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Music: Jefferson Airplane
"Don't you want somebody to love?"

An American rock/pop band that formed in San Francisco in 1965, Jefferson Airplane/Starship has gone through significant stages in its long and storied career.

Jefferson Airplane (1965-1972)

The classic line-up of Jefferson Airplane. Clockwise from bottom-left: Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden, Jack Casady, Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick.

The original band, Jefferson Airplane, was a Bay Area Folk Music group with a sound comparable to The Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful. According to Jorma Kaukonen, the name came from a friend, Steve Talbot, who jokingly nicknamed him "Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane" as a parody of the sort of nicknames Blues singers usually adopted (and possibly had Blind Lemon Jefferson in mind), and when nobody else could think of a band name, Kaukonen remembered Talbot's joke and shortened it appropriately. This didn't stop rumours that the original name referred to an impromptu method of holding a too-short marijuana joint. When they first formed in 1965, Jefferson Airplane consisted of Marty Balin and Signe Anderson on lead vocals, Jorma Kaukonen and Paul Kantner on guitar, Bob Harvey on bass and Jerry Peloquin on drums. Harvey and Peloquin didn't last long, and were quickly replaced by Jack Casady and Skip Spence on bass and drums respectively. Airplane would release one album (Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, 1966) with that line-up before Spence moved on to create Moby Grape (and subsequently suffered from mental illness, dying in 1999), and Anderson left to raise a family.

They were replaced by Spencer Dryden (the nephew of Charlie Chaplin) and iconic frontwoman Grace Slick. Now the classic line-up was set, and with the release of their 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow, they established themselves as a leading Psychedelic Rock band. They enjoyed Top 10 hit singles in America with "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit", are the only band that played at the three most famous rock and roll festivals of The Sixties (Woodstock, Monterey and Altamont) and headlined the first Isle of Wight Festival. Unfortunately, the group seemed to run out of steam with the onset of The Seventies; Dryden was fired in early 1970 (Replaced first by Joey Covington, then by former drummer of The Turtles, John Barbata), and Balin, disillusioned with the psychedelic scene after the death of his close friend Janis Joplin, and with the gradual decline of his influence and involvement, quit his band. After a series of revolving members (Including violinist Papa John Creach and vocalist David Freiberg), they finally called it a day in 1972. Kaukonen and Casady went on to further success with Hot Tuna.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Signe Toly Anderson - backing and lead vocals, percussion (1965-1966)
  • Marty Balin - lead vocals, guitar, bass, percussion (19651971, 1989, 1996)
  • John Barbata - drums, tambourine, percussion (1972)
  • Jack Casady - bass, guitar (19651972, 1989, 1996)
  • Joey Covington - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, congas, tambourine (1970-1972, died 2013)
  • Papa John Creach - violin, vocals (19701972, died 1994)
  • Spencer Dryden - drums, percussion, piano, organ, steel balls, vocals (19661970, 1996, died 2005)
  • David Freiberg - vocals, tambourine, guitar (1972)
  • Bob Harvey - bass (1965)
  • Paul Kantner - guitar, backing and lead vocals (19651972, 1989, 1996)
  • Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, backing and lead vocals, sitar (19651972, 1989, 1996)
  • Jerry Peloquin - drums (1965)
  • Grace Slick - lead vocals, piano, organ, recorder, keyboard (19661972, 1989)
  • Skip Spence - drums (1965-1966, died 1999)

Studio 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

Live Discography:

  • 1969 - Bless Its Pointed Little Head
  • 1973 - Thirty Seconds Over Winterland
  • 1991 - Live At The Monterey Festival
  • 1996 - Feed Your Head: Live '67'69
  • 1998 - Live At The Fillmore East
  • 1999 - Through The Looking Glass
  • 2006 - At Golden Gate Park
  • 2007 - Last Flight
  • 2007 - Sweeping Up The Spotlight: Live At The Fillmore East 1969
  • 2007 - At The Family Dog Ballroom
  • 2009 - The Woodstock Experience note 
  • 2010 - Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66: Late Show: Signe's Farewell
  • 2010 - Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66: Early & Late Shows: Grace's Debut
  • 2010 - Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66: We Have Ignition
  • 2010 - Return To The Matrix 2/1/68

Non-album singles:

  • 1970 - "Mexico" / "Have You Seen The Saucers?"

Jefferson Starship (1974-1984)

Jefferson Starship in the 1970's. From left to right: John Barbata, David Freiberg (top), Marty Balin (middle), Craig Chaquico (bottom), Grace Slick, Paul Kantner (top) and Pete Sears (bottom).

However, the band reformed in 1974 under the name Jefferson Starship (named after the ad-hoc supergroup that played on Paul Kantner's Hugo-nominated science-fiction concept album Blows Against the Empire). The founding line-up of Jefferson Starship consisted of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Papa John Creach, John Barbata and David Freiberg from Jefferson Airplane, as well as teenage guitarist Craig Chaquico and bassist/guitarist Peter Kaukonen, the brother of Jorma (Peter Kaukonen was gone after their first tour, replaced by Pete Sears). Marty Balin rejoined after their debut album (Dragon Fly, 1974) was released. Their second album, Red Octopus would become their most successful album, and with a little help from the main single from that album (Miracles, which hit no.3 in the charts) they became more commercially successful than Jefferson Airplane ever were. However, today they're probably best remembered as, "That band that showed up in The Star Wars Holiday Special".

Importantly, Slick was sacked due to her out-of control alcoholism and a disastrous concert in Hamburg in 1978. Then came the Star Wars Holiday Special, and not long after that, Balin was gone for good. The following year, lead vocalist Mickey Thomas joined the band and subsequently became the effective leader of the band in the 80's. John Barbata left in 1979, and was first replaced by famous British session drummer Aynsley Dunbar, and then by Donny Baldwin. By 1981, Grace Slick was back, but all of these line-up changes took its toll on the band. Finally, with Paul Kantner's departure in 1984, none of the founding Jefferson Airplane members were left, and it was time for a change in name.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Donny Baldwin - drums, percussion, vocals (1982-1984, 2008-Present)
  • Marty Balin - lead vocals, guitar (1974-1978, 1994-2008)
  • John Barbata - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, congas (1974-1979)
  • Craig Chaquico - guitar, vocals, synthesizer, drums (1974-1984)
  • Papa John Creach - violin (1974-1975, 1992-1994, died 1994)
  • Aynsley Dunbar - drums, percussion, marimba, synthesizer (1979-1982)
  • David Freiberg - vocals, keyboard, organ, piano, bass, synthesizer (1974-1984, 2005-Present)
  • Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar, banjo, keyboard, synthesizer (1974-1984, 1992-Present)
  • Peter Kaukonen - bass, guitar (1974, 1994-1995)
  • Steve Schuster - saxophone (1978-1979)
  • Pete Sears - bass, piano, harpsichord, organ, synthesizer, clavinet, celeste, guitar, vocals (1974-1984)
  • Grace Slick - lead vocals, piano (1974-1978, 1981-1984)
  • Mickey Thomas - lead vocals (1979-1984)

Studio and Live Discography:

  • 1970 - Blows Against the Empire note 
  • 1974 - Dragon Fly
  • 1975 - Red Octopus
  • 1976 - Spitfire
  • 1978 - Earth
  • 1979 - Freedom At Point Zero
  • 1981 - Modern Times
  • 1982 - Winds Of Change
  • 1982 - RCA Special Radio Series Volume 19
  • 1984 - Nuclear Furniture
  • 2013 - Live In Central Park NYC May 12, 1975

Starship (1984-1990) and the Jefferson Airplane reunions (1989, 1996)

Starship, circa 1987. From left to right: Grace Slick, Donny Baldwin, Mickey Thomas and Craig Chaquico.

As a result of legal action from Kantner, the remaining members of Jefferson Starship shortened their name to Starship, a straight-ahead pop-rock group that released three somewhat synth-heavy albums in the mid to late 1980s and had three number one singles with "We Built This City", "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now". Though critically reviled, they were quite successful commercially nonetheless. As it turned, this group turned out to have the least staying power. David Freiberg left during the making of their first album (Knee Deep In The Hoopla, 1985), Pete Sears, after realising what the hell he was doing there (literally) left in 1987, and Grace Slick left the following year. With Mickey Thomas as the sole lead singer, they gradually disintegrated until they broke up in 1990. Notably in 1989, Donny Baldwin was sacked after assaulting Thomas to the point where Thomas had to have facial reconstruction surgery and plates implanted into his skull.

Meanwhile, in 1989, the classic line-up of Jefferson Airplane reunited for one last album. However, Spencer Dryden was excluded as Kantner still held a grudge against him for his role in firing one of their managers in 1968. The album was not very well-received, but the tour supporting it was a big success. By then at the age of 50, Slick chose to retire from the music industry, saying that 'All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire'. Papa John Creach died from heart failure in 1994, and the Airplane reunited once more in 1996 for the induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This time Dryden participated and Slick was absent. Skip Spence died from lung cancer in 1999, Spencer Dryden died in 2005 from colon cancer, and Joey Covington died in a tragic car accident in 2013.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic) (* = Jefferson Airplane):

  • Donny Baldwin - drums, vocals (1984-1989)
  • Marty Balin - lead vocals (19651971, 1989, 1996)*
  • Brett Bloomfield - bass, vocals (1988-1990, 1993-1996)
  • Jack Casady - bass (19651972, 1989, 1996)*
  • Craig Chaquico - guitar (1984-1990)
  • Spencer Dryden - drums (19661970, 1996, died 2005)*
  • David Freiberg - keyboard, synthesizer, bass, vocals (1984-1985)
  • Paul Kantner - guitar, vocals (19651972, 1989, 1996)*
  • Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals (19651972, 1989, 1996)*
  • Mark Morgan - keyboard (1988-1990)
  • Pete Sears - bass, keyboard (1984-1987)
  • Grace Slick - lead vocals, keyboard (1984-1988), (19661972, 1989)*
  • Mickey Thomas - lead vocals (1984-1990, 1992-Present)

Studio Discography (* = Jefferson Airplane):

  • 1985 - Knee Deep In The Hoopla
  • 1987 - No Protection
  • 1989 - Love Among The Cannibals
  • 1989 - Jefferson Airplane*

Jefferson Starship - The Next Generation (1992-Present)

Jefferson Starship in 2008. Clockwise from left: Cathy Richardson, Donny Baldwin, Paul Kantner, Chris Smith, David Freiberg and Mark "Slick" Aguilar.

Paul Kantner re-formed Jefferson Starship in 1992, and for the first few years they used the name "The Next Generation" next to Jefferson Starship (a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation). They eventually dropped that, but they remain active today with a revolving-door line-up mainly as a touring act. As Kantner said: 'I'm working on erasing the bad history of Jefferson Starship, in the '80s when it went bad. I had to leave the band, it got so bad. I'm usually the last one at the party, as a general rule'. They've released two studio albums (Winds Of Change in 1998 and Jefferson's Tree Of Liberty in 2008) and several live albums so far.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Mark "Slick" Aguilar - guitar, vocals (1992-2012, 2014-Present)
  • Signe Toly Anderson - backing and lead vocals (1993-1994)
  • Donny Baldwin - drums, percussion, vocals (1982-1984, 2008-Present)
  • Marty Balin - lead vocals, guitar, percussion (1974-1978, 1993-2008)
  • Gary Cambra - keyboard, synthesizer (1995)
  • Jack Casady - bass (1992-2000)
  • Papa John Creach - violin (1974-1975, 1992-1994, died 1994)
  • Barry Flast - keyboard, synthesizer (1995)
  • David Freiberg - vocals, guitar (1974-1984, 2005-Present)
  • Jude Gold - guitar (2012-Present)
  • Tim Gorman - keyboard, synthesizer, vocals, piano (1992-1995)
  • Darby Gould - backing and lead vocals (1992-1993, 1994-1995, 2005, 2008)
  • Chico Huff - bass (1998-2000)
  • Paul Kantner - lead vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica, synthesizer (1974-1984, 1992-Present)
  • Peter Kaukonen - bass (1974, 1994-1995)
  • Diana Mangano - backing and lead vocals (1993-2008)
  • T Lavitz - keyboard, synthesizer, piano, organ (1995-1998, died 2010)
  • Tom Lily - bass (2000)
  • Prairie Prince - drums, percussion, marimba, rainstick, snare, kick, bodhran (1992-2008)
  • Cathy Richardson - backing and lead vocals, harmonica, guitar (2008-Present)
  • Trey Sabatelli - drums, percussion (1995)
  • Chris Smith - keyboard, synthesizer, piano, bass, squeezebox, drone, pennywhistle (1998-Present)
  • Jack Traylor - guitar, vocals (2005)
  • Bobby Vega - bass (1998-2000)

Studio and Live Discography:

  • 1995 - Deep Space/Virgin Sky
  • 1998 - Winds Of Change
  • 1999 - Greatest Hits: Live At The Fillmore
  • 2000 - Live At B. B. King's Blues Club
  • 2000 - Live At Vinoy Park
  • 2001 - Post Nine 11
  • 2001 - Across The Sea Of Suns
  • 2002 - UK
  • 2003 - Live
  • 2005 - Galactic Reunion Concert
  • 2008 - Jefferson's Tree Of Liberty
  • 2011 - Air Play

Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas (1992-Present)

Starship in the late-2000's. From left to right: Mark Abrahamian, Darrell Verdusco, Stephanie Calvert, Mickey Thomas, Phil Bennett and Jeff Adams.

Around the same time Paul Kantner reformed Jefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas chose to reform Starship. Briefly known as Mickey Thomas's Starship, they quickly settled on Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas, a clear indication of Thomas being the band. With a revolving-door line-up, Starship continues to tour today. Guitarist Mark Abrahamian tragically died of a heart attack after a concert in 2012, and Starship released their first album in over 20 years with Loveless Fascination the following year, to extremely positive reviews.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Mark Abrahamian - guitar (2000-2012, died 2012)
  • Jeff Adams - bass, vocals (2000-Present)
  • Phil Bennett - keyboard, vocals (1995-Present)
  • Brett Bloomfield - bass, vocals (1988-1990, 1993-1996)
  • Stephanie Calvert - backing and lead vocals (2006-Present)
  • John Garnache - bass, vocals (1996-2000)
  • Max Hasket - trumpet, vocals (1992-1993)
  • Melisa Kary - backing and lead vocals (1992-2000)
  • T. Moran - drums (1992-1995)
  • John Roth - guitar, vocals (2012-Present)
  • John Sandersis - keyboard, saxophone (1992-1995)
  • Christina Marie Saxton - backing and lead vocals (1996-2006)
  • Bill Slais - saxophone, keyboard (1993-1995)
  • Jeff Talamaire - guitar (1992-1997)
  • Mickey Thomas - lead vocals (1984-1990, 1992-Present)
  • Erik Torjesen - guitar, vocals (1997-2000)
  • Bobby Vega - bass (1992-1993)
  • Darrell Verdusco - drums, vocals (1995-Present)

Studio Discography:

  • 2013 - Loveless Fascination

"Feed your tropes!":

  • After the End: "Wooden Ships" (written by SF Fan Paul Kantner, in collaboration with members of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a hit for both groups) depicts ocean-dwelling survivors of an unspecified apocalyptic event.
  • Alice Allusion: All over the place in "White Rabbit".
  • Control Freak: Mickey Thomas by all accounts.
  • Cover Version: David Crosby's polyamory-themed "Triad" is covered on Crown Of Creation. Notably, Crosby brought the song to the band after it was originally rejected by The Byrds, but The Byrds later changed their mind and recorded a version as well.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off is basically a straight-ahead folk-rock album with little hint of the tripped-out weirdness that would follow. It's also worth noting that there is quite a bit more straight-ahead folk-rock on Surrealistic Pillow than a lot of people seem to remember there being, though the group's penchant for chemical experimentation definitely affected even the folk-rock songs on that album.
    • Jefferson Airplane in general could be considered this for those who are only familiar with the 80's Starship hits.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Sarcastically titled The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane.
  • I Am the Band: Marty Balin in the early days of Jefferson Airplane, though Grace Slick and Paul Kantner quickly took over.
    • Kantner with Jefferson Starship, and Mickey Thomas with Starship.
  • Intercourse with You: "Miracles".
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Somebody To Love".
  • Mushroom Samba: "White Rabbit".
  • Nightmare Fuel: "The House At Pooneil Corners" due to it's menacing intro melody, chaotic sound, lyrics about nuclear war and Jorma Kaukonen's air raid siren like guitar line.
  • One Woman Song: "Jane," "Sara".
  • Oppressive States of America: In "Volunteers", this is the basis for the call for revolution.
  • The Pete Best: Bob Harvey (the original bassist), and Jerry Peloquin (the original drummer). Also Signe Toly Anderson, the original female lead vocalist, and Skip Spence, the second drummer, who played on the band's first album, Takes Off, and left afterwards. Spence went on to be a founding member of Moby Grape.
  • Polyamory: The subject of "Triad".
  • Precision F-Strike: "Up against the wall, motherfucker!" in "We Can Be Together". On the same album, "You call it rain/But the human name/Doesn't mean shit to a tree" on "Eskimo Blue Day".
  • Psychedelic Rock: One of the most influential groups in the genre, the 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow is one of several albums that helped to define the sound of the Summer of Love.
  • The Rainman: Marty Balin, one of the founding members, has a mild form of autism, but still led the group through its first two incarnations prior to taking a solo career in the early 1980s.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Villified: "Volunteers" paints a rosy picture of armed rebellion.
  • Rooftop Concert: In New York, about seven weeks before The Beatles did their more famous concert.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • Marty Balin quit Jefferson Airplane in 1971 after realising he was the odd one out. He rejoined Jefferson Starship permanently - only to leave for good in 1978 to be replaced by Mickey Thomas.
    • David Freiberg quit Starship not long after it was formed. He lasted long enough to be around for the first sessions of Knee Deep In The Hoopla, but found himself replaced in the studio by session musicians.
    • Pete Sears quit Starship after Knee Deep In The Hoopla when during a performance of "Sara" he realised just how much they had sold out and wondered what the hell he was still doing with them.
    • Grace Slick quit Starship after No Protection so she could rejoin the reformed Jefferson Airplane at that time - only to quit them after one tour when she decided she was getting too old for this.
  • Sexbot: Marty Balin claims that "Plastic Fantastic Lover" was a paean to his new stereo system (or maybe TV—the story varies), but the description of it as a lover with "chrome-colored clothes", and the references to "Data Control and IBM" make it clear that he was trying to imply a little more—possibly influenced by some of Kantner's SF collection.
  • Shout-Out: Paul Kantner was a science fiction fan, and several of his songs contain references to SF works:
    • The lyrics of eponymous title track of the album Crown Of Creation were taken (with permission) entirely from the novel The Chrysalids by British SF author John Wyndham.
    • The album Blows Against the Empire was inspired by, and referenced, another Heinlein novel, Methuselah's Children, again with permission. (Heinlein commented that his plots had been used by others many times, but this was the first time someone had asked first.)
    • "Rejoyce" on After Bathing at Baxter's was about James Joyce's Ulysses.
    • "Triad" contains a couple of references to Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, but it was actually written by David Crosby.
  • The Sixties: Odds are good that, if you're watching a program about or set in the Sixties, you'll hear a Jefferson Airplane song on the soundtrack. Even if it's the very early Sixties.
    • The Seventies: Jefferson Starship successfully morphed into an Arena Rock group along the lines of Toto (as a matter of fact, their hit song "Jane" was accused of aping Toto's single "Hold the Line", right down to the piano triplets).
    • The Eighties: Starship became pretty much the poster band for the so-called "corporate rock" movement mid-decade.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Is it "Jefferson Airplane" or "The Jefferson Airplane"? Averted by later incarnations of the band.
  • Vocal Tag Team

HeartArena RockJourney
Jan And DeanRockJoan Jett
Iron ButterflyMusic of the 1960sSurrealistic Pillow
Jimi HendrixPsychedelic RockName's the Same

alternative title(s): Jefferson Starship; Jefferson Airplane; Starship; Jefferson Starship
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