The starship has landed. interstellar overdrive. It left yesterday and took one of the formative sixties San Francisco rock sound guitarists with it. Left behind was his life mate, Grace Slick and their daughter China God Kantner.
Let's get the politics over. A true leftist believing in commune living but never embracing the Hippie's drop-out philosophy. Back in the 70s, he and his mate plotted to slip then President, Richard Nixon LSD. (The secret service denied them entrance to the function).
I read once where it was said, that when Marty Balin was forming Jefferson Airplane, he saw a guy who played guitar in a bar, and thought he looked like a rock musician and so approached Kantner to play with him. The rest was an unstoppable force few of us were ready for.
In the early days, there was this blues singer named Sine Anderson. Tall, blond, and a voice that could knock down walls. Balin's group was touring and making itself known. On one occasion, the band did opening sets for Grace Slick's Great Society. Named for LBJs policy of wealth distribution in the war on poverty. The Great Society's leader had her own program. I don't know if it was the immediate attraction to this long incredibly handsome blond John Lennon glasses wearing rock star or just the overwhelming confluence of talent in the Airplane band itself, but when Anderson walked away to start a family, The Great Society went with her and Slick bearing her own song writing abilities, moved in.
Surrealistic Pillow rates as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It opened the door for all the San Francisco sound bands from then on. Jefferson Airplane immediately divorced itself from any type of "sound", denouncing hippies as well as the establishment and began moving into the unknown realm of progressive rock. It would be years before the band ever had another huge hit on the commercial stations, but that never mattered. We, who were constantly seeking music outside the box, were never disappointed as the band changed style if not sound, and never compromised.
Marty Balin had a voice that made girls croon and made us boys wish we could sing like that. Jorma Kaukonen was undoubtedly one of the finest guitarists of the age. Firmly grounded in his love of the blues, created some of the best rock licks ever. Jack Cassidy was the one member of the band who shared Jorma's brain. Still, an incredible near-lead bassist. The drummer spot had a number of members, but always solid talent. Marty's voice was accompanied and sometime overshadowed by the tall beautiful dark haired wonder Grace Slick. Outspoken, opinionated, driven. Despite, in her own words, not having a great range, she definitely had the lungs. The entire machine was held together by a solid, inventive and talented Paul Kantner. The band was as much Kantner's as it was Balin's. In later days, Balin left and later came back when the band reincarnated as Jefferson Starship.
The second Slick album, Crown of Creation spoke of humanist ideas, the horrors of atomic war, love politics, and where was society going as a people With engineer Pat Maurice Ireaci wielding his 16 track the album soared and dove into depths never before seen. As the band released it's next album, they became one of the show stoppers of Woodstock and immediately moved again away from pop music into the unknown with Bathing at Baxters with tracks too intense and involved for AM radio.
In the last few years, they took on a 70 year old blues violenist, Papa John Creech, who kept up with the energy of the rest of the band. The album "Bark" had a track "Third Week in Chelsea", which Kaukonan describes as his letter of resignation. The band got together for a final album and tour before splitting for good and going into separate projects.
Cassidy, Kaukonen, and Creech formed Hot Tuna a foray into the blues which had always been Jorma's passion.
Slick and Kantner did a few albums together and solo. Their love and lives together created a child, China. A beautiful girl. They released "Sunfighter" dedicated to her and featured a picture of the infant on the cover. One of Kantners albums was called "Blows against the Empire". Basically a rant against Nixon and the American political system. The band was a recorded with a huge group of musicians including most members of CSN, The Greatful Dead, and Santana as well as Airplane. The cover credits was to Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship as he called the group of musicians. The name would later be used as the reincarnation of Airplane with mostly new members except Kantner, Slick, and Balin.
1965 to 1972. A long life for a band in those days with regroups and redos all through the 70s, 80, 90 to today. only 8 studio albums and among the live albums one that had music not recorded elsewhere.
Paul Kantner embodied the 60s rock star. recognisable in his music as well as in front of a camera. He had his own politics and beliefs and stood true to them especially in his music. I always think of him in two ways, the young man on the cover of Surrealistic Pillow, and the Self-portrait of him with marijuana leaves as hair.
Here's a website with quotes from Kantner.
"If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there."
Goodbye, Buddy. You gave us so much. Thank you.