Paul Lorin Kantner was born March 17, 1941
in San Francisco
. His mother died when he was six and he was sent to boarding school by his father; there he learned the discipline and, in the library, the love of science fiction
, that would influence his future career.
He went to college for three years before dropping out in 1963 to spend time playing the electric guitar and doing LSD. In San Jose he played in the folk scene and met David Crosby and Jorma Kaukonen before returning to San Francisco. There he worked in a cannery by day and was a musician by night. In 1965, Marty Balin introduced himself to Paul and suggested they form a band. Paul's acquaintange Jorma was recruited, and Paul may have also brought in their first female singer, Signe Anderson. The name Jefferson Airplane was adopted over Paul's objections, and the band was off.
At first Paul was sort of a background figure, playing rhythm guitar and singing backup. When Signe Anderson left after their first album, he suggested Grace Slick from another local band to replace her, and Grace became the public face of the band when their next album, Surrealistic Pillow, became successful.
Paul became a more important figure in the band starting with their third album, writing many of the songs. They ranged from the Winnie-the-Pooh references of "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil" to the science fiction of "Wooden Ships" to the counterculture statements of "We Could Be Together." In 1970, he and Grace Slick became lovers and moved in together, having a child China Kantner in 1971.
What was really Paul's first solo album, Blows Against the Empire, was co-credited to "Jefferson Starship" and was science-fiction-oriented enough to be nominated for a Hugo award. He also released two albums with just Grace as well as the Airplane's work. When the Jefferson Airplane disintegrated in 1974, Paul, Grace, and some of the other members went on recording and performing throughout the 1970s as Jefferson Starship.
Grace and Paul broke up in 1975, and Marty and Grace left the band in 1978, leaving Paul the leader of the band. He made the band's sound more hard-rock, but lost some control due to a brain hemorrhage in 1980. He recovered, and recorded another solo album but by 1984 his preferences were out of step with other members of his main band and popular music, and he left the band. Shortly thereafter, he sued "Jefferson Starship" over the ownership of the name -- it was agreed that they would continue as "Starship."
While Starship had commercial success with bland pop hits, Paul worked with former Airplane members in the KBC band (Kantner Balin Casady). They only released one album, though. In 1989 Jefferson Airplane did a reunion album and tour with most of its most famous lineup, but decided not to continue together. Since then, Paul toured, sometimes with Marty and Jack Casady, as "Jefferson Starship -- the Next Generation" and in 2000 as "Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers" (this latter name drawing the anger of Grace and former manager Bill Thompson). He also did an "oral history" album about the Jefferson Airplane.
In his last years, Kantner suffered health problems, and a final heart attack in January 2016 led to organ failure and septic shock. He died on January 28, 2016 at the age of 74.