Jefferson Airplane flared onto the San Francisco psychedelic scene in August 1965, on the stage of The Matrix Club. Their acid rock electrified the beat generation in the "Tune in, turn on, drop out" era. They are a truly captivating rock band. The eighteen albums released between the time of the band's formation in 1965 and when it dissolved in 1974 include eight with RCA Victor, five with Grunt Records (their own label, which they launched in 1971), four with RCA, and one with Epic. Here is a look at their discography:
Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (RCA Victor) September 1966
Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Victor) February 1967
After Bathing at Baxter's (RCA Victor) December 1967
Crown of Creation (RCA Victor) September 1968
Bless Its Pointed Little Head (RCA Victor) February 1969
Volunteers (RCA Victor) November 1969
The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (RCA Victor) November 1970
Bark (Grunt) September 1971
Long John Silver (Grunt) July 1972
Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (Grunt) April 1973
Early Flight (Grunt) April 1974
Flight Log 1966-1976 (Grunt) January 1977
2400 Fulton Street: The CD Collection (RCA Victor) March 1987
Jefferson Airplane (Epic) September 1989
White Rabbit and Other Hits (RCA) April 1990
Jefferson Airplane Loves You (RCA) October 1992
The Best of Jefferson Airplane (RCA) July 1993
Live At the Fillmore (RCA) April 1998
In just four years, the band was big enough to earn their way onto the stages of Woodstock Music and Art Fair '69 and Altamont Music Festival. During their nine years together, the band co-owned three clubs with the Grateful Dead: the Fillmore Auditorium, also known as the Elite Club or the Matrix Club, in San Francisco, the Carousel Ballroom, also known as the Fillmore West, also in San Francisco, and the Fillmore East, in New York. Sadly, the band's reigning members scattered in 1974, and Jefferson Airplane was no more. Fourteen individuals had come and gone in those nine years. The main members of the band reunited for a tour and an album over the summer of 1989, but sadly, could not reconcile the differences that had caused them to disband fifteen years past. Perhaps if we learn a bit more about some of those fourteen members, we will understand why.
Marty Balin, born Martyn Jerel Buchwald on January 30, 1942, in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded Jefferson Airplane. At the age of six, Marty moved to San Francisco with his family, and grew up in the notoriously dodgy Mission District. Marty held the position of lead singer and principal songwriter, but had a fierce rivalry with Grace Slick.
Jorma Kaukonen, born on December 23, 1940 in Washington, DC, joined Jefferson Airplane as lead guitarist in 1965 at Paul's request. He had once played in a transitory ensemble with Steve Talbot (later of Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Billy Robert (who wrote "Hey Joe"), and a then-unknown female vocalist from Texas, Janis Joplin. Talbot created the band name Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane, but in the end, only half of it stuck.
Born Grace Barnett Wing on October 30, 1939 in Evanston, Illinois and married to Jerry Slick in 1961, Grace Slick joined Jefferson Airplane in 1966 to replace the original female lead singer, Signe Anderson, and in a short while, became the band's personal persona. Grace made a forced early debut on October 14, 1966, when Signe skipped her last gig with the band. Grace, although she originally had no ambitions besides being a homemaker, carved a new niche in the rock wall. She led the way for other female rock stars (as opposed to female pop artists), such as Courtney Love. She wrote many songs for the band, including the hit, "White Rabbit". The haunting melody intertwines with even more haunting lyrics.
Despite her obvious talent, Grace turned down Elektra's offer of a solo contract in 1968, because she did not like the idea of the "star trip" being above the music. Grace loved the music, and she loved to have fun. Grace was mischievous. For example, in April of 1970, when Tricia Nixon invited her to a reception at the Whitehouse, Whitehouse guards did not allow her to enter because of "bodyguard" Abbie Hoffman. This is probably for the best, since they had plans to spike Nixon's tea with LSD. Another example of Grace's love for fun is when just before her daughter China (fathered by fellow bandmember Paul Kantner)was born on January 25, 1971, she told one of the maternity nurses she was going to name the baby "god". For more on that story, read this.
Grace matured with her years, and leads a relatively quiet life, painting. Her hair is entirely white now (she had been dyeing it since her mid twenties). She has developed a distaste for older rock musicians. She illustrated herself in her 1998 autobiography, Somebody to Love? A Rock and Roll Memoir as a "middle-aged person on a rock-and-roll stage," and she told VH1 in a 1998 interview, "I don't like old people on a rock and roll stage -- me included."
Paul Kantner, the second member of Jefferson Airplane, was born March 17, 1941 in San Francisco. He was a teen hell raiser, and the buzz is that someone familiarized him with LSD and the electric guitar in the same week at college. Paul was the idea man, the brain of the band, and he recommended Signe Anderson as the original female lead singer for the band. Paul made his mistakes in judgment, like when he wrote off the name "Jefferson Airplane", because he thought the public would reject it, but most of his thoughts were sound. He did, after all, advocate Grace Slick as a replacement when Signe Anderson quit. Paul stayed with Jefferson Airplane to the end, and into one of the offshoots, Jefferson Starship. He left Jefferson Starship in July 1984.
John Henry Creach, nicknamed Papa John Creach, was born on May 28, 1917. He was fifty-three when he joined Jefferson Airplane Oct. 5, 1970, and had been playing fiddle professionally for thirty years. He contributed several songs to Jefferson Airplane's repertoire before bowing out in August of 1975 in search of a solo career. He died February 22, 1994 of a heart attack. He was seventy-six.
John Barbata was born April 1, 1945, in Passaic, New Jersey. By 1975, he was a session musician in high demand, and had played on over sixty albums for Eric Clapton and others. He had done a brief stint as drummer for Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and David Crosby suggested him to Jefferson Airplane in April of 1972. He stayed with Jefferson Airplane, and then joined Jefferson Starship. He stayed with Jefferson Starship until a truck accident in October of 1978 left him with a broken arm, jaw, and neck. Before he could recover, Jefferson Starship replaced him and moved on.
Jefferson Airplane is one of the most underrated rock bands in the history of all time. With their poignant lyrics and unforgettable melodies, they have swept me off my feet nearly thirty years after they broke up, and twelve years after their brief reunion. Each of the total fourteen people who at some point played with the band shaped it in some way. First, there is Marty, the soul of the group, who started it all and wrote many of the songs. Next, there is Paul, the brain of the group. After Paul, there is Jorma, a fabulous lead guitar who hobnobbed with the best of them. Then we have Grace, the public persona of the group, and rival songwriter. After Grace, we have Papa John. His contributions to the group are innumerable. Finally, there is John Barbata. He came to the group with a reputation of his own as a great drummer. His associations with Eric Clapton and Crosby Stills Nash & Young speak for themselves.
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