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Jefferson Airplane

In the '60s, pop music featured several major female singers or groups but Rock was completely male dominated. While there wouldn't be a fair representation until the '80s singers like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin kicked open the door. Even so, Slick was not even an original member of Jefferson Airplane.

After seeing The Beatles in concert, Folk singer Marty Balin toyed with the idea of starting an electric Folk group. He recruited Paul Kantner (guitar/vocals) and Jorma Kaukonen (guitar). Kaukonen brought along his friend bassist Jack Cassidy. The addition of drummer Skip Spence and singer Signe Anderson comprised the first incarnation of Jefferson Airplane. They played around the San Francisco area in the mid-60s but were often found at The Matrix club. Also, playing at The Matrix was the Great Society featuring husband and wife Grace and Jerry Slick.

The Airplane landed a record deal with RCA and recorded "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off." While it was a good start with a mixture of Folk and Blues it didn't do much. Next Skip Spence was out and Spencer Dryden was in. But the big change occurred when Anderson announced she was pregnant. Soon she was gone. In short order, Slick left the Great Society and joined the Airplane. She brought with her two Great Society songs that would become Airplane classics - "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love." "White Rabbit" was ground breaking because of its obvious drug references (the "feed your head" line) while the Rocking "Somebody To Love" featured a great Slick vocal, it was the guitar solo at the end that probably best defined the hippie ballroom San Francisco sound. Both songs appeared on the Airplane's second, and vital album, "Surrealistic Pillow."

Two more albums came out in quick succession. "Bathing At Baxter's" and "Crown Of Creation" with the title track on the latter being the highlight. By the summer of '68 the Airplane toured Europe and managed two wild shows with The Doors in London. From there they recorded one of the all-time best live LPs "Bless Its Pointed Little Head." It is everything a live album should be - loud, wild and loose with extended versions of studio recordings that expand the song's scope.

The last album with the original line-up was "Volunteers" with the anti-war song "Wooden Ships." It was written by Kantner, ex-Byrd David Crosby and ex-Buffalo Springfield guitarist Stephen Stills.

Jefferson Airplane also managed to hit both the high and the low of the festival concert scene. They appeared at Woodstock in '69 and followed that up later in the year by performing with the Rolling Stones at Altamont. A Hell's Angel member knocked Marty Balin unconscious when he tried to stop the fighting that was constantly erupting in front of the stage.

The Airplane eventually fragmented and mutated, often around the Kantner/Slick axis, with Balin coming and going. Even Slick disappeared for a time. Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship and then simply Starship. The less said about the last two incarnations the better.

Jefferson Airplane Discography


1966 Jefferson Airplane Takes Off
1967 Surrealistic Pillow
1967 After Bathing At Baxter's
1968 Crown Of Creation
1969 Volunteers
1971 Bark
1972 Long John Silver
1989 Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane were "THE" San Francisco group. With the first album, "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off," in the can singer Signe Anderson departed because she was pregnant. Forced out or leaving on her own, the story has become tangled over the years. Bottom line, Grace Slick was in. "Surrealistic Pillow," the second Airplane album and first with Slick, is a masterpiece of S.F. psychedelic Rock. What's probably most surprising from this hippie gang was how amazing they sounded live. "Bless Its Pointed Little Head" vividly demonstrates the group's virtuosity. Other albums followed until the Airplane hopelessly splintered in the early '70s. Then, Kantner and Slick took over and in an attempt to keep up, re-named the act Jefferson Starship.

Gotta Haves:

Surrealistic Pillow 1967
"Somebody To Love" with its biting opening line "when the truth is found to be lies" still has incredible power. The haunting "White Rabbit" was a huge hit. What really pushed the album over the top are the anti-business/establishment "Plastic Fantastic Lover" and the racing "3/5th' s Of A Mile In Ten Seconds." Both are hard-charging Rockers.

Bless Its Pointed Little Head 1969
How many live albums open with dialog from "King Kong." "It was beauty that killed the beast." Right. The Airplane play hard and tight on this set recorded at both the Fillmore East and West. But that's not enough for Slick who intones distastefully after the first song ("3/5th's Of A Mile In 10 Seconds") "some of them chords." Slick's comments aside, the album shows the Airplane as an powerful Rock outfit. The guitars wail and bite but that 's expected. The surprise is the vocal turns by both Balin and Slick.

The Worst Of The Jefferson Airplane 1970
While the Airplane never produced another studio album as good as "Surrealistic Pillow" they did have their moments. Most of them appear on this CD.


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