They wowed Woodstock, got struck at Altamont and also blew minds at Monterey. The rest of the moment they do era-defining records, fried your brains on acid, and also shagged each other


“Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, freedom, art, literature, poetry, Haight Street – the was just Heaven on Earth.”

Jefferson aircraft guitarist Paul Kantner’s description of mountain Francisco in the mid-60s is likewise what Jefferson aircraft represented musically. They to be the sound that the city’s psychedelic endure and, much more specifically, the soundtrack to 1967’s Summer the Love, courtesy the two major hits: the acid-fuelled White Rabbit and also Somebody To Love, a timeless hymn because that hippies everywhere – ‘When the fact is found to it is in lies/And every the happiness within you dies/Don’t you desire somebody come love?’.

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It wasn’t just the chemicals inside the band members. That was additionally the chemistry between them, epitomised by the contrasting dynamics of the two singers: the exquisite, yearning vocals that Marty Balin, and the imperious, strident tones of grace Slick. “We had actually this wild, intense chemistry in between us,” Balin says. “Most world thought we were married or having actually this an excellent affair. Yet it was just on stage.”

Slick confirms this in her very own inimitable style. “Marty to be remote off stage. That was simply not actual chummy. He was the just one in the band ns didn’t screw.”

Balin was the one who guided Jefferson airplane to the runway – albeit prior to Slick. He had released a pair of not successful pop singles in the early on 60s and been in a local people band called the town Criers. As soon as he heard The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man he began envisaging a band that would be a cross between amplified folk and also The Beatles.

There was a specific blind intuition connected in putting the band together. Balin had never heard Kantner play, however when he experienced this long-haired guy carrying a 12-string and also a banjo the walked straight up come him and suggested they kind a band. Similarly, once he came throughout Skip Spence sitting in a club, he decided instantly that he to be the band’s drummer. Spence had actually never played drums, he to be a guitarist, but Balin persuaded him to swap his plectrum because that a pair of sticks.

They tho needed an additional guitarist. Kantner had actually his eye on Jorma Kaukonen, that was make a reputation for himself together a solo performer roughly the clubs. Kaukonen needed much more persuasion however. “I to be kinda reluctant,” the recalls. “I’d never played in a tape before. Add to these males were not into what I referred to as pure music. I m sorry I understand is baloney now, but that’s what I believed at the time. So that wasn’t until I started hanging out with them and that the became noticeable something was happening.”

Jefferson aircraft fly high in1970 (Image credit: Getty Images)

However, Kaukonen was not enamoured v the base player. And when he discovered that his high-school buddy earlier in Washington DC, Jack Casady, had actually started play bass, the lured him over to California. “When Jorma said me about this group he to be joining, ns said: ‘You? The purist?’” claims Casady, who had just perfect his university thesis on son ballads and also the folk music tradition. “But the sounded yes, really enthusiastic around it, and also I made decision to go out and give it a try.”

Balin and also Kantner had already decided they needed a female voice, and folk singer Signe Anderson’s rich, an effective tones equipment the invoice perfectly. It was Kaukonen who came up with the surname Jefferson Airplane. Everybody else laughed when he said it, but when everybody else they told laughed also they made decision to go v it.

The tape made their debut in ~ the procession Club, owned by Balin and some the his an ext entrepreneurial mates, and soon became regular fixtures on the prospering San Francisco live step which revolved about three that the city’s venerable ballrooms: the Fillmore, the Avalon and the Carousel.

Jefferson aircraft were not the very first psychedelic tape in mountain Francisco – Janis Joplin was currently making waves in huge Brother & The stop Company, The grateful Dead to be gradually acquiring their act together – however they had actually a musical focus and a feeling of objective that set them apart. And also they were the first to land a record contract – through the ultra-straight RCA documents for an breakthrough of $25,000, 5 times the going rate.

Jefferson plane Takes Off, released in September 1966, had actually a modern-day folk feeling to it, in a jangly, Byrdsy way. That was conquered by Balin’s expansive ballads – he composed or co-wrote eight that the 11 monitor – and there was small sign of the influence of LSD unless you listened closely.

RCA didn’t until the document came out. Yet when castle heard Running ’Round This World, with its lyric, ‘The nights I’ve invested with you have been fantastic trips’, they got really hot under their starched collars. That was plainly an incitement come sex and/or drugs. The record pushing plant to be halted and the to be track pulled. RCA climate listened come the remainder of the album, and also demanded alterations to the lyrics of two other songs. Yet Jefferson aircraft would acquire their revenge.

Paul Kantner and Grace Slick backstage in ~ Hunter university in brand-new York City (Image credit: Getty Images)

Meanwhile, there were more important matters to to visit to. One day, they got to a gig to find that Skip Spence had determined to walk to Mexico instead. The wasn’t also serious; his replacement, Spencer Dryden, to be a proper drummer. But then Signe Anderson started imposing travel limitations on the group. Or as Balin place it: “She gained pregnant and she had actually a crazy husband and didn’t want to move outside the city.”

There were just two various other girl singers in san Francisco: Janis Joplin and the well-bred elegant Slick who had been functioning as a model in the couturier department of i Magnin’s department store prior to forming a band called The an excellent Society.

“We developed the tape after we went to see airplane one night,” Slick relates, “and i thought: ‘They’re making much more than me and also they only work-related two hrs a night and they acquire to drink and smoke dope’. Mine mother had been a singer, and I thought: ‘I can do that’. My husband had actually a set of drums at his parents’ house, so that was: ‘You be the drummer’. And his brother Darby had actually a guitar. Yet compared come Jack and also Jorma us were amateur hour.”

Slick accepted instantly the market to plank the Airplane. In reality The an excellent Society to be disintegrating – in addition to her marriage. Along with her voice and model deportment, she lugged two songs the would allow Jefferson airplane to take off: Somebody come Love, created by her brother-in-law Darby one night on one acid pilgrimage after gift dumped by his girlfriend, and her own White Rabbit.

Not that she envisaged her Alice In Wonderland-based fable together a hit. “I wasn’t even thinking of hits. I was just so tired of all the cursed love songs. Ns was just trying come up the possibilities.”

For the record, the dormouse never actually claimed ‘Feed her head’, go he?

“No, I simply made that up.”

Both songs were amongst the highlights the 1966’s Surrealistic Pillow, Airplane’s second and finest album. It attributes some of the sweetest song they ever wrote – Today, My ideal Friend, How carry out You Feel? – with some of their most ferocious: 3/5ths the A Mile In 10 Seconds (the $65 the ‘make a negative man holler’ is a discuss the price of a kilo that marijuana) and also Plastic fantastic Lover. Suddenly the entirety band were firing, individually and collectively. The airplane were paris high.

A poster for Jefferson plane and The grateful Dead in ~ the Fillmore in san Francisco (Image credit: Getty Images)

“That was the thing I liked about it,” says Slick. “It was like a smorgasbord. Jorma and Jack were an ext blues oriented; Paul to be 12-string big, grand, Wagnerian cosmic politics folk; I’m kind of dark and also sarcastic and semi-classical; and also Marty to be a an excellent love/pop tune writer. So you got 4 for the price of one. And also my way of treating stuff is different from Marty’s. And so on.”

About the only common influence was LSD. (There space accounts the the tape throwing bagfuls of mountain tabs into the audience favor M&Ms; LSD was no actually make illegal till late 1966). Therefore it appeared only herbal that their next album have to be the sound that an acid trip. After bathing At Baxters has been described by Paul Kantner together “pure LSD amongst 13 other things”. Nobody have the right to remember what the 13 other things were, yet Grace Slick has actually a memory of “Jack record a bass part in this huge, gorgeous acoustic room at RCA’s Hollywood studios, and also Jorma riding right into the studio top top his motorbike. At the same time there room six guys in the edge sucking top top a nitrous oxide cylinder. That’s After Bathing at Baxters.”

Given limitless studio time by a record agency who assumed they were going to obtain Son Of Surrealistic Pillow, the band took full advantage, demanding to create themselves. Kaukonen and and Casady to the it as their breakthrough album. “We started to learn how to perform a most stuff with electric guitars – feedback and also stuff,” Kaukonen says. “Nowadays every son learns this as part of their straightforward guitar vocabulary. But ago then it was all different and new. Ns remember the an initial time my etc fed ago with a sustained note it was, ‘Wow, yes, really cool’.”

The 12-second guitar wail that opens up the album is a defiant portent of the band’s wilful decision to boldly go where no commercially successful band had actually dared to go before. Unfortunately, amid the jamboree that distorted bass, spacey jams and incomprehensible text no one psychic to lug along any melodies. Marty Balin, who should have listed a few, decided to sit this record out, complaining the he was unable to connect with the others that were “too stoned out”.

He was likewise miffed at the cultivation media perception of the band as Grace Slick & The Jefferson Airplane. Watching footage of the band v the camera zeroing in top top Slick if Balin is singing, you deserve to see his point. To be fair, Slick never declared to be any kind of band leader, but she claimed what she thought. She thought Balin was “mysterious. He would occasionally simply not it is in there.”

Even as soon as Balin to be there he can be upstaged by Slick at any moment. Favor the time she blacked up for an figure on the Smothers Brothers’ TV display without informing anyone: “They sent me come make-up, and there was every colour recognized to guy on this tray. Consisting of black. And also I had this white outfit on, and also I thought, ‘Aoow yeah!’. But the point was, since of my functions I no look black. Ns looked choose some Indian woman. The band just looked at me and also went: ‘Oh God.’”

To the relief the the record company, the following album to be mellower 보다 its acid-fried predecessor. Relatively. Balin was earlier on board. Kantner’s composing was taking on a an ext strident quality, an especially on the album’s stirring location track, Crown of Creation. Slick was having fun at the expense of drummer Spencer Dryden who’d just turned 30 (“He was the most child-like of every one of us”), as well as the masculine psyche top top Greasy Heart‘Girls, wonder why he desires some more when he’s just had some?’. By currently it was 1968 and also Jefferson airplane were rolling v the punches.

Politically lock upped your profile by play a charity display for Robert Kennedy, a few months prior to his assassination. They additionally raised your avant-garde profile by play a rooftop concert in new York (a year before the Beatles walk the very same thing in London) which was filmed by Jean Luc Godard and also D.A. Pennebaker, and Balin managed to get himself arrested by the cops once they pertained to break it up.

The plane had number of run-ins with the law – not surprisingly, together the authorities correctly thought them to it is in to the left that Chairman Mao. Few of this to be self-inflicted – like once Casady gallantly agreed come test-drive a brand-new drug dubbed STP. An hallucinogenic very first synthesised through Alexander Shulgin, STP was more powerful than LSD and also unfortunately the manufacturers to be still have difficulties figuring the correct dosage. Casady to be arrested after being found naked top top Santa Cruz Beach, illustration pictures in the sand.

Grace Slick in ~ a label party because that the band as they arrived in London (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ohio police seemed have actually a specific problem through the Airplane, busting them virtually every time they overcome the State line. This can have had actually something to perform with an earlier fracas (caused, as usual, after protection started beating up fans and also the band started hitting the security) once Kantner spiked the police officers’ drink while they were laboriously gift bailed. Slick deserve to still mental riding earlier to the hotel and also chuckling: “About now they’re gonna it is in wondering what’s hit them.”

So a european tour v The Doors provided some irradiate relief. And also two reflects at London’s Roundhouse, the airplane also played the Isle of Wight Festival a year prior to it turned right into a mega-event, and a complimentary gig on conference Hill fields in London.

If Slick was becoming blasé around Airplane’s drug intake, Jim Morrison’s was a revelation: “He basically used himself together a lab rat. He was trying to find out how far you can fuck the human being mind up. I remember walking down the street in Amsterdam with him, and also kids to be running up to us and also giving us drugs. I’d politely decline, or take a joint to conserve for later, but Jim took every little thing they gave him. The night he come on stage looking like a pinwheel. They had actually to take it him to the hospital afterward he to be so fucked up.”

That didn’t stop Slick including Morrison to her portfolio. She can not remember i beg your pardon city it was, although she can recall the room décor.

On stage Jefferson airplane cut the studio crap and also spread your wings in a various way, which they recorded successfully top top the Bless Its Pointed tiny Head live album in 1969. Balin remembers that Kaukonen began it: “He just took turn off one night and it was amazing. The next night the did that again, and this time us all joined in; you’d have actually this subconscious interaction on acid.”

The following studio album, Volunteers, take it a an ext overtly political turn, and also Kantner uncovered some grist for his progressively anthemic songs. The swirling harmonies on the seemingly benign We have the right to Be Together might not disguise the recurring expression ‘Up versus the wall, motherfuckers’. RCA records were apoplectic, plane were adamant – and, after a three-week stand-off, they prevailed.

Even Balin’s idea because that the album’s title track – which came to him when he to be woken by the sound the a noisy rubbish truck which had actually ‘Volunteers the America’ emblazoned under the next – was hijacked through Kantner because that a rallying contact to the counter culture.

“I have to say that as soon as it got more political it type of lost details members that the band,” claims Casady, who found solace in a side job with Kaukonen called Hot Tuna, who generally opened because that the plane at concerts.

The aircraft lands in ~ Woodstock Festival (Image credit: Getty Images)

Musically the airplane were through now acquiring heavier. “We were being influenced by several of the bands about us,” states Casady. “Cream had come over and also opened up every kinds the possibilities. And I became good buddies through Mitch Mitchell that the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and also ended up play on a monitor on the Electric Ladyland album.”

But no Casady no one Kaukonen was ready to leave Jefferson plane yet. In reality We can Be Together remains among Kaukonen’s favourite songs.“You’re no gonna believe this however I’ve totally forgotten what the lyrics were about,” the says. “It to be the beauty beauty of the music. A the majority of the time we’d be playing away and I wouldn’t even hear what Paul to be singing.”

Balin, though, had had enough. That quit ~ Volunteers was released, citing Janis Joplin’s fatality as the reason. “It to be dark times,” he told airplane biographer Jeff Tamarkin. “Everybody to be doing so lot drugs. Cocaine to be a big deal at that time, and also I couldn’t speak with people who had response for every goddam thing, rationalising whatever that happened. And I believed it made the music tight and constrictive. Therefore after Janis passed away I thought, I’m not going to go on stage and also play that kind of music.” over there is a basic consensus amongst the band that Volunteers is the critical ‘real’ Jefferson airplane album.

Spencer Dryden was additionally feeling the pace and also was replaced by young hotshot drummer Joey Covington (Dryden passed away of lung cancer at the beginning of 2005).

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Balin was not changed as such. Instead the band brought in Papa john Creach, a tall, thin, black, white-haired (what there was of it) 53-year-old jazz and also blues fiddle player. “The suggest was, he to be an remarkable showman and a good musician,” claims Casady, who additionally lured him into hot Tuna.

Jefferson airplane released two much more studio albums, Bark and Long john Silver, both the which have actually their moments. Kantner’s polemic was currently taking on cosmic dimensions through the epic-sounding Have You watched The Saucers? and also When The planet Moves Again. In contrast there’s the sublime, in-the-groove Pretty as You Feel that was edited under from a 30-minute jam that contained Carlos Santana. “That was just a bunch of united state in the studio,” Kaukonen says. “Luckily the tape was rolling, and Joey Covington composed a song roughly it.”

And Kaukonen’s best airplane song – apart from the stunning instrumental vignette Embryonic Journey, ~ above Surrealistic Pillow – is certainly the wistful, restless Third week In The Chelsea, around the ennui of life of the road. “It’s a nice song, also if i say for this reason myself,” that agrees. “And grace did a fine job on it too. Ns guess the pressure was start to tell on me by then.”

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

The aircraft taxied in and also ground come a halt in late 1972, return there to be the inescapable live album, 30 Seconds Over Winterland, the complying with year. Slick had decided to sample parenthood with Kantner, and, together she put it in ~ the time: “It’s tough to babysit while you’re hallucinating.”

Casady and also Kaukonen determined to dedicate all your energies to warm Tuna. “The chemistry the made Jefferson Airplane good was a loosened and breakable thing. You deserve to look back on it and also think, well perhaps we should have done this or that. However we didn’t. Ns still playing with Jorma now – we’ve been with each other for 46 years – and also there’s a an excellent chemistry between us and also the rest of the band. But that miracle chemistry we had actually in Jefferson airplane is very hard come recapture.”

And space they together wild together they supplied to be? “The only drugs us compare these days,” says Casady, “are cholesterol medications.”

This short article originally appeared in classic Rock 84, in September 2005

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