Jefferson Airplane: Grace Slick’s Band From the 60s
Based in San Francisco, California, Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band that made itself known due to taking some of the first steps in psychedelic rock. With their songs "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" to be listed on Rolling Stone’s "500 Greatest Songs of All Time", the band’s controversy was mostly due to its lead singer, Grace Slick. But why was that?
BANDMEMBERS: WHO WERE THEY?
Counting with almost 15 band members across the years, the drama and conflict were no strangers to the musicians who passed through Jefferson Airplane. With some of the ex-band members communicating only through lawyers, there was one member who kept true to the band: Grace Slick.
GRACE SLICK: THE ONE AND ONLY
Grace Slick is still to this day a synonym of Jefferson Airplane. Bringing charisma, fun vocals, and a sense of danger, she was responsible for the creepiness yet mastery of some of the band’s most well-known songs. To be honest, thinking about the band without Slick being part of it doesn’t even make sense.
However, she was not the first singer of the band. The debut album, which was released in 1966, had Signe Toly as the lead singer, but due to becoming a mother, she had to step down from the position. The band then asked Sherry Snow to take her place, which she declined, and so Slick came into the scene.
MARTY BALIN: VOCALIST, GUITARIST, CO-FOUNDER
Forming the band with Paul Kantner, Balin was initially a struggling folk guitarist. He is credited for co-writing five songs on “Surrealistic Pillow”, becoming a staple of the band with his tenor voice, and taking part of the bands’ most popular concerts. Balin was present at Human Be-in (1967), Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont.
But not everything was joyful in Balin’s experience in the band. During a concert, he dived into the audience to help a fan in distress and was brutally beaten. He mentioned in 1993 “I woke up with all these boot marks all over my body, I just walked out [...]. I remember Jorma saying, ‘Hey, you’re a crazy son of a [...].’”
PAUL KANTNER: THE 60’S VISIONARY
Kantner, who is considered a prince of the Sumer of Love, began his musical career as a banjoist and 12-string guitar player. After meeting with Balin, the two decided on creating something new, and thus Jefferson Airplane came to life. Passing away in 2016, Kantner was not an easy man.
Joel Selvin described him as “A sometimes prickly, often sarcastic musician who keeps his own counsel and routinely enrages his old bandmates”, during an interview in 2008. Balin spoke about him as “[...] a hard-headed guy to get along with and wouldn’t do anybody else’s music. We had to do what he could do, so that’s what we all did eventually.”
JORMA KAUKONEN: A LEADING FINGERSTYLE GUITARIST
Kaukonen was another founding member of Jefferson Airplane, who has become a Grammy nominee, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as well as one of the most in-demand instructors. Jorma’s career is still alive and well, and he is still touring with his other band, Hot Tuna.
SKIP SPENCE: A TRAGIC INFLUENCER
Being a co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, Spence’s life story was not an easy one. The musician spent the last decades of his life in eerie physical and mental health. He wrote his famous album “Oar” in a psychiatric ward, and even though he has passed away several years ago, he is still as influential as ever.
JACK CASADY: THE INNOVATOR OF THE BASS GUITAR
Casady’s work in Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tune has defined the role of bass guitar in the industry, liberating the instrument from its role in the rhythm section. He is well known for his sweeping chords and melodic lines, which led him to work with names such as Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby, Warren Zevon, SVT, and Rusted Root.
SPENCER DRYDEN: ABRASIVE PROBLEM-MAKER
Spencer Dryden had a musical background as a jazz drummer, which allowed him to easily incorporate folk, rock, and free-form experimentation during his time with the band. An incredibly skilled drummer, who was able to easily find a different approach to his drumming skills to match the sound of Jefferson Airplane.
“PAPA” JOHN CREACH: FROM THE ORCHESTRA TO ROCK’N’ROLL
Known mostly for his role as the violinist of the Jefferson Airplane, Creach’s musical career began when he studied with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Passing away at the age of 76, John won the W. C. Handy Award from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation.
THE SCANDALS SURROUNDING THE BAND
Many headlines were made about the psychedelic rock band, most of them due to the front-woman - Grace Slick. From bringing, erm, illegal substances to a party at the White House to being seen with one of the CIA’s most wanted listers, Slick was no stranger to controversies nor scandal.
Now in her 80s and living life peacefully in Malibu, her latest controversy happened when she appeared at a post-9/11 benefit, writing a song for victims of the New Orleans oil spill. Having been retired for a few years, she is still an incredible influence within the music world.
Music has changed since Jefferson Airplane, later known as Jefferson Starship and Starship, took their first steps in the industry, however, they are still known for their biting political lyrics, soaring harmonies, and hallucinogenic titles. Making a name for themselves in the 60s and 70s, due to the quality and innovation of their music, but as well because of their charisma, they will forever be remembered as one of the first big psychedelic rock bands.
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