Music / Jefferson Airplane

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

"Don't you want somebody to love?"

Jefferson Airplane was an American Psychedelic Rock and Folk Rock band 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 Alexander "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 form 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 front-woman 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 '60s (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 '70s; 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, and the remaining members went on to form Jefferson Starship.

However, 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, Joey Covington died in a tragic car accident in 2013, Paul Kantner died from multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack in 2016 and Signe Anderson died from COPD - dying on the same day as Kantner.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Signe Toly Anderson - backing and lead vocals, percussion (1965-1966, died 2016)
  • Marty Balin - lead vocals, guitar, bass, percussion (1965–1971, 1989, 1996)
  • John Barbata - drums, tambourine, percussion (1972)
  • Jack Casady - bass, guitar (1965–1972, 1989, 1996)
  • Joey Covington - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, congas, tambourine (1970-1972, died 2013)
  • Papa John Creach - violin, vocals (1970–1972, died 1994)
  • Spencer Dryden - drums, percussion, piano, organ, steel balls, vocals (1966–1970, 1996, died 2005)
  • David Freiberg - vocals, tambourine, guitar (1972)
  • Bob Harvey - bass (1965)
  • Paul Kantner - guitar, backing and lead vocals (1965–1972, 1989, 1996, died 2016)
  • Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, backing and lead vocals, sitar (1965–1972, 1989, 1996)
  • Jerry Peloquin - drums (1965)
  • Grace Slick - lead vocals, piano, organ, recorder, keyboard (1966–1972, 1989)
  • Alexander "Skip" Spence - drums (1965-1966, died 1999)

Studio Discography:

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:

  • 1966 - "It's No Secret" note  / "Runnin' Round This World"
  • 1970 - "Mexico" / "Have You Seen The Saucers?"

"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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Somebody To Love".
  • Mushroom Samba: "White Rabbit".
  • 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, Jefferson Airplane 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 (or co-led) both this band and Jefferson Starship prior to taking a solo career in the early 1980s.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Villified: "Volunteers" paints a rosy picture of armed rebellion.
  • Rockumentary: Jefferson Airplane was one of the acts at the infamous Altamont Free Concert, documented in the 1970 film Gimme Shelter. Lead singer Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by a club-wielding Hell's Angel biker.
  • 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.
    • Grace Slick did so as soon as the reunion was over, deciding that 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 '60s: 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.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Is it "Jefferson Airplane" or "The Jefferson Airplane"? Averted by the band's successors.
  • Spiritual Successor: Jefferson Starship, followed by Starship.
  • Vocal Tag Team