Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band formed in San Francisco, California in 1965. A pioneer of counterculture-era psychedelic rock, the group was the first band from the San Francisco scene to achieve international mainstream success. Their 1967 record Surrealistic Pillow is regarded as one of the key recordings of the "Summer of Love". The band performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969)—as well as headlining the first Isle of Wight Festival (1968). Two hits from the album "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit", are listed in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Successor bands to Jefferson Airplane include Jefferson Starship and Starship; spinoffs include Hot Tuna and KBC Band. Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Formation and early career
Jefferson Airplane was made in San Francisco during the summer of 1965, emerging from the San Francisco Bay folk music boom (see American folk music revival). The group's founder was 23-year-old vocalist Marty Balin (born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 30, 1942, but raised in San Francisco), who had established a minor career as a pop singer in the early 1960s and had made several recordings under his own name. Balin recorded (without commercial success) for Challenge Records in 1962, releasing two singles, the most notable being "I Specialize in Love," and was a member of a folk group called the Town Criers in 1963–1964. After the Beatles-led British invasion of 1964, Balin was inspired by the merging of folk with rock, spearheaded by the success of The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel, and decided to form a group in 1965 to play this hybrid style. With a group of investors, Balin purchased a former pizza parlor on Fillmore Street, which he transformed into a music club, The Matrix, and began searching for members for his group.
Balin met folk musician Paul Kantner at another local club, The Drinking Gourd. Kantner, a native San Franciscan, had started out performing on the Bay Area folk circuit in the early 1960s, alongside fellow folkies Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Janis Joplin. Kantner has cited folk groups like The Kingston Trio and The Weavers as strong early influences. He briefly moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1964 to work in a folk duo with future Airplane/Starship member David Freiberg (who subsequently joined Quicksilver Messenger Service).
Balin and Kantner then set about recruiting other musicians to form the house band at the Matrix. After hearing female vocalist Signe Toly Anderson at the Drinking Gourd, Balin invited her to be the group's co-lead singer. Anderson sang with the band for a year and performed on their first album, departing in October 1966 after the birth of her first child.
Kantner next recruited an old friend, blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Originally from Washington, D.C., Kaukonen had moved to California in the early 1960s and met Kantner while at Santa Clara University in 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 Acid Test parties. Drummer Jerry Peloquin and acoustic bassist Bob Harvey completed the original lineup.
The origin of the group's name is often disputed. "Jefferson airplane" is slang for a used paper match split to hold a marijuana joint that has been smoked too short to hold without burning the fingers – 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:
The group made its first public appearance as Jefferson Airplane at the opening night of The Matrix on August 13, 1965. The band expanded from its folk roots, drawing inspiration from The Beatles, The Byrds and The Lovin' Spoonful, and gradually developed a more pop-oriented electric sound.
A few weeks after the group was formed, Jerry Peloquin departed, in part because of his disdain for the others' drug use. Although he was not a drummer, singer-guitarist Skip Spence (who later founded Moby Grape) was then invited to replace Peloquin. In October 1965, after the other members decided that Bob Harvey's bass playing was not up to par, he was replaced by guitarist-bassist Jack Casady, an old friend of Kaukonen from Washington D.C. 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 soon gained a strong following in and around San Francisco, aided by reviews from veteran music journalist Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle who, after seeing them at the Matrix in late 1965, proclaimed them "one of the best bands ever." Gleason's support raised the band's profile considerably, and within three months their manager Matthew Katz was fielding offers from recording companies, although they had yet to perform outside the Bay Area.
Two significant early concerts featuring the Airplane were held in late 1965. The first was the historic dance at the Longshoremen's Hall in San Francisco on October 16, 1965, the first of many 'happenings' in the Bay Area, where Gleason first saw them perform. At this concert they were supported by a local folk-rock group, The Great Society, which featured Grace Slick as lead singer and it was here that Kantner met Slick for the first time. A few weeks later, on November 6, they headlined a benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the first of many promotions by rising Bay Area entrepreneur Bill Graham, who later became the band's manager.
In November 1965, Jefferson Airplane signed a recording contract with RCA Victor, which included an unheard-of advance of US$25,000. Prior to this, they had recorded a demo for Columbia Records of "The Other Side Of This Life" with Bob Harvey on bass, which was immediately shelved by the label. On December 10, 1965 the Airplane played at the first Bill Graham-promoted show at The Fillmore Auditorium, supported by The Great Society and others. The Airplane also appeared at numerous Family Dog shows promoted by Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom.
The group's first single was Balin's "It's No Secret" (a tune he wrote with Otis Redding in mind); the B-side was "Runnin' Round The World", the song that led to the band's first clash with RCA, over the lyric "The nights I've spent with you have been fantastic trips." After their debut LP was completed in March 1966, Skip Spence quit the band and he was eventually replaced by Spencer Dryden, who played his first show with the Airplane at the Berkeley Folk Festival on July 4, 1966. Dryden had previously played with a Los Angeles group called the Ashes, who later became The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
Original manager Matthew Katz was fired in August, sparking a long-running legal battle that continued until 1987, and Balin's friend and roommate Bill Thompson was installed as road manager and temporary band manager. It was Thompson, a friend and staunch supporter of the band and a former Chronicle staffer, who had convinced reviewers Ralph Gleason and John Wasserman to see the band at the Longshoreman's Hall. Thanks to Gleason's influence, Thompson was able to book the group for appearances at the Berkeley Folk Festival and at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
The group's debut LP Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was released in September 1966. The folk-music-influenced album included 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." Despite the fact that the group had neither performed outside the Bay Area nor appeared on TV, the album garnered considerable attention in the USA and sold well enough to earn a gold record award. RCA initially pressed only 15,000 copies, but it sold more than 10,000 in San Francisco alone, prompting the label to reprint it. For the re-pressing, the company deleted "Runnin' Round This World" (which had appeared on early mono pressings), because executives objected to the word "trip" in the lyrics. For similar reasons, RCA also substituted altered versions for two other tracks: "Let Me In", changing the line "you shut your door; you know where" to "you shut your door; now it ain't fair." In the same song, they also switched the lyric "Don't tell me you want money" to "Don't tell me it ain't funny." "Run Around" was also edited, changing the line "flowers that sway as you lay under me" to "flowers that sway as you stay here by me". The original pressings of the LP featuring "Runnin' 'Round The World" and the uncensored versions of "Let Me In" and "Run Around" are now worth thousands of dollars on the collectors' market.
Arrival of Grace Slick
Signe Anderson gave birth to her daughter in May 1966, and in October she announced her departure from the band. Her final gig with the Airplane took place at the Fillmore on October 15, 1966. The following night, her replacement Grace Slick made her first appearance. Slick 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 that complemented Balin's and was well-suited to the group's amplified psychedelic music, and as a former model, her good looks and stage presence greatly enhanced the group's live impact.
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", produced by Sylvester Stewart (soon to become famous as Sly Stone). It reportedly took more than 50 takes to achieve a satisfactory rendition. The Great Society decided to split up in late 1966 and played its last show on September 11. Soon after, Slick was asked to join Jefferson Airplane by Jack Casady (whose musicianship was a major influence on her decision) and her Great Society contract was bought out for $750.
Surrealistic Pillow and commercial breakthrough
In December 1966, Jefferson Airplane was featured in a Newsweek article about the booming San Francisco music scene, one of the first in a welter of similar media reports that prompted a massive influx of young people to the city and contributed to the commercialization and exploitation of the hippie culture.
Around the beginning of 1967 Bill Graham took over from Bill Thompson as manager. In January the group made their first visit to the East Coast. On January 14, alongside The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane headlined the now-legendary "Human Be-In", the famous all-day 'happening' staged in Golden Gate Park, one of the key events leading up to the "Summer of Love".
During this period the band gained their first international recognition when rising British pop star Donovan, who saw them during his stint on the US West Coast in early 1966, mentioned the Airplane in his song "The Fat Angel," which subsequently appeared on his Sunshine Superman LP.
The group's second LP, Surrealistic Pillow, recorded in Los Angeles with producer Rick Jarrard in only thirteen days at a cost of $8000, launched the Airplane to international fame. Released in February 1967, the LP entered the Billboard 200 album chart on March 25 and remained there for over a year, peaking at No. 3. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. 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 is soft." Although RCA Victor would not acknowledge Garcia's considerable contributions to the album with a "Producer" credit, he is listed in the album's credits as "spiritual advisor."
In addition to the group's two best-known tracks, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love", the album featured "My Best Friend" by former drummer Skip Spence, 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" became major US hits, the former reaching No. 5 and the latter No. 8 on the Billboard singles chart. By late 1967 the Airplane were national and international stars and had become one of the hottest groups in America. Grace Slick biographer Barbara Rowes called the album "a declaration of independence from the establishment [-] What Airplane originated was a romanticism for the electronic age. Unlike the highly homogenized harmonies of the Beach Boys, Airplane never strived for a synthesis of its divergent sensibilities. Through [-] each song, there remain strains of the individual styles of the musicians [creating] unusual breadth and original interplay within each structure."
This phase of the Airplane's career peaked with their famous performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. Monterey showcased leading bands from several major music "scenes" including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom, and the resulting TV and film coverage gave national (and international) exposure to groups that had previously had only regional fame. Two songs from the Airplane's set were subsequently included in the D. A. Pennebaker film documentary of the event.
The Airplane also benefited greatly from appearances on national network TV shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on NBC and The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Airplane's famous appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour performing "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" was videotaped in color and augmented by 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 psychedelic light show.
Change of direction
The membership of Jefferson Airplane remained stable from 1967 to early 1970. During that period they recorded five more albums and performed extensively in the USA and Europe. After Surrealistic Pillow, the group's music underwent a significant transformation. However, key influences on the group's new direction were the popularity and success of Jimi Hendrix and the British supergroup Cream, which prompted the Airplane (like many other groups) to adopt a 'heavier' sound and to place a greater emphasis on improvisation.
The band's third LP, After Bathing at Baxter's, was released on November 27, 1967 and eventually peaked in the charts at No. 17. Its famous cover, drawn by renowned artist and cartoonist Ron Cobb depicts a Heath Robinson-inspired flying machine (constructed around an idealised version of a typical Haight-Ashbury district house) soaring above the chaos of American commercial culture.
Recorded over a period of more than four months, with little input from nominal producer Al Schmitt, the new album demonstrated the group's growing engagement with psychedelic rock. Where the previous LP had consisted entirely of "standard-length" pop songs, Baxter's was dominated by long multi-part suites, while the track "A Small Package of Value Will Come To You Shortly" was a musique concrete style audio collage inspired by Frank Zappa's avant-garde work on side four of Freak Out! Baxter's also marked the ascendency of Kantner and Slick as the band's chief composers and the concurrent decline in the influence and involvement of founder Marty Balin. The other members, gravitating toward a harder-edged style, openly criticized Balin for his ballad-oriented compositions. Balin was also reportedly becoming increasingly disenchanted with the "star trips" and inflated egos generated by the band's runaway commercial success.
Baxter's also marked the end of the Airplane's brief run of success on the singles chart. While both "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love" were US Top 10 hits, "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil", peaked at No. 43 and "Watch Her Ride" stalled at No. 61, though both were listed as being in the top forty in Cash Box. None of the band's subsequent singles made it into the Top 40 and several did not chart at all. AM Top 40 radio, in particular, became wary of a group that had scored a hit with a song that contained thinly-veiled drug references and whose singles were often deemed too controversial, so Jefferson Airplane never again enjoyed the kind of widespread radio support they would have needed to score more Top Ten hits.
Despite this, Jefferson Airplane continued to enjoy tremendous success as "album" artists. Between 1967 and 1972 they scored a run of eight consecutive Top 20 albums in the USA, with both Surrealistic Pillow and Crown of Creation making the Top 10. Furthermore, many of their singles did manage to make minor chart positions in the singles chart due in part to the growing influence of FM radio, which played many rock songs that AM radio did not.
In February 1968, manager Bill Graham was fired after Grace Slick delivered an "either he goes or I go" ultimatum to the group. Bill Thompson took over as permanent manager and 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 across from Golden Gate Park near the Haight-Ashbury district, which became the band's office and communal residence. Bill Laudner was hired as road manager.
In mid-1968, the group was photographed for a Life magazine story on "The New Rock," appearing on the cover of the June 28, 1968 edition. They undertook their first major tour of Europe in August–September 1968, playing alongside The Doors in the Netherlands, England, Germany, and Sweden. In a notorious incident at a concert in Amsterdam, while the Airplane was performing "Plastic Fantastic Lover," Doors singer Jim Morrison, stoned on some hash given to him by a fan, 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. Morrison was unable to perform his set with the Doors and was hospitalized while keyboardist Ray Manzarek was forced to sing all the vocals. It was also during this tour that Slick and Morrison allegedly engaged in a brief sexual relationship, described in Slick's 1998 autobiography.
Jefferson Airplane's fourth LP, Crown of Creation (released in September 1968), was a commercial success, peaking at No. 6 on the album chart. Grace Slick's "Lather," which opens the album, is said to be about her affair with drummer Spencer Dryden and his 30th birthday. "Triad," a David Crosby piece, had been rejected by The Byrds because they deemed its subject matter (a ménage à trois) to be too "hot". Slick's searing sexual and social-commentary anthem "Greasy Heart" was released as a single in March 1968. A few tracks recorded for the LP were left off the album but later included as bonus tracks, including the Grace Slick/Frank Zappa collaboration "Would You Like A Snack?"
The Airplane's appearance on The Smothers Brothers in the fall of that year caused a minor stir when Grace Slick appeared in blackface (she claimed she simply wanted to wear all the makeup she saw in her dressing room) and raised her fist in the Black Panther Party's salute after singing "Crown of Creation."
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 the Airplane's fourth Top 20 album, peaking at No. 17.
In April 1969, sessions began for their next album, Volunteers, using new 16-track facilities at the Wally Heider Studio in San Francisco. This proved to be the last album by the "classic" lineup of the group. The album's release was delayed when the band ran into conflict with their label over the content of songs such as "We Can Be Together" and "Uncle Sam Blues" and the planned title of the album, Volunteers of Amerika. "Volunteers of Amerika" is a corruption of the Volunteers of America charity; the term being in vogue in 1969 as an ironic expression of dissatisfaction with America; however the charity objected so the name was shortened to Volunteers.
In August 1969, a few days after the band headlined at a free concert in New York's Central Park, they performed in what Grace Slick called an early "morning maniac music" slot at the Woodstock festival, for which the group was joined by noted British session keyboard player Nicky Hopkins. When interviewed about Woodstock by Jeff Tamarkin in 1992, Paul Kantner still recalled it with fondness, whereas Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden had less than rosy memories.
Immediately after their Woodstock performance, the band appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and played a few songs. Other guests on that same episode were David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Joni Mitchell. The new album was finally released in the USA in November 1969 with the title shortened to Volunteers. The song "Uncle Sam Blues" did not appear but was later released on the eponymous Hot Tuna album. Volunteers continued the Airplane's run of Top 20 LPs, peaking at No. 13 and going gold 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 changing political atmosphere in the United States. The best-known tracks include "Volunteers," "We Can Be Together," "Good Shepherd," and the post-apocalyptic "Wooden Ships," which Paul Kantner co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and Crosby, Stills & Nash also recorded on their debut album.
RCA raised objections to the phrase "up against the wall, motherfucker" in the lyrics of Kantner's "We Can Be Together," but the group managed to prevent it from being censored on the album, pointing out that RCA had already allowed the offending word to be included on the cast album of the rock musical Hair. In addition, the song had the line "in order to survive, we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal," which was also kept on the album (and which they sang on broadcast TV during their appearance on the Dick Cavett show). For the single versions of "We Can Be Together", "motherfucker" was changed to a long, drawn out "Ma," and "fuck" was changed to "fred." These edits were reflected in the printed lyrics that accompanied the album.
In December, the Airplane played at the Altamont Free Concert at Altamont Speedway in California, thus becoming the only band to perform at all three of the iconic rock festivals of the 1960s: Altamont, Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Headlined by The Rolling Stones, the concert was marred by 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 "Gimme Shelter Incident": the fatal stabbing of black teenager Meredith Hunter in front of the stage by Hells Angels "guards" after he pulled out a revolver during the Stones' performance. This incident was the centerpiece of the documentary film Gimme Shelter.
Spencer Dryden was dismissed from the band in February 1970 by a unanimous vote of the other members. He felt burned out by four years on the "acid merry-go-round" and was 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 New Riders of the Purple Sage. Dryden was replaced by Joey Covington, an L.A. musician who had played with Hot Tuna throughout 1969 and had already performed select engagements with the Airplane that year as a second drummer.
Touring continued throughout 1970, but the group's only new recording that year was the single "Have You Seen the Saucers?" b/w "Mexico." "Mexico" was an attack on President Richard Nixon's Operation Intercept, which had been implemented to curtail the flow of marijuana into the United States. "Have You Seen the Saucers" marked the beginning of a science-fiction theme that Kantner explored in Blows Against the Empire, his first solo album, released in 1970, and with many of his songs in the 70s and 80s.
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 (most notably Marty Balin) and outside musicians (including future Airplane drummer 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. This initial Hot Tuna album was remarkably successful, reaching No. 30 on the US album chart. Over the next two years, Hot Tuna began to occupy more and more of Casady's and Kaukonen's time, contributing to the growing divisions within Jefferson Airplane that came to a head in 1972.
The Hot Tuna project also led to the addition of a new band member. 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. As a result, Creach was immediately invited to join Hot Tuna and became a permanent member of the Airplane in time for their fall tour.
The Winterland 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. 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 October 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. Blows Against the Empire was the first rock album nominated for the Hugo science fiction award.
Jefferson Airplane ended 1970 with their traditional Thanksgiving Day engagement at the Fillmore East (the final performance of the short-lived Kantner/Balin/Slick/Kaukonen/Casady/Creach/Covington line-up) and the release of their first compilation album, The Worst of Jefferson Airplane, which continued their unbroken run of chart success, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard album chart.
Decline and dissolution
1971 was a year of major upheaval for Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick and Paul Kantner had begun a relationship during 1970, and on January 25, 1971, their daughter China Wing Kantner ("Wing" was Slick's maiden name) was born. Slick's divorce from her first husband had come through shortly before this, but she and Kantner agreed that they did not wish to marry.
In March 1971, Marty Balin officially left the band after disassociating himself from the group following the fall 1970 tour. Although he had remained part of the band's live performances after the band's creative direction shifted from the brooding love songs that he specialized in, an emerging drinking problem—compounded by the evolution of the polarized Kantner/Slick and Kaukonen/Casady cliques—had finally left him the odd man out. Following the traumatic death of his friend Janis Joplin, he began to pursue a healthier lifestyle; Balin's study of yoga and abstention from drugs and alcohol further distanced him from the other members of the group, whose drug intake continued unabated. This further complicated the recording of their long-overdue follow-up to Volunteers. Balin had recently completed several new songs, including "Emergency" and the elongated R&B-infused "You Wear Your Dresses Too Short," both of which later appeared on archival releases.
On May 13, 1971, Grace Slick was injured in a near-fatal automobile crash when her car slammed into a wall in a tunnel near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The accident happened while she was drag racing with Jorma Kaukonen; both were driving at over 100 miles per hour, and Kaukonen claims that he "saved her life" by pulling her from the car. Slick's recuperation took a few months, forcing the Airplane to curtail their concert and touring commitments. In the meantime, Slick recorded a comic song about this incident, "Never Argue With A German If You're Tired," which appeared on Bark.
The band still managed studio dates during 1971. Their next LP was Bark, which was issued in September 1971 with cover art depicting a dead fish wrapped in an A&P-style grocery bag. It was both the final album owed to RCA under the band's existing contract and the inaugural release on the band's Grunt Records vanity label. Manager Bill Thompson had struck a deal with RCA to allow Jefferson Airplane to run Grunt Records as they saw fit, but still use RCA's distribution.
The single "Pretty As You Feel," excerpted from a longer jam on the LP with lead vocals by Joey Covington, its composer, was the last Jefferson Airplane single to place on the US singles chart, peaking at No. 60. The album rose to No. 11, higher than Volunteers.
Even after the departure of Balin, major creative and personal divisions persisted between Slick and Kantner on the one side and Kaukonen and Casady on the other. (Jorma Kaukonen's song "Third Week In The Chelsea," from Bark, chronicles the thoughts he himself was having about leaving the band.) These problems were exacerbated by escalating drug use—especially Slick's alcoholism—which caused the Airplane to become increasingly unreliable in their live commitments and led to some chaotic situations at concerts.
The band held together long enough to record one more LP, entitled Long John Silver, begun in April 1972 and released in July. By this time the various members were also engaged with their various solo projects. Hot Tuna, for instance, had released a second (electric) LP during 1971, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, which proved even more successful than its predecessor. Though still a nominal member of the band, Joey Covington had immersed himself in the production of his own album with Peter Kaukonen and Black Kangaroo on Grunt; consequently, John Barbata (formerly of The Turtles and CSNY) played on most of the album and continued on for the promotional tour that followed. The Long John Silver LP is notable for its cover, which folded out into a humidor, which the inner photo depicted as storing cigars (which may have been filled with marijuana). The album rose to No. 20.
With the formal departure of Covington and 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 in over a year. 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 Albuquerque. The tour culminated in two shows at Winterland in San Francisco (September 21–22), both of which were recorded. At the end of the second show the group was joined on stage by Marty Balin, who sang lead vocals on "Volunteers" and the final song, "You Wear Your Dresses Too Short."
Though no official announcement was ever released, the Winterland shows were the last live performances by Jefferson Airplane until their restoration and reunion in 1989. By the end of 1972, Casady and Kaukonen had left the group to concentrate on Hot Tuna and their recently acquired love of speed skating, which David Freiberg had reluctantly taken up in an attempt to bolster group camaraderie. Freiberg, with Kantner and Slick, recorded Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun in 1973, and Dragon Fly in 1974. Kantner and Slick also recorded additional solo albums in the early 1970s.
Jefferson Airplane's second live album, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, was released in April 1973. Its cover art 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 previous unreleased material and the single "Mexico" and "Have You Seen The Saucers" was released as Early Flight, the last official Jefferson Airplane album until the self-titled reunion album of 1989.
Jefferson Starship, reunion and recent events
In 1974, four years after Blows Against The Empire (the Jefferson Starship-prototype album with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick), Jefferson Starship was formally launched with the release of the album Dragon Fly and its single "Ride The Tiger". Balin sang on one song, "Caroline," and in addition to Kantner and Slick the band consisted of David Freiberg (keyboards, bass), Craig Chaquico (lead guitar), Pete Sears (bass, keyboards), John Barbata (drums) and Papa John Creach (electric violin). Jefferson Starship continued in one form or the other into the 80s, but never achieved the critical acclaim of its predecessor band.
After the acrimonious events that resulted in Jefferson Starship's 1984 breakup, Paul Kantner reunited with Balin and Jack Casady in 1985 to form the KBC Band. They released 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. On March 4, 1988, during a Hot Tuna San Francisco gig at the Fillmore (with Paul Kantner, as well as Papa John Creach joining in) Grace Slick made a cameo appearance. This led to a formal reunion of the original Jefferson Airplane, featuring nearly all the main members, including founder Marty Balin, but without Spencer Dryden. A self-titled album was released by Columbia Records to modest sales but the accompanying tour was a success. In 1996, Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Balin, Casady, Dryden, Kantner & Kaukonen attending & performing at the ceremony. Grace Slick was absent, as she was unable to travel due to medical reasons.
Also in 2004, a film was released on DVD entitled Fly Jefferson Airplane (directed by Bob Sarles). It covers the years 1965–1972 and includes recent interviews with band members and thirteen complete songs (almost all are vintage performances). The one recent performance is a solo "Embryonic Journey" by Jorma Kaukonen (from a 1996 New York City reunion for the Airplane's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
- Former members
- Paul Kantner – guitars, vocals (1965–1972, 1989)
- Jorma Kaukonen – guitars, vocals (1965–1972, 1989)
- Marty Balin – vocals, guitars (1965–1971, 1989)
- Signe Toly Anderson – vocals (1965–1966)
- Bob Harvey – bass (1965)
- Jerry Peloquin – drums (1965)
- Jack Casady – bass (1965–1972, 1989)
- Skip Spence – drums (1965–1966, died 1999)
- Grace Slick – vocals (1966–1972, 1989)
- Spencer Dryden – drums (1966–1970, died 2005)
- Papa John Creach – violin (1970–1972, 1989, died 1994)
- Joey Covington – drums (1970–1972, died 2013)
- John Barbata – drums (1972)
- David Freiberg – vocals (1972)
- Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966)
- Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
- After Bathing at Baxter's (1967)
- Crown of Creation (1968)
- Volunteers (1969)
- Bark (1971)
- Long John Silver (1972)
- Jefferson Airplane (1989)
- List of bands from the San Francisco Bay Area
- Official website
- FBI file on Jefferson Airplane
- Jefferson Airplane discography at MusicBrainz
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Image from Discogs