Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band from San Francisco that released five albums between 1966 and 1969 on RCA Victor.

Members: Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals), Marty Balin (vocals, 1965-70, 1989), Signe Anderson (vocals, 1965-66), Bob Harvey (bass, 1965), Jerry Peloquin (drums, 1965), Jack Casady (bass, 1965-89), Alexander “Skip” Spence (drums, 1965-66), Grace Slick (vocals, 1966-89), Spencer Dryden (drums, 1966-70), Papa John Creach (violin, 1970-74), Joey Covington (drums, 1970-72), John Barbata (drums, 1972-74), David Freiberg (vocals, 1972-74)


Background

The Jefferson Airplane formed in 1965 when singer Marty Balin and guitarist Paul Kantner assembled a houseband for the Matrix, a converted pizza parlor at 3138 Fillmore Street, San Francisco.

Balin (b. Martyn Jerel Buchwald, January 30, 1942, Cincinnati, Ohio) first recorded for the LA-based label Challenge Records, which issued the singer’s two 1962 singles: “Nobody but You” (b/w “You Made Me Fall”) and “You Are the One” (b/w “I Specialize in Love”). In April 1963, he embarked on a fourteen-month gig with the Town Criers, an unsigned Bay Area folk quartet with a setlist of roughly eight originals, including Marty’s “99 Years to Go” and two co-writes with bandmate Larry Vargo: “Virgin Mary” and “Jubilee.”

In light of the British Invasion and its spawn of stateside folk-rock (The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful), Balin sought musicians for a hybrid folk-rock-blues band. With three co-investors, he purchased the Matrix, a 100-capacity pizza parlor between Greenwich and Pixley on Fillmore Street, the epicenter of San Franciscan bohemian culture. During a hootenanny at the Drinking Gourd on nearby Union Street, Balin met Kantner, a local native who liked Marty’s musical concept.

Kantner (b. March 17, 1941) grew up with an interest in folk music and science fiction. As a teenager, he fled military boarding school to become a protest singer. He attended the University of Santa Clara and befriended classmate and fellow folkie Jorma Kaukonen. After three years of studies, Paul spent a season in Los Angeles, where he housed with other budding musicians, including future Byrd David Crosby, eventual Quicksilver multi-instrumentalist David Freiberg, and soon-to-be Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia.

Kaukonen (b. December 23, 1940) came from Washington, DC, where he formed his first band, The Triumphs, with bassist Jack Casady (b. April 13, 1944). Recently, Jorma performed as a solo coffee house act and played acoustic guitar on The Typewriter Tape, a collection of eight 1964 demos by aspiring singer Janis Joplin. He joined the Matrix houseband and gave them a name, Jefferson Airplane — derived from Jorma’s nickname ‘Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane’ (an ode to bluesmen Blind Lemon Jefferson).

The Jefferson Airplane established its initial six-piece lineup with bluegrass standup bassist Bob Harvey, martial drummer Jerry Peloquin, and jazz-folk singer Signe Anderson (b. September 15, 1941, Seattle), who Balin spotted at the Drinking Gourd. Peloquin introduced Balin to music businessman Matthew Katz, who enticed the band with an unissued Bob Dylan song (“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”).

They first performed as the Jefferson Airplane on August 13, 1965, at the Matrix. Within weeks, Peloquin quit over disapproval of the band’s drug use while the others deemed Harvey ill-suited for the music. Kaukonen roped in Casady while Balin hired guitarist Alexander “Skip” Spence (b. April 18, 1946, Windsor, Ontario) to be their drummer, purportedly because he looked the part.

The Jefferson Airplane quickly soared within Bay Area rock circles. On October 16, 1965, they headlined a “happening” (a colloquial term for performance art events) at the Longshoremen’s Hall, supported by the Great Society, an unsigned folk-rock act formed by guitarist Darby Slick with his then-wife Grace. On November 6, the Airplane played a benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, organized by Bay Area music kingpin Bill Graham.

In December, the Jefferson Airplane signed a management deal with Katz, who fielded offers from multiple majors (Capitol, Elektra) and chose RCA Victor, which signed the band with an unprecedented advance of $25,000.


Discography:

  • Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966)
  • Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
  • After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967)
  • Crown of Creation (1968)
  • Volunteers (1969)
  • Bark (1971)
  • Long John Silver (1972)
  • Jefferson Airplane (1989)

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