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Artist: Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane

Bio

Jefferson Airplane, a rock band based in San Francisco, California, was one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock. Formed in 1965, the group defined the San Francisco Sound and was the first from the Bay Area to achieve international commercial success. They were headliners at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969)—and the first Isle of Wight Festival (1968) in England. Their 1967 break-out album Surrealistic Pillow ranks on the short list of the most significant recordings of the "Summer of Love". Two songs from that album, "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit", are among Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The "classic" lineup of Jefferson Airplane, from October 1966 to February 1970, was Marty Balin (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums). Marty Balin left the band in 1971. After 1972, Jefferson Airplane effectively split into two groups. Kaukonen and Casady moved on full time to their own band, Hot Tuna. Slick, Kantner, and the remaining members of Jefferson Airplane recruited new members and regrouped as Jefferson Starship in 1974, with Marty Balin eventually joining them. Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and was presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Spencer Dryden died on January 11, 2005. Both Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner died on January 28, 2016. Marty Balin died on September 27, 2018 Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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Articles

Up The Revolution? F**k The Revolution! Mojo, Oct 1994

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PLANEBRANES. THAT'S WHAT obsessive aficionados of Jefferson Airplane and all that venerable group's offshoots – Jefferson Starship, Starship (two different enterprises, confusingly enough), Mickey Thomas's Starship, KBC, Hot Tuna – call themselves. Planebranes.

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Doesn't quite have the same ring as Deadheads, somehow, does it? And judging from the mere handfuls of bearded gentlemen in elderly and ill-fitting tie-dyed T-shirts who turn out to see Jefferson Starship as they "touch down" (Planebrane terminology) for their first appearance in Britain since 1978, Deadheads outnumber the PBs by, ooh, 10,000 to one.

This isn't Wembley Arena, this is The Bottom Line, modest West London venue, and the place is far from full.

Where is Grace? Where's Jorma? And who's in Jefferson Starship these days, anyway? Er, we seem to have Paul Kantner, Jack Casady and Marty Balin from the original Airplane, plus a selection of young whippersnappers to fill in the gaps.

Outside the hall, in July's heat, over light ales, I speak to Balin, the man who invented Jefferson Airplane in the first place, almost 30 years ago. He's got his dad with him, a portly old codger, though I'm not sure why.

Marty remembers the "good" times: "In the early days, RCA would come to us and they'd listen to my lyrics and go, 'You can't say that, you can't say Trips. Trips is a bad word!' And the next day, they'd say 'What do you mean by these lyrics – Love, Fucking, Armadillo. Armadillo – that is very dirty!' We were censored all the way. 'What does this peanut butter and jelly sandwich on [the inside cover of] Volunteers mean?' It meant nothing. And people all the time think that [the song] 'Volunteers' is a big revolutionary political statement. But all that happened with that song was that I was woken up one morning by some trash cans rattling outside and I looked out of my window and there was a truck with 'Volunteers Of America' painted on the side. So I wrote about that. And the next thing I know, it's a big political tune. Bullshit, man. Everything's bullshit in this business."

Marty remembers the bad times: "I had my youthful drug habits and drunk but nothing to compare with what everyone else was doing. Everybody was dying in 1970 – Jim Morrison and Jimi and Janis – and things were getting very dark. And then cocaine came in and cocaine ruined the music. I didn't like the people in the band anymore. I didn't like their attitude. I didn't like the way they treated me so I just said 'Fuck it, I'm out of here'. The Airplane was so important to me, but it wasn't important to the other people in the Airplane. So I left the band. Nobody called me. Nobody cared. I couldn't get Jorma to play guitar for me. I couldn't get together with Paul or Grace even to strum a guitar."

Marty remembers Alex "Skip" Spence, original drummer of Jefferson Airplane (subsequently went on to form Moby Grape and go mad): "Skippy? Skippy blew his mind out in a car. He was my baby. When I first met him, he was this beautiful, golden kid and I said 'Hey, man, you're my drummer' and he said 'Well, I'm a guitar player', and I said 'I don't care, you're my drummer'. He was just great. But the drugs just took him away. Last time I saw him, I didn't even recognise him. From a beautiful kid to a haggard old man. It's, like, weird. Those drugs just blew Skippy's head out."

Marty looks forward to the future: "If the Airplane or whatever we're called – Jefferson this, Jefferson that, Jefferson anything – doesn't get its act together and do some recording soon, I might just go and do some solos. I've got so many songs and I want to get them down and get them out before I get run over by a truck. But I suppose I'm old hat, you know..."

However hard I try, I never get to speak to Paul Kantner or Jack Cassady. They are too important for such banalities, I suppose.

So what of the show? Well, one could hardly claim to have been transported 27 years back in time to the Avalon Ballroom or somewhere else in San Francisco where dear Grace Slick, greatest white songstrel of the age, is going somewhat crackers afore the liquid light show.

Diana Mangano, a hippy-chick aged about three, is no substitute for Grace. Jack Casady, who used to wear a headband and be voted Bass Player Of The Year in Melody Maker readers' polls, doesn't wear a headband anymore but an estate agent's suit and horrible tie instead. Kantner does wear a headband – and jolly silly he looks in it, too. The music, for the most part, is MTV-friendly AOR of the most wretched kind. Clusters of Planebranes appear to know all the words, but I don't. It's only when the group plunder their terribly ancient back catalogue that the members seem vaguely invigorated and the earth moves again (slightly). 'Somebody To Love' is almost touching (a little bit marred by a voice from the back crying "Where's Grace?" – a voice which, I am ashamed to confess, turns out to be mine). On 'The Other Side Of This Life', Casady proves that – yes! – he can still play his instrument, and 'Volunteers' is screamingly excellent: "Up the revolution! Fuck the revolution!", the Planebranes go all out of tune, punching the air in a unifying act of defiance 'gainst The Man. Pity about 'Wooden Ships': this post-apocalypse-of-imagination dirge (written by Crosby, Stills and Kantner) always was an embarrassment. Won't you try some of these purple berries...? Er, well, if you don't mind awfully, fellows, I'd rather see the cheese board...

What a rum old show. This is no Monterey and Grace is sorely missed...

(P.S. back in March, there was a domestic disturbance chez Slick, California. When police arrived she drunkenly waved a shotgun at them. She has been ordered to enter a detoxification programme. How many detox progs is that now, Grace? Gawd, bless her...)

Jefferson Airplane: After Bathing At Baxter’s Rolling Stone, Nov 1967

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Jefferson Airplane finally finished their third LP Halloween week after two months of off-and-on recording in Los Angeles. It’s called After Bathing at Baxter’s, has a fold-out cover designed by cartoonist Ron Cobb, and says lead singer Marty Balin, is "a whole new and different thing for the group."

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Recorded while the San Franscisco band lived in luxury at a Beverly Hills mansion that the Beatles rented on one American tour, the album’s very tentative release date is November 15.

As of November 1st, seven tracks, besides ‘Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil’ and ‘Two Heads’ previously released as a single, were finished.

Three are Paul Kantner compositions: ‘Watch Her Ride,’ ‘Martha,’ and ‘Wild Time.’ The other members, except for Jack Casady, have contributed one track each.

Grace Slick’s song is ‘Rejoyce,’ originally called ‘Ulysses,’ whose lyric is snatches of James Joyce’s novel. An oboe plays behind her voice. "It’s too powerful for Top 40," says Balin, "it has the line, ‘I’d rather my country died for me,’ and there’s a character in it named ‘Blazes Crotch’."

Spence Dryden did his cut, ‘A Package of Value,’ all by himself, putting three drum tracks, a marimba track, and one on harpsichord into a ‘song sandwich’ that is the joke of the album.

Jorma Kaukonen’s number, ‘Last Wall of the Castle,’ is ‘a mind-blower,’ according to the Airplane’s personal manager, Bill Thompson. ‘Young Girl Sunday Blues,’ Balin’s contribution, is over five minutes long, the album’s longest cut.

Answering criticism that the album is way behind schedule, Balin said the group had never set a date for the album’s completion. "We’ve just done it when we could."

As the Airplane left the Fillmore a week ago Sunday for their last planned session in RCA’s Los Angeles studios (the same ones used by the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead), they had no idea of what songs would complete After Bathing.

"We have a few more done," Balin said, "but we don’t like them. There’ll probably be two more and they’ll be things we come up with right at the last minute. We always do that.

"Man, we’re the worst people ever in a recording studio. We create our music in the ballrooms. Compared to them a recording studio is so sterile, like a hospital, that it takes us three weeks just to get used to walking through the door."

This time, with complete artistic control and without the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia as ‘spiritual and musical advisor,’ the Airplane has been on its own.

"No one helps us," said Balin, "I think everyone there is afraid of us. We try crazy things and no one tells us they can’t be done. Our producer is like a school teacher with a real creative class, letting the kids do what they want and just making sure they don’t smash all the erasers."

Bill Thompson says the album cover is as strange as the sounds inside. Cobb’s cartoon is a monster airplane which carries, in tiny detail, symbols of plastic American culture; beer cans, billboards, ticky-tack houses and buildings, some of which are recognizable San Francisco landmarks. The plane trails a banner inscribed with the album’s title, a name suggested by an "underground-underground group called the Night Owls," says Balin. It refers to no known place or event.

Inside the fold are six pictures of the Airplane taken by photographer Allan Frappe. Thompson says they are indescribably far out, with strange color and form distortions. Balin is so impressed that he would like to do a whole book with Frappe’s photographs.

If hard times in the studio have held up the works, la dolce vita back at the mansion hasn’t helped any either.

The mansion, with a giant pool, sauna bath, rifle range, electronically-controlled gate, and a Japanese houseboy (all for $5,000 a month), has been "a giant toy," says Balin for the group who haven’t always had it so good.

"Every night something was happening," Balin said with a fond smile. "There were parties, strange parties, and then weird parties. We just sat there and watched the world go by right inside that house."

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Top Albums

Surrealistic Pillow cover art

Surrealistic Pillow

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Volunteers cover art

Volunteers

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Best Of cover art

Best Of

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Hits cover art

Hits

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Crown Of Creation cover art

Crown Of Creation

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Top Songs

White Rabbit cover art

White Rabbit

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Somebody to Love cover art

Somebody to Love

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Embryonic Journey cover art

Embryonic Journey

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Today cover art

Today

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Volunteers cover art

Volunteers

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Plastic Fantastic Lover cover art

Plastic Fantastic Lover

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She Has Funny Cars cover art

She Has Funny Cars

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Recommended Songs

Light My Fire cover art

Light My Fire by The Doors

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The End cover art

The End by The Doors

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