By Ray Shasho
is recognized worldwide for his innovations to the San Francisco music scene as the psychedelic captain for Jefferson Airplane
After the Airplane disbanded, a savvy Kantner created a parallel rock
band, perhaps to mimic a parallel universe, but using a slight deviation
from the original trademark. Henceforth, Jefferson Starship
and Jefferson Starship
are amazing stories, and both bands have sustained one of the longest lasting relationships or affiliations in rock history.
was formed in 1965, but the
group’s classic line-up would eventually evolve into Paul Kantner, Marty
Balin, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden and Jack Casady.
In 1966, the Airplane was spotlighted in an article in Newsweek
Magazine regarding the booming San Francisco music scene, which
contributed to a mass convergence of young people into the city and the
birth of the hippie culture, which ultimately led to the Summer of Love
Jefferson Airplane scored huge commercial success with their second album, Surrealistic Pillow
(1967). It was the first album to feature their new singer Grace Slick
(The Great Society). The album spawned the proverbial Top 40 classics,
“Somebody to Love” (#5 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100) and “White Rabbit”
(#8 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100). Both songs were originally recorded by
Grace Slick and The Great Society
. The Jefferson Airplane became one of the hottest rock groups in America.
In 1968, legendary music promoter Bill Graham
was fired as the band’s manager.
Between 1967 and 1972, The Jefferson Airplane churned out eight consecutive Top 20 albums in the U.S. with Surrealistic Pillow
and Crown of Creation
landing in the Top 10.
Their controversial anti-war inspired release Volunteers
(1969) featured, “Wooden Ships” a tune penned by Paul Kantner, Stephen Stills and David Crosby. (The song was also recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash
on their debut album). It was supposedly written on David Crosby’s boat
while in Florida. Both versions of “Wooden Ships” were performed at
The Jefferson Airplane became the only band to perform at The Monterey Pop Festival
(1969), and the Altamont Free Concert
(Headlined by The Rolling Stones -1969) … three of the most recognized music festivals of all-time.
and Grace Slick
began a relationship in 1970.
Later that year, Kantner released his first solo effort, a concept album entitled, Blows Against the Empire.
It was released as … by Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship. It would be the first studio album to use the Jefferson Starship
Paul Kantner and Grace Slick gave birth to their daughter China Wing Kantner
in 1971. (China became an actress on television, cinema, and the stage).
In 1972, after recording Long John Silver
, and followed with a series of concerts, Jefferson Airplane called it quits
. After the break-up, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady continued their success with its spin-off band Hot Tuna
. Jefferson Airplane briefly reunited in 1989
with all its original members except for Spencer Dryden. A self-titled album was followed with a successful concert tour.
The Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
officially launched in 1974. The
line-up included Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, David Freiberg, John
Barbata, Papa John Creach, Pete Sears and Craig Chaquico.
The band’s first album Dragon Fly
landed at #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Marty Balin
contributed his lyrics on “Caroline.” Balin officially joined Jefferson Starship in 1975.
Jefferson Starship’s subsequent release Red Octopus
the bands bestselling album. The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200.
The album produced the hit single “Miracles” (#3 Hit on Billboard
Chart) penned by Marty Balin and “Play On Love” written by Grace Slick
(#49 Billboard Hot 100). Fiddler, Papa John Creach left the group in
Jefferson Starship continued their incredible string of commercial successes with the release of Spitfire
in 1976. The album reached platinum and included the hit tune, “With Your Love” (#12 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100).
In 1978, the bands next release Earth
at # 5 on the Billboard charts. “Count On Me” yet another hit single
peaked at #8 on the charts. Jefferson Starship became a mainstay on both
Top 40 and AOR radio stations.
By 1979, Paul Kantner’s uncanny ability to helm two independent and
commercially successful Mega-Groups became even more apparent after a
huge lineup change. Grace Slick and Marty Balin had left the band in
‘78. Kantner spotlighted a new lead singer Mickey Thomas
(Elvin Bishop Group –Mickey sang “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”).
John Barbata was in a serious car accident and was replaced with
legendary drummer Aynsley Dunbar (previously in Journey).
Even without key band members, Kantner and his Jefferson Starship produced yet another monstrous album entitled, Freedom at Point Zero.
The album spawned the hard-driving rocker “Jane” (#14 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100).
Grace Slick returned to Jefferson Starship in 1981 and contributed on their next three albums, Modern Times
(1981) which generated the hit, “Find Your Way Back” (#29 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100), Winds of Change
(1982), and Nuclear Furniture
Jefferson Starship maintained their status as one of the most
commercially-successful rock groups over the airwaves and on the
worldwide concert circuit. And continuing to churn out added hits like …
“Winds of Change” (#38 Hit), “Be My Lady” (#28 Hit), and “No Way Out”
Drummer Aynsley Dunbar
left the band in 1982 and was replaced with Donny Baldwin
(Elvin Bishop Group).
Paul Kantner left Jefferson Starship
In 1984; a
lawsuit by Kantner was settled out of court over the use of the
Jefferson Starship name. An agreement was signed by all band members not
to use the names “Jefferson” or “Airplane” unless all members of
Jefferson Airplane, Inc. agreed.
Under the name “Starship” the lineup of Grace Slick, Mickey Thomas,
Donny Baldwin, Craig Chaquico, and Pete Sears released their platinum
debut album Knee Deep in the Hoopla
(1985) which produced three
#1 Hits on Billboard’s Top 100 … “We Built This City,” “Sara,” and
“Nothing’s Going To Stop Us Now.” By the late 80’s, band members began
departing and the name would eventually be changed to ‘Starship’
featuring Mickey Thomas.
In 1985, Kantner formed KBC Band
with former Jefferson Airplane mates Marty Balin and Jack Casady. The
band released a self-titled album and toured between1985-1987. Kantner
then left to visit with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. (Kantner continues
to write about his exploits with the Sandinistas in a series of
In 1992, Paul Kantner re-launched Jefferson Starship
‘Jefferson Starship -The Next Generation’ and the band grew stronger
than ever. (Kantner eventually dropped ‘The Next Generation’). Marty
Balin rejoined the band in 1993; he departed in 2003 but still
contributes from time to time. Grace Slick has also made contributions
to the group over the years.
In 2008, Jefferson Starship released their tenth studio album, Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty
followed by a worldwide tour.
In 2009, Jefferson Starship headlined ‘The Heroes of Woodstock’
tour. Most of the concert dates featured … Jefferson Starship, Big
Brother and the Holding Company, Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Tom
Constanten (The Grateful Dead). Other dates included Melanie, Edgar
Winter, John Sebastian, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Mountain, Levon
Helm Band, and Country Joe McDonald.
… the current Jefferson Starship is Paul
Kantner (vocals/guitars), David Freiberg (vocals/guitar), Cathy
Richardson (vocals), Slick Aguilar (lead guitar), Chris Smith
(keyboards), and Donny Baldwin (drums). The band also invites past
members to perform occasionally.
recently released a 4-CD set entitled, Tales From The Mothership.
CD was recorded live at the ‘Roswell UFO Festival’ in Roswell, New
Mexico on July 3rd 2009. Jefferson Starship was dubbed “Grand Martians”
for that year’s parade. The setlist included many of their classic hits
plus material that has never been performed live.
I caught up with Paul Kantner recently while in between a lengthy
worldwide concert tour that will include Florida dates. Here’s my
interview with the legendary captain of Jefferson Airplane
and Jefferson Starship
… PAUL KANTNER
: Hi Paul! This is a rather lengthy tour that you’re on …how’s it going out there so far?
Paul Kantner: “
gearing up for it, we’re everywhere from Tel Aviv to Scotland and
everywhere in between, so we’re looking forward to it. But it is a good
long tour actually.”
: Do you still enjoy doing the long tours?
: “This is the longest tour
we’ve done in the last twenty years. We just had the chance to go to
Europe a lot …and here we are. We’re going to Rome, several places in
Italy, and we’re going to Israel for the first time, all through
Scotland, the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, and
we’ll be going to Japan later in the year.”
Ray Shasho: Paul, I’d like to
personally commend you and the band for not continuing on with the
Airplane name after the group disbanded. Bands are continuing to use the
original band name without key band members involved.
Paul Kantner: “
like when a good writer dies, they get some lesser author to recreate
his style and put out books under his name, and I always hate that.”
: Let’s talk about Jefferson Starship’s most recent release, Tales from the Mothership.
: “That’s also oddly enough the
name of the book that I’m writing about my ventures within the world,
and all my bands. But yea, that’s our 4- CD set; we did a special
concert down in Roswell, recorded it, finally got it together and put it
: Why Roswell, New Mexico?
: “I’m a science fiction
freak from way back. My mother died when I was young and I had to go to
Catholic military all-boy boarding school, and that was pretty much of a
shock for the second grade. Fortunately, I got left in the library one
day and down on the bottom shelf was C.S Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet
I just started getting into that and fortunately it saved me from my
years in boarding school there and gave me a bit of an imagination to
work with … and I haven’t looked back since. So science fiction is sort
of the underlining reason for wanting to go to Roswell.”
: Your Sci-fi influence was certainly apparent on your solo album, Blows Against the Empire.
: “I had done some science
fiction songs earlier with Jefferson Airplane … Notably, “Wooden Ships,”
“Crown of Creation,” and a song called “Have You Seen the Saucers,” all
were sort of based in science fiction, but it came together on that
album in a particular unique way that turned out really good.”
: Blows Against the Empire was about a group of people “escaping” earth in a hijacked starship?
: “I debate with you on the
word “escaping.” For me it’s more “exploring,” An adventure within the
parameters that surround you and with the available tools that you have.
It had nothing to do with escape at all anymore than San Francisco did
in the 60s. We weren’t trying to escape, some reason being able to
fashion our own particular culture around ourselves. Not just ourselves
but around the whole city at the time. We were lucky enough to succeed
and not get arrested in the process …and here we are now.”
: So are you a UFO enthusiast?
: “I like the idea. Way back in
… I think 1947, George Adamski’s book about UFO’s, where it landed for
some reason onto my bookshelf shortly thereafter … it’s just part of my
science fiction heritage. I always keep an eye out for that sort of
thing … unfortunately I’ve not seen any and they’re probably wise enough
not to contact me. But I like the concept quite a lot.”
: What was Roswell like … was there heavy security guarding certain areas around town?
: “It’s just a funky little
town out in the desert and there’s really not much to do about it. But
there’s no big deal about the security, it’s pretty casual.”
: You didn’t try to get into Area 51?
“No… I’ve done that before, even got
arrested for trying to sneak in with Carl Sagan one year; we were
protesting outside at one of the places out there.”
: I’ve chatted with Gregg Rolie (Santana), Johnny Winter and Henry McCullough (Joe Cocker) about Woodstock …now it’s your turn.
: “I had the best time myself. I got
plastered when the stage started to slip a little. I’m sitting there on
the stage and Chip Monck whose running everything says we’ve got to get
everyone off the stage its slipping a little, and I look up at him and
say … I can’t move. And I didn’t mean it as an arrogant rock star … I
mean I was glued to the stage with all of my being, and going through
the stage miles and miles into the earth. I was totally immobile and I
think he just thought I was an A-Hole and didn’t want to bother with me.
In any case, while the stage was slipping, I was just sitting there
flying … and I got away with it.”
“We came on just after sunup in the morning and it was interesting
haven been up all night and suppose to have gone on at ten o’clock the
previous night, so we were out there at ten in the morning at our most
vulnerable if you will. I didn’t know at the time how we played, but
have heard it since and it came off pretty well considering.”
“We were there several days before it even started just wondering
around aimlessly, figuring out what was what, and then hung around the
whole next day after our set. Then we did the Dick Cavett Show and did a
whole bunch of stuff there.”
“It was all quite a good adventure for me.”
: Was the ‘Heroes of Woodstock’ tour a lot of fun?
: “Every place we play is fun.
There’s a certain adventure of going out on stage, and we don’t quite
know what we’re going to be doing, and we play the songs different quite
a lot in many ways, so there’s a bit of adventure and exploration and
just the architecture of music, even to this day is something that I
don’t understand … why music works that way it does. After all these
years why this combination of notes, elements, and melodies, influences
people so emotionally, myself included, and that keeps me at the helm as
it were all the time.”
: I saw Jefferson
Starship headline for Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer Group at a sold-out
Capitol Centre in Maryland … somewhere in the 70s.
: “I remember those guys
opening for us they were quite good. I’ve always liked the idea of
having really good people opening for us when we played and I do that to
this day. Some people like to have a crappy band open for them so
they’ll sound better, but for me, we really drive when a good band kicks
ass before us and it just makes us play better in the long run.”
: Red Octopus was a huge selling album … why do you thing that was?
: “I never have a clue. (All
laughing) We just put out albums and what we’re doing at the time, and
they go this way and that way… that one went a lot that way and turned
out quite good. We never plan anything and it just comes out when we’re
done with it. I’m working on a couple of albums right now … a rock ‘n’
roll album from Jefferson Starship and a sort of a half folk music kind
of an album … in the adventure mode of Tree of Liberty
, sort of
like the way we started playing in the earlier days. I enjoyed
thoroughly going back to that approach; I love acoustic twelve string
guitars, banjos, grand pianos, and voices are probably my best area to
: I play mostly electric guitar and have always thought that the banjo was a tough instrument to play.
: “The basics are quite simple
actually. I had the adventure of learning with Pete Seeger’s ‘How to
Play the Five-String Banjo’ book, which got me going right off and it’s a
very good book for that. I have two banjos and I’m looking at one right
now sitting at my home that someone made for me. It’s a fine instrument
and I’ve learned a certain way of playing that suits me quite well.”
: I chatted earlier this
year with Roger McGuinn about the old traditional folk songs and how
much we miss hearing them, but also about just keeping younger and
future generations aware of the genre. Do you talk with Roger?
: “We’ve been playing with
Roger since we both started … we did shows together when he was in The
Byrds and we were Jefferson Airplane and have continued to do shows with
him since. We both come out of folk music.”
“But that’s partly what I tried to do on Tree of Liberty
the resurgence of that sort of feeling and we succeeded pretty well I
like to think. And Roger in his own way has succeeded pretty well. Both
of us ended up playing Rickenbacker 12-strings which I play to this day.
It’s one of my favorite instruments and almost all I play when we’re
“But Pete Seeger started all that more or less … I latched onto it
when I was just getting into college and it worked out pretty well for
me thank you. Oddly enough, most of the music I still listen to nowadays
go back to a band called The Weavers …Pete Seeger’s band. It’s where I
get my love for three-part singing, which I do to this day. I think
three or four CD’s in my car right now are The Weavers. I still draw
both emotionally and musically from them and I’m learning from them all
: Any thoughts of mentoring kids about folk music
: I’m too busy being a band,
and I have a feeling that’s something that comes “after” you’re a band.
I’m not really interested in being “after” at this time.”
: So there are no plans after the band?
: “I’ll probably die on the stage.”
: If you had a Field of Dreams wish … what artist past or present would you like to collaborate with?
: “Pete Seeger and The Weavers …
which halfway I’ve done. I’ve worked with Pete Seeger and done several
benefits with him. When I was making one of my solo albums, I asked
Ronnie Gilbert who is one of the women singers in The Weavers to record
with me. She was the reason why I wanted to work with a woman. That’s
why I went after Signe first and then Grace. Working with Ronnie was a
great experience. The Weavers taught me how to be a band, in terms of a
full well-rounded combination … like social responsibility and fun ...
the joy and fun of being on stage, and then again the mystery of music
and why it is what it is. I learned all of that from The Weavers because
they affected me that way. We do what we do as The Weavers did and I
intend carrying on what we do until I don’t.”
: Paul, what else do you like to do besides playing music?
: “Study and read actually. I
stopped watching TV almost completely because it became so dreary. I’ve
taken up reading quite a lot, mostly serious stuff like Aristotle and
Plato to just good junk literature which I also thoroughly enjoy. It’s
an escape in its own way in the same way science fiction was for me.”
“I live in North Beach, so I like to walk down to the Café Trieste,
the espresso bar and saloon here, then I go to the City Lights Bookstore
and things like that.”
: I’ve noticed a lot of rock stars that are getting up in age are now turning to God.
: “Oh God … that is the worst.
I’ve noticed particularly the alcoholics or drug addicts who give up
everything, and then they just take up God which is sort of in its own
way a version of the same thing. And yea, everybody who goes for that I
feel sorry for more than anything, because it sort of clouds their minds
in my opinion.”
: I’m okay with that as long as they don’t come off sounding like TV evangelists.
: “One of the highlights in my
career was getting mentioned as one of the devils acolytes on the Jim
and Tammy Bakker Show. I did a whole lot of stuff with those people for
awhile, and even invited them to a concert. I’ve been to Jim and Tammy
Bakker’s place in North Carolina and a couple of other places just to
see it as a cultural oddity.”
“I’ve actually stole some chord changes from Tammy Faye Bakker’s band
in my day, and have found their way into our songs one way or another.
“I was a public speaker in high school and college, so I was quite
taken with Billy Graham and his style of speaking … I thought it was
very good to watch him speak. Now and again, they’ll have reruns of him
on TV and I’ll check him out … but the new ones don’t impress me at
: Final thoughts Paul?
“Exploring is one of the best things I’ve learned about science
fiction … exploring the unknown. It served me well back in the second
grade and to this day. After all my children grew up and left home, I
sold my home and moved down to North Beach, in a relatively simple
little apartment right in the heart of it all. And I told my children,
this is the best place I’ve ever wanted to be and as far as I’m
concerned I can die here. And they say … dad??? And I say, not now, in
about thirty or forty years. I’m at the height of my pleasure right now
in North Beach. My corner down at Café Trieste is for me, the height of
civilization in the ongoing plot to overthrow reality.”
: Thank you so much Paul
for spending time with me today, but especially for all the incredible
music you’ve given to all of us over the years and into the future.
: “Thank you Ray for the time and carry on.”
Jefferson Starship official website www.jeffersonstarshipsf.com
(Current tour schedule here
Order Jefferson Starship’s latest release, ‘Tales From The Mothership’
an incredible 4-CD Live Concert set from Roswell, New Mexico. To purchase visit www.gonzomultimedia.com
Coming up next
original lead singer and drummer for Rare Earth
to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon Publicity
Official website http://glassonyonpublicity.wordpress.com/
classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho
Purchase Ray’s very special memoir
called ‘Check the Gs’
-The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business
… You’ll LIVE IT! Also available for download on NOOK
edition for JUST .99 CENTS at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com -Support Ray so he can continue to bring you quality classic rock music reporting.
~~Pacific Book Review says
Ray Shasho is a product
of the second half of the 20th century, made in the USA from parts
around the world, and within him is every trend in music, television,
politics and culture contributing to his philosophical and comically
analytical reflections collected in his fine book of memories. I found Check the Gs
be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many
memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray. So to
all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!
It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids,
if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure
out why we are the way we are.
© Copyright rayshasho.com
. All Rights Reserved