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?

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Jefferson Airplane.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Jefferson Airplane.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Jefferson Airplane, May 1967, California, Los Angeles. (L-R) Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Slick.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Photo of Jefferson Airplane, May 1967, California, Los Angeles. (L-R) Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, 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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship, portrait, New York, September 1978.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship, portrait, New York, September 1978.

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. 

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | American singer Grace Slick performing with American rock group Jefferson Starship, New York, USA, September 1978.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | American singer Grace Slick performing with American rock group Jefferson Starship, New York, USA, September 1978.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Rebecca Sapp / WireImage | Singer/songwriter Marty Balin speaks onstage at An Evening With Marty Balin at The GRAMMY Museum on November 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Rebecca Sapp / WireImage | Singer/songwriter Marty Balin speaks onstage at An Evening With Marty Balin at The GRAMMY Museum on November 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

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 [...].’”

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | American musician Marty Balin performing with rock group Jefferson Starship, New York, USA, September 1978.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Putland | American musician Marty Balin performing with rock group Jefferson Starship, New York, USA, September 1978.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Clayton Call / Redferns | Paul Kantner performs as part of the Bread & Roses Festival at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA on September 21, 1991.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Clayton Call / Redferns | Paul Kantner performs as part of the Bread & Roses Festival at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA on September 21, 1991.

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.”

Image Credits: Getty Images / Clayton Call / Redferns | Paul Kantner performs at a free concert with Jefferson Starship at Vaillancourt Plaza in San Francisco In October 1979. (L-R) Aynsley Dunbar, Paul Kantner.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Clayton Call / Redferns | Paul Kantner performs at a free concert with Jefferson Starship at Vaillancourt Plaza in San Francisco In October 1979. (L-R) Aynsley Dunbar, Paul Kantner.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Larry Hulst / Michael Ochs Archives | Jorma Kaukonen performing with 'Hot Tuna' at the Oriental Theater in Denver, Colorado on February 23, 2014.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Larry Hulst / Michael Ochs Archives | Jorma Kaukonen performing with 'Hot Tuna' at the Oriental Theater in Denver, Colorado on February 23, 2014.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Skip Spence of the rock and roll band "Moby Grape" relax backstage at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on June 10, 1967 in New York, New York.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives | Skip Spence of the rock and roll band "Moby Grape" relax backstage at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on June 10, 1967 in New York, New York.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Scott Dudelson | Bass player Jack Casady of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane performs onstage at Golden Gate Park on October 3, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

Image Credits: Getty Images / Scott Dudelson | Bass player Jack Casady of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane performs onstage at Golden Gate Park on October 3, 2015 in San Francisco, California.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / John Atashian | Violinist Papa John Creach is shown performing on stage during a "live" concert appearance with the Jefferson Airplane on February 12, 1992.

Image Credits: Getty Images / John Atashian | Violinist Papa John Creach is shown performing on stage during a "live" concert appearance with the Jefferson Airplane on February 12, 1992.


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.

Image Credits: Getty Images / David Livingston | Singer/artist Grace Slick attends her art exhibition at Art One Gallery on August 25, 2011 in Santa Monica, California.

Image Credits: Getty Images / David Livingston | Singer/artist Grace Slick attends her art exhibition at Art One Gallery on August 25, 2011 in Santa Monica, California.

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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