplane

  • Psychedelic rock band from San Francisco California formed in 1965. The classic lineup was Marty Balin (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass guitar) and Spencer Dryden (drums).
  • In the early 60s, Balin recorded 2 singles as a solo artist, and also was a member of a folk group. Inspired by folk-rock groups that were becoming popular, he wanted to form a group with similar style. In 1965, he bought a pizza parlor in San Francisco and converted it into a music club, The Matrix. He met Kantner at another club in San Francisco, who agreed to join him. They started recruiting other members, planning to create a house band for The Matrix.
  • They brought in a woman vocalist, Signe Toly Anderson, who sang with the band for a year, and performed on the first album. Balin recruited a college friend, Jorma Kaukonen, to play guitar. Kaukonen came up with the name Jefferson Airplane for the band. He had a friend who invented funny names for people. Kaukonen’s name was Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane. As the band couldn’t come up with anything better, they went with Jefferson Airplane.
  • Drummer Jerry Peloquin and bassist Bob Harvey completed the original lineup. Their first performance was at the Matrix in August 1965.
  • Peloquin soon left, unhappy about the band’s drug usage. He was replaced by Skip Spence. In October 1965, Harvey was replaced by Jack Casady, an old friend of Kaukonen.
  • Their folk sound expanded to electric pop, and their improving skills got noticed. By late 1965, they were getting offers from record companies. They were signed, and they recorded their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in September 1966. After recording the album, Spence left the band, and he was replaced with Spencer Dryden. Anderson left after giving birth to her first child, and was replaced by Grace Slick, who had been performing with another San Francisco band.
  • The debut album did well enough to earn a reprint from the record label when the initial pressing sold out. Executives at the record company objected to the sex and drug references in the lyrics of 3 songs, and they changed the lyrics on these songs for the second pressing. Copies of the original edition are worth thousands of dollars today.
  • With Slick joining the band, she brought strong vocals, great stage presence, and good looks, which contributed greatly to the band’s success. Their next album, Surrealistic Pillow, featured the songs White Rabbit (written by Slick) and Somebody to Love (written by Slick’s brother-in-law) – these songs become signature songs for the band. The album was released in 1967, and it peaked on the Billboard 200 album chart at #3. Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead was a major contributor to the production of the album, though he is only credited as “spiritual advisor” on the record.
  • Their third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, was released in late 1967. It was a major change in that they moved away from folk rock ballads, moving to long, multi-faceted psychedelic rock music. Slick and Kantner had become the chief composers, while Balin’s influence became minimal. The album had little success on AM Rock stations – the singles had too much controversy in their lyrics to get much airplay.
  • Their 1968 album Crown of Creation peaked at #6 on the album chart despite essentially no airplay of the singles. It was their most psychedelic album, with anti-war songs and music about hippies.
  • Three more albums were released between 1969 and 1972 – Volunteers, Bark and Long John Silver – all were top 20 albums. However, the band was disintegrating. Dryden left in 1970, and Balin left in 1971. Different factions developed between the remaining members – Slick/Kantner vs Kaukonen/Casady. Their last live concert was in September 1972. Ultimately, Slick and Kantner fronted the evolution of the band into Jefferson Starship, which was created in January 1974 (and which evolved into simply Starship in 1984). Meanwhile, Kaukonen and Casady went their own way, forming the band Hot Tuna.
  • In 1989, the classic Jefferson Airplane line-up reunited for a tour and album. The album sold modestly, but the tour was deemed successful.
  • Jefferson Airplane is the only band that played at all 3 of the famous rock concerts of the 60s – Monterey Pop in 1967, Woodstock in 1969 and Altamont in 1969.
  • Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2016, they were given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Dryden died in 2005, Kantner died in 2016 and Balin died in 2018.
  • 1960s psychedelic rock was US vs UK. UK was represented by bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds, Cream, The Moody Blues and Donovan. The US was represented by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane. They were important contributors to the history of rock & roll. Here’s the group performing White Rabbit during a performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV show in 1967.

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