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, the latter having just left another psychedelic group called the Great Society. 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, and Joey Covington died in a tragic car accident in 2013. In 2016, Paul Kantner died from multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack, and Signe Anderson died from COPD on the same day as Kantner. Marty Balin passed in 2018.
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 (19651971, 1989, 1996; died 2018)
- 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; died 2016)
- 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)
- Alexander "Skip" Spence - drums (1965-1966; died 1999)
- 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
- 1989 - Jefferson Airplane
- 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
- 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". It's intended as a Take That! to parents who read their kids stories like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice herself uses several drug-like substances to change various aspects of her being, and then wonder why those kids go on to use drugs. The song is so ubiquitous in popular culture that it may qualify as the Trope Codifier.
- Anarchy Is Chaos: Zig-Zagged. Paul Kantner was an anarchist, and this showed up in several cases in the band's lyrics, most notably on Volunteers, where America, under the auspices of the Nixon government, is depicted as chaotic. However, anarchy itself isn't depicted as any less chaotic; "We Can Be Together" states: "We are forces of chaos and anarchy/Everything they say we are, we are." (It should be noted that overall most anarchists do not advocate chaos, but this may have been meant to mock the common perception.)
- 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. Robert Christgau, in one of his first album reviews, even called it "amplified Peter, Paul and Mary". But 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.
- Green Aesop: Several songs, such as "Eskimo Blue Day", which depicts how the concerns of humanity are ephemeral and trivial in comparison to the grandeur of nature.Snow cuts loose from the frozen
Until it joins with the African sea
In moving, it changes its cold and its name
The reason I come and go is the same
Animal game for me
You call it rain
But the human name
Doesn't mean shit to a tree
- 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".
- Non-Appearing Title: "White Rabbit", "Third Week in the Chelsea".
- Oppressive States of America: In "Volunteers", this is the basis for the call for revolution.
- Polyamory: The subject of "Triad".
- Precision F-Strike: "Up against the wall, motherfucker!" and "In order to survive, we steal/Cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal" 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". The record company objected to the F-bomb until Paul Kantner pointed out that they had already released the soundtrack to Hair, which featured the same word. (The printed lyrics nonetheless had the word censored as "fred".) A performance of "We Can Be Together" on The Dick Cavett Show also marked the first time the word "fuck" was broadcast on American television.
- 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 Rain Man: Marty Balin, one of the founding members, had 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 Hells 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 lyrics of the 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.
- "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.
- "White Rabbit" is devoted to making Alice's Adventures in Wonderland even trippier.
- "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil" opens and closes with lyrics directly quoted from an A. A. Milne poem (and there's an additional allusion to Milne elsewhere in the lyrics). Also, "Pooneil" from the song's Non-Appearing Title is a Portmanteau of the names of Winnie-the-Pooh and Folk Music singer-songwriter Fred Neil (best-known as the writer of "Everybody's Talkin'").
- "The House at Pooneil Corners" is also full of allusions to Milne. Even the song title qualifies, and not merely because of the reappearance of Pooneil — the second Winnie-the-Pooh book was titled The House at Pooh Corner.
- The album Volunteers had the Working Title of Volunteers of Amerika, partly in reference to the organisation Volunteers of America and partially in reference to both German fascism (as a Take That!) and to Franz Kafka's novel Amerika (as a Shout-Out). When the real Volunteers of America objected, however, the title of the album was shortened.
- "Up against the wall, motherfucker!" from "We Can Be Together" is a reference to an anarchist affinity group in New York City that protested the Vietnam War. They in turn had taken their name from the poem "Black People!" by Amiri Baraka. Many of the lyrics to the song were taken from a leaflet written by Motherfucker John Sundstrom for the East Village Other.
- 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.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Fuck" was replaced in the printed lyrics of Volunteers with "fred".
- Vocal Tag Team
- Voice Types: Grace Slick was one of the most dramatic contraltos in rock music. As one rock critic pointed out, she was like the anti-Janis Joplin: clear-voiced where Joplin was hoarse, low-voiced where Joplin was a mezzo-soprano, controlled where Joplin was all over the place, and ominous and a little chilly, where Joplin was wildly emotional.
- What Have I Become?: Grace Slick left Starship because she felt they sold out, and had gone a direction that was contradictory to Jefferson Airplane's roots. She left the Jefferson Airplane revival band because she felt she had become a cover artist, and was simply too old to continue in music.