Airplane’s debut show was on August 13, 1965 at the Matrix nightclub in San
Francisco. The first performance featured Marty Balin on vocals, Paul Kantner
on vocals/rhythm guitar, and Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar. Signe Anderson,
(who sang on Jefferson Airplane’s first recording “Jefferson Airplane Takes
Off”) also performed. The bass player, Jack Casady and drummer Skip Spence,
(who was later one of the original members of Moby Grape) joined the band two
months later. Spencer Dryden became the drummer in June of 1966 and Grace Slick
joined as vocalist in October of 1966. The band performed the first concert for
Bill Graham at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in February
of 1966.Jefferson Airplane performed at the Berkeley Folk Festival, Monterey
Jazz Festival, Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont. They had hit
singles White Rabbit and Somebody to Love, from the album “Surrealistic
Pillow”. They were on the cover of Life Magazine in 1968. The band co-
headlined with the Doors in Europe in the summer of 1968. Many legendary bands
opened for the Airplane: Grateful Dead, Santana, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix,
Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, and many
others.The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996
Grace Slick, to the public mind, is synonymous with
Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship in the way that Mick Jagger is
synonymous with the Rolling Stones. Ironically, Grace was not an original
member of the band, nor was she with Starship at the very end. But Grace’s
importance to every phase of the band cannot be underestimated. White Rabbit,
which she wrote, helped define not only Jefferson Airplane but also the acid
rock era. Her unconventional vocals on Somebody to Love gave the Airplane its
biggest hit. As one of the first female rock stars (as opposed to pop singers),
Grace helped redefine women’s role in modern music as more than just a sex
symbol backed by a band. Of course, with her statuesque beauty and icy blue
eyes, Grace had the sex symbol bit down pat as well.
Grace Barnett Wing was born October 30, 1939, in
Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, IL. Her father, Ivan, was an investment
banker, and her mother, Virginia Barnett Wing, had been an actress and singer
in the early ’30s. Her lineage goes back to Norway, where the family name was
Grace attended Finch College, a prestigious finishing
school for girls, in New York (1957-58), before transferring to the University
of Miami (1958-59), where she majored in art. She tried her hand at various odd
jobs and even auditioned as a singer at a black record label. But although she
modeled for I. Magnin’s department store from 1960-63, Grace later said she had
no ambitions beyond being a housewife. On August 26, 1961, she married Gerald
“Jerry” Slick, a film student and later a successful cinematographer. She later
described the marriage as passionless and the result of “cultural imposition.”
But it was during this marriage that she wrote her first song — a piece for one
of Jerry’s film projects.
In August 1965, Grace read an article in the San
Francisco Chronicle about a new band called Jefferson Airplane. A week later,
she and Jerry checked out the band at the Matrix. Deciding that being in a rock
band looked like a lot of fun and paid better than modeling, Grace and Jerry
soon formed their own band, the Great Society. Jerry played drums, and his
brother Darby Slick joined on guitar. With the lineup completed by David Minor
(guitar/vocals), the Great Society made its debut at the Coffee Gallery in San
Francisco’s North Beach section on October 15, 1965.
Despite her rather late entry into rock ‘n’ roll,
Grace proved herself a talented singer. She attempted to imitate the sound of
an electric guitar and developed a unique and forceful singing style. She also
discovered a knack for writing songs — White Rabbit was one of her first
Grace has always said that White Rabbit was intended
as a slap toward parents who read their children stories such as Alice in
Wonderland (in which Alice uses several drug-like substances in order to change
herself) and then wondered why their children grew up to do drugs. For Grace
and others in the ’60s, drugs were an inevitable part of mind-expanding and
social experimentation. With its enigmatic lyrics, White Rabbit became one of
the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio. Even Marty
Balin, Grace’s eventual rival in the Airplane, regarded the song as a
In 1966, one Sylvester Stewart (the future Sly of Sly
and the Family Stone) walked out as the band’s producer of a demo after it took
the band 50 takes to get one song right. However, Grace’s talent carried the
band, and they found themselves opening for Jefferson Airplane and other
successful, local bands. Columbia Records even offered the Great Society a
recording contract (and would release two albums by the band after Grace found
fame), but, by the time the contract arrived in the mail, the Great Society was
In September 1966, the Airplane put bassist Jack Casady
up to asking Grace if she might be interested in joining them. For Grace, it
was a no-brainer; the Airplane had already released an album and seemed on the
verge of a major breakthrough. After discussing the matter with her husband
(one of the last times, it seems, that Grace would take his opinion into
consideration), she accepted the Airplane’s offer. Bill Thompson, then the
Airplane’s road manager, would buy out Grace’s contract from her manager for
the paltry sum of $750.
Following Signe Anderson’s final gigs with the
Airplane in mid-October, Grace became the band’s new female singer. She would
later recall that she was “scared shitless” — she barely knew the words, but it
didn’t matter, for the Airplane played far louder than she expected.
After such an inauspicious debut, Grace barely had
time to get comfortable with the Airplane before the band went to Los Angeles
to record its second album, Surrealistic Pillow. She did contribute two
stand-out cuts from the Great Society — White Rabbit and Darby Slick’s Somebody
to Love. Though the Airplane recognized those songs as special, even they had
little inkling as to how popular they would become. Nine months after she
joined the band, Grace found herself a star as the lead singer of the band’s
two top ten hits.
Grace Slick quickly emerged as an icon of the
psychedelic scene that followed. She always downplayed her own significance in
the press, suggesting that she got the most attention because she was the only
woman in the band. But such comments disregard Grace’s obvious talents and
extroverted personality. She would literally say and do anything. While
appearing on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, she wore blackface and
raised her fist in a Black Panther salute. During one rainy outdoors concert,
she performed topless rather than getting her blouse wet. On another occasion,
she drunkenly referred to a wealthy audience as “filthy jewels” (a comment
misheard by some as “filthy Jews”). In her autobiography, Grace said she
learned “how to let it out and damn the censorship” from Mick Jagger.
Unfortunately, much of her behavior was also attributed to her increasing
addiction to alcohol.
By early 1967, Grace’s marriage to Jerry was all but
over, though they didn’t divorce until 1971. She had a brief dalliance with
Jack Casady, then began a two-year affair with Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden.
Grace felt an immediate connection with Spencer, since they were both initially
“outsiders.” Once Grace became famous, however, Spencer would use their
relationship to get his way within the band.
With the Airplane, Grace apparently regarded herself
as an equal among equals who could write anything she damn well pleased. Her
songs were psychedelic interpretations of literary classics (Rejoyce, 1967),
attacked middle class repression (Greasy Heart, 1968), and assaulted human
arrogance (Eskimo Blue Day — noted for the line, “the human name doesn’t mean
shit to a tree” — 1969). On the occasion of Spencer’s 30th birthday, she wrote
Lather (1968), a song expressing the anxieties of growing older — a theme she
would revisit on several occasions.
By 1969, her relationship with Spencer had ended, and
she soon became involved with Paul Kantner. Though they never married, Grace
decided that she wanted to have Paul’s child. Their daughter, China, was born
on January 25, 1971. (In typical Grace fashion, she initially told the press
that she was going to name the child “god.”)
One of Grace’s oddest and most famous incidents
occurred shortly before her pregnancy. In April 1970, the former Finch College
student was invited to a reception hosted by President Richard Nixon’s
daughter, Tricia, at the White House. The organizers of the affair apparently
had little idea who Grace was, or of her opinion of Nixon. (Her song, Mexico, a
scathing critique of Nixon’s anti-drug policy, had only just been released as a
single.) Upon arrival, however, Grace was barred from entering when she brought
a “bodyguard” — ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman! Grace later said that, had they
been allowed in, they had planned to spike Nixon’s tea with LSD.
But as the Airplane began to disintegrate in the early
’70s, Grace coped with it and the pressures of motherhood by drinking. On May
13, 1971, a mere four months after becoming a mother, Grace was involved in a
near-fatal drunk driving accident. After an all-night recording session, she
and Jorma drag-raced their sports cars near the Golden Gate Bridge. Grace lost
control and crashed into a retaining wall. Miraculously, she escaped with only
Grace’s behavior became more extreme, and the remote
Paul proved ill-equipped to deal with her outbursts. She often called him a
“Nazi”. In August 1972, in Akron, Ohio, she and Paul were both arrested during
an altercation with police following a concert. According to Grace, she had
wandered on stage without her glasses during an argument between the police and
the band’s road manager. Seeking to steady herself, she grabbed onto a
policeman’s uniform. He responded by macing her. Paul rushed to Grace’s defense
and was shoved to the floor by police.
N early 1974, Grace released her first solo album,
Manhole. During that same period, Grace agreed to form a new band with Paul,
Jefferson Starship. Her contributions to the first album, Dragon Fly, included
Hyperdrive, a sobering reflection of life at age 35: “I didn’t know there were
corners in time till I was told to stand in one.”
A year later, Jefferson Starship broke big with Marty
Balin’s romantic hit, Miracles. To Marty’s consternation, Grace continued to
command the public’s attention, albeit in the form of controversial behavior.
In 1978, Grace was dragged off the stage of a local San Francisco game show
after abusing contestants.
In the meantime, Grace had found a new love in the
form of lighting director Skip Johnson. They began having an affair during the
Starship’s first tour. Finally, Grace ended her relationship with Paul and, on
November 29, 1976, she married Skip in Hawaii. Neither Paul nor Marty attended.
Over the years, Grace has been the subject of two biographies.
The first, written by Barbara Rowes, was published in 1980. The second, Grace’s
own Somebody to Love? A Rock and Roll Memoir, co-authored with Andrea Cagan,
appeared in September 1998.
In the years since her retirement, Grace has turned to
another creative endeavor — painting. Her works include portraits of old
friends such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia. As of November
2000, she had sold about 60 paintings, priced from $1,100 to $8,700. Although
her work has hardly garnered the respect of critics (so what else is new?),
others laud her paintings for evoking feeling, something hard for any artist to
do. For Grace, whose shoulder-length hair is now completely white (she had been
dyeing it since her mid-20s), it’s a chance to create something that doesn’t
involve her appearance. (Greg Gildersleeve, 1998 ).
Marty Balin was the lead singer
and founder of Jefferson Airplane. Marty’s very distinctive, soulful voice
became one of the hallmarks of the Airplane’s sound, and he composed many of
the band’s most memorable songs, including Volunteers, It’s No Secret, Coming
Back to Me and Today.
Marty was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald on January
30, 1942, in Cincinnati, OH, to Joe and Catherine Buchwald. He has an older
sister. In the early 1950s, the family moved to San Francisco. He joined a gang
called the Lairds, but also found time to sing and dance in a production of
West Side Story.
At age 19 or 20, Marty decided to become an
artist, but after doing some painting and sculpting, he became a singer,
drawing on inspiration from rhythm and blues singers. In 1962, he signed to the
Challenge label, which attempted to market him as a teen idol; on his manager’s
advice, he took the surname Balin after the Bal Theater in San Leandro, CA. While
at Challenge, Marty recorded two singles, Nobody But You and I Specialize in
Around this time, Marty married and had a
daughter, Jennifer Ann (born 1963). To accommodate his new family, Marty cut
his hair and went to work with his father as a lithographer. But the marriage
ended by 1965.
In 1964, Marty joined the Town Criers, a
clean-cut folk combo, which folded after about a year. By early 1965, Marty was
broke and living with a friend, Bill Thompson. It was at that point that Marty
told Bill he planned to form a band with five guys and a girl, playing folk
music with electric instruments.
Marty began to seek out new players for his
band. He introduced himself to a guitarist/banjoist who was playing at a folk
hangout called The Drinking Gourd. The musician, Paul Kantner, saw the
potential in Marty’s idea and agreed to join his band. For the next three
months, he auditioned musicians. By July, they had their band, Jefferson
Airplane. A month later, the band debuted at the opening of the Matrix club, of
which Marty was a part-owner.
As the recognized leader, Marty called the shots
for the group. In typical San Francisco fashion, however, he seemed to rely on
instinct as much as on any thought-out plan. When original drummer Jerry
Peloquin was sacked, Marty brought in his replacement, Alex “Skip” Spence, who
had never played drums professionally — Marty thought he “looked like a
drummer.” (As it turned out, Skip was a quick study.) Marty later was
responsible for firing Skip when the latter failed to show up at rehearsals.
Marty was also the Airplane’s chief songwriter.
He wrote the first single, It’s No Secret (1966), as well as most of the
material on the first two albums. But when the band broke big in 1967, it was
newcomer Grace Slick who became the star. Marty’s rivalry with Grace became
very intense — according to some sources, he did not care for her unorthodox
singing and sexy stage antics. From mid 1967 onwards, Marty’s status within the
band declined — not only was he eclipsed by Grace, but his romantic ballads
drew heavy criticism from guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. His
songwriting credits diminished, but he still managed to write or co-write
several Airplane classics, including Today (1967), Share a Little Joke (1968),
and Volunteers (1969).
At a concert on November 28, 1970, Marty played
his last show with the Airplane.
Marty divides his time between Florida and Mill
Valley, CA. He is married to Karen Deal and has a second daughter, Delaney
Mariah Skye (born 1995).
Although he never wrote or sang lead on a hit single, Paul Kantner
had the greatest impact on Jefferson Airplane/Starship of any member. He holds
the record for the longest, unbroken membership (19 years), and he has been at
times the only original member of the band present. His interest in science
fiction helped transform Jefferson Airplane into Jefferson Starship, and,
throughout it all, he presided over the band’s loose and sometimes messy
democracy. If Marty Balin was the soul of the band, and Grace Slick its public
persona, then Paul Kantner could be considered its brain.
only native San Franciscan among the Airplane/Starship principles, Paul Lorin
Kantner was born March 17, 1941, to Paul S. and Cora Lee (Fortier) Kantner.
Paul had a much older half brother and half sister. When Paul was eight, his
mother died; he later recalled that instead of being allowed to attend the
funeral, he was sent to the circus. Paul’s father, a traveling salesman, could
not raise the boy on his own and sent him to live in a Jesuit military boarding
school. It was there, in the second or third grade, that he discovered science
fiction while being left alone in the school library. The Jesuits apparently
also taught Paul the military-like discipline and determination that would
serve him well through his career’s ups and downs.
Paul was a troublemaker while in his teens. Around 1960, he was involved in a
motorcycle accident that left a permanent hole in the left side of his skull.
(Ironically, this hole is credited with saving Paul from brain damage when he
later suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, by allowing the pressure to escape.)
completed three years of college at the University of Santa Clara (1959-61) and
San Jose State College (1961-63), before dropping out. He decided to become a
musician and hit the folk club circuit as an acoustic guitarist and five-string
banjoist. Before leaving San Jose, Paul met such fellow musicians as future
Byrd David Crosby and future Jefferson Starship member David Freiberg. Also in
San Jose, in 1962, he met another guitarist who would play a prominent role in
his future, Jorma Kaukonen.
March 1965, Paul had returned to San Francisco. He was playing by night in a
folk club called the Drinking Gourd. One night a young singer introduced
himself and asked him if he wanted to join his band. The singer’s name was
Marty Balin, and the group was Jefferson Airplane.
Marty was clearly the leader, Paul took an active role in how the band
developed. He recommended Jorma Kaukonen to join the band as guitarist.
originally adopted a subdued role within the band, playing rhythm guitar and
singing backup and the occasional lead. His early compositions included Come Up
the Years (with Marty) and Go to Her (later released on Early Flight) and Let
the ’60s wore on, the Airplane became a symbol of the burgeoning
counterculture, and Paul reflected this in songs such as Crown of Creation
(1968) and We Can Be Together (1969). To Paul, the “Establishment” included
everything from cops who unplugged the band during curfew to the band’s own
record company, RCA. In We Can Be Together, he included the line, “Up against
the wall, motherfucker,” which launched a bitter contest of wills between the
band and RCA over its inclusion; the company finally backed down.
the same album (Volunteers), Paul combined music and science fiction for the
first time on Wooden Ships (co-written by David Crosby and Stephen Stills and
simultaneously recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash), a song about a group of
people who escape from a totalitarian society to start a free colony elsewhere.
This concept would become a major theme of much of Paul’s subsequent efforts.
1969, his unrequited love for Grace was finally requited. They began a casual
affair and soon started living together. Grace wanted to have his child; in
January 1971, their daughter, China, was born.
now the Airplane was moving in different directions. With Grace housebound for
the duration of her pregnancy, Paul began recording a solo album in conjunction
with David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, and others. The album, Blows Against the
Empire, contained a mini science fiction epic on one side. As an afterthought,
the album was co-credited to “Jefferson Starship,” marking the first use of
that name. Blows was not only a commercial success, but was also nominated for
science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Award.
this point on, during this period Paul and Grace recorded joint solo efforts —
Sunfighter (1971) and Baron Von Tollboth & the Chrome Nun (1973). In 1972,
the Airplane recorded Long John Silver, which was a platinum album.
1973, the Airplane was no more, though neither Paul nor Grace wanted to admit
it. In early 1974, he and Grace were faced with the prospect of moving on and
forming a new band. Not wanting to completely break with the past, they hired
musicians from the latter-day Airplane as well as their solo projects, and
dubbed the band Jefferson Starship, which was managed by Bill Thompson.
Jorma Kaukonen is one of the most important guitarists of our time
with a body of work lasting over three decades. His brilliant finger-picked
fretwork and songwriting, a compelling blend of rock, blues, folk and country
influences, has distinguished Jefferson Airplane and its equally legendary (and
still active) spinoff band Hot Tuna.
Jorma Kaukonen has just completed Blue Country Heart, his debut
recording for Columbia Records, currently scheduled for a June release.
Exploring a unique chapter in American music history, Jorma interprets an
intriguing collection of rural blues and country-flavored songs from the 1920s
and 1930s. Featuring songs by tunesmiths such as Jimmie Rodgers, the Delmore
Brothers, Slim Smith, Washington Phillips, Cliff Carlisle and Jimmy “The
Singing Governor” Davis, this album reveals a new turn in Kaukonen’s ever
evolving career. Joining Jorma in the studio are Sam Bush on mandolin, Jerry
Douglas on dobro and Byron House on upright bass. Special guest Béla Fleck
plays banjo on two tracks.
Jorma and wife/manager Vanessa Lillian are in the midst of the
fifth year of operations at their successful Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp.
Situated on 119 acres in the Appalachian foothills, the site includes a 32
track recording studio, concert hall, a music library and a gourmet kitchen and
dining hall. With weekend workshops scheduled from February to November, the
camp presents a chance for students of all ages and abilities to learn directly
from the musicians who first influenced and inspired them as listeners and
players. Gathering such outstanding artists and teachers in such a pristine and
relaxed country setting, a place which remains concurrently rustic and
comfortable, has allowed Jorma to create what he calls “a positive place to
better explore the potential of your favorite instrument.”
In addition to Jorma’s own workshops, a typical weekend session
might include Peter Rowan, Guy Clark, G.E. Smith or Chris Smither instructing
different styles of blues guitar, teaching guitar repair, or Jorma’s longtime
musical partner (and fellow Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna founder) Jack Casady
explaining the intricacies of bass guitar. “We’re very fortunate,” says Jorma.
“We really have great guest instructors, and everybody’s been having a really
Born in Washington, D.C., Jorma grew up overseas (his father was a
member of the U.S. foreign service). He returned stateside at age 16 and
immersed himself in the old-time country of the Carter Family and Roy Acuff.
The blues soon grabbed young Jorma’s ear; the Chess label LPs of Chicago icons Muddy
Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson mesmerized him. “I always tell
people the music really chose me,” he says. “The first time I heard that, I
just knew that that’s what I wanted to do.” He first teamed up with Jack Casady
while still in high school around 1957 to start a rock band together.
In 1961, Jorma transferred to the University of Santa Clara in
California, where he played folk clubs and passed along his guitar knowledge.
“I started teaching when I didn’t have much to teach,” he says. “I always
really enjoyed it. And I still really enjoy it. It’s really nice for me to be
able to give a little bit back of all the wonderful things that were so freely
“When I took off for the blues, it was Rev. Gary Davis,” says
Jorma, who first encountered Davis’ amazing finger-picking guitar technique in
1959 while attending Antioch College on a work-study program out of New York.
“A guy who was in the house with me, his name was Ian Buchanan, a player in New
York, had been studying with the Reverend,” says Jorma. “And he was a very
accomplished player at the time. He probably was so irritated by my thrashing
next door to his room that he took it upon himself to teach me the guitar,
which he really did. His muse was the Rev., so that’s what he turned me on to,
and I just fell in love with his stuff. And I’m in love with it to this day.”
During the early ’70s with Hot Tuna, Jorma reintroduced several of Davis’
seminal songs to a new generation of appreciative fans.
Jorma joined a certain fledgling rock band in 1965. “Paul Kantner
had been living in San Jose, where I was living,” he says. “We were friends,
and he got together with Marty Balin, and they started Jefferson Airplane. I
had just graduated from college, and they wanted a lead guitar player. I guess
they didn’t have one. They asked me, and I was kind of reluctant, because I was
really into the blues: ‘I don’t know if I want to do this or not.’ But I did
get seduced by the music, and wound up having a lot of fun for a couple of
It was Jorma who named the band. “I had this friend up in
Berkeley, Steve Talbot, and he came up with funny names for people,” explains
Jorma. “His name for me was Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane (for blues pioneer
Blind Lemon Jefferson). When the guys were looking for band names and nobody
could come up with something, I remember saying, ‘You want a silly band name? I
got a silly band name for you!’”
Installing Grace Slick as their lead singer, Jefferson Airplane
rocketed to superstardom in 1967 on the initial strength of their hits
“Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit,” making them a cornerstone of San
Francisco’s burgeoning rock scene. Jorma’s ground-breaking acoustic piece
“Embryonic Journey” was a highlight of Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s 1967
breakthrough album. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1970, Kaukonen and Casady found time between Airplane gigs to
put together another uniquely named aggregation, the blues-influenced Hot Tuna.
“The first Hot Tuna record was all stuff that I had been playing myself for
years,” says Jorma. “We were very fortunate–we were able to open some shows for
ourselves as Hot Tuna with Jefferson Airplane. Paul let us play some insert
songs. As the Airplane became less fun for whatever reason, Hot Tuna became
more fun. Finally we just couldn’t do both, and we had to make a decision. I
took Hot Tuna.”
What began as a musical “bluesman’s holiday” from Jorma and Jack’s
day job with the Jefferson Airplane, has now endured for 30 years, and a prodigious
recording longevity of over 27 albums. There have been many transformations
throughout. From the addition of electric violin player Papa John Creech to the
lineup for First Pull up, Then Pull Down and Burgers, to the deafening volume
featured on albums such as America’s Choice and Hopkorv, jokingly referred to
these days by Jack and Jorma as “Hot Tuna: The Metal Years.”
Recently, Kaukonen and Casady have returned to their acoustic past
and are currently touring as a duo. Featuring Jorma’s brilliant finger-picked
fretwork and songwriting and Jack’s expert melodic bass work, these shows are
an opportunity to witness two lifelong friends coming together once again to
make extraordinary music.
Most recently, Jorma and Jack have performed music scored by Mark
Isham for the upcoming Disney distributed film Goodbye Hello. Written, directed
and produced by Brad Silberling, the film stars Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman,
Holly Hunter, Jake Gyllenhaal and newcomer Ellen Pompeo. Set in the 70s, the
film tells the story of two parents who take in the fiancee of their recently
murdered daughter. Jorma and Jack have brought their unique artistry to the
project and have created what Kaukonen calls “a sonic landscape that enhances
the mood of the film.” Comprising about 20 minutes of the score, Jack and Jorma
performed 6 cues/vignettes as well as the film’s closing piece to be played as
the credits scroll.
From the mind bending psychedelia of the mid 60′s Airplane to the
stark blues and country of Hot Tuna and later projects, Jorma Kaukonen’s work
has always been distinctly American. From dizzying electric guitar gymnastics
to breathtaking solo acoustic work, the music of this consummate artist has
remained both of and ahead of his time. With over 40 albums spanning his solo
and band career, he has forged his own legacy in American Music.
After a lifelong journey in music, from his first professional
gigs with the Jefferson Airplane from 1965-1972 to his ongoing collaborations
with longtime partner Jorma Kaukonen in Hot Tuna, bassist Jack Casady feels
extremely pleased with where he is at right now. While Casady has distinguished
himself in a career that spans four decades, he remains excited about entering
his fifth decade as a working musician.
“The main issue is I love to play the bass guitar,” says the
57-year-old rock bass icon. “It thrills me more now than ever. I think it’s a
mistake to try and chase your youth. It’s better to play like the person you
are at the age you are. Things change as you get older and you bring different
qualities to the music. The craftwork in really learning the subtleties of the
instrument is a lifelong project.”
Growing up in D.C. in the ’50s, Casady was exposed to music at an
early age through his older brother and his father, William Robert Casady. “My
brother had a blues collection and I had started collecting records myself when
I was around 12,” he recalls. “My father was a dentist but he was also an
audiophile and an electronics enthusiast. He would build high fidelity stuff by
Heathkit — tvs, scound equipment and whatnot. He built a ’50s style recreation
room with knotty pine walls and naugahyde red upholstery in the basement and
set up a turntable with a big 15-inch speaker for listening sessions. He loved
music and belonged to the American Jazz Society. Every month he’d get various
jazz records which we’d listen to. And from that I got hooked on music.”
Jack’s appreciation for music manifested itself in learning how to
play the guitar at age 12. His first instrument was a Washburn nylon string
guitar which he had found in the attic of his parents’ house shortly before
Christmas of 1956. As he recalls, “When I found that guitar up there in the
attic I started plunking around on it, even though it only had four strings.
Suddenly it disappeared and I really didn’t think too much of it. Then on
Christmas Day I noticed an envelope for me on the tree. I opened it up and it
read, ‘We fixed up that guitar in the attic. It was supposed to be ready in
time for Christmas but it won’t be ready until next week. Meanwhile, this
entitles you to 12 guitar lessons.’ So that basically started me off on my
Jack began his lessons with Harry Voohees, a Swing Era guitarist
who had played with many of the famous big bands of the ’30s and ’40s. Later on
he continued lessons with Bill Harris, the guitarist for The Clovers. “I took
guitar lessons for a period of a year and a half,” he recalls. “During that
time I also sold newspapers like many a lad at that time. At the peak I was
delivering 450 papers in the morning and the afternoon– morning Washington Post
and the evening Star . And the object of this and my side business of cutting
neighborhood lawns was to get enough money to buy an electric guitar and an
By 1958, Jack had acquired his first electric guitar, a Gibson
ES-125 with a single pickup. “But I really had my eye on a ’58 Fender
Telecaster,” he recalls, “so I got my money together from this newspaper route
and eventually bought that. And I was off to the races.” His first amplifier
was a model that he had helped his father build at home from a kit. “It had a 8
watt power amplifier and a one 8-inch speakers,” he recalls. “We built the
whole thing from scratch on the dining room table every night after dinner.
We’d set up shop, do the soldering, follow the diagrams and slowly put it
together. Boy, I wish I had that amp today. Of course, I wish I had the
Telecaster today. I wish I had kept everything from those days.”
By the time he was 13 or 14, Jack met Jorma Kaukonen, a budding
guitarist in the neighborhood who was a few years older and attended the high
school a block and a half away from the junior high school where young Casady
attended. “When I met Jorma I already had my guitar and a thriving blues and
r&b record collection. He’d come over to visit with my older brother but we
struck up a friendship and ended up playing a little together, just doing
covers by Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and whatever things were going on at the
time.” Jack also had an appreciation for bluegrass and old-timey country music,
which was regularly performed around town. “Washington D.C. was a wonderful
place to grow up because it was the crossroads of all those styles — rhythm ‘n’
blues, blues, country music and bluegrass coming through the Appalachians. And
all of those things could be heard at the local clubs. At the same time, I had
the opportunity to hear classical music being performed at the famed
Constitution Hall. So all of those influences were mixed together. One night
I’d be down at the Howard Theater seeing Ray Charles, the next night I would be
at the Shamrock Tavern in Georgetown hearing Mac Weisman, Lester Flatt and Earl
Scruggs among other bluegrass people. And the next night it would be jazz —
people like Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. Plus, we had the Library of Congress
nearby. You could go down there and lock yourself in a room and listen to Alan
Lomax field recordings or listen to music of the rainforest or whatever. So I
was really just a sponge soaking up a lot of this stuff.”
His curiosity and hunger for seeking out sounds naturally led Jack
on a path he has been pursuing ever since. As he puts it, “I think the thing I
was most grateful for was finding that one thing I was really passionate about
in life. And that one thing was music. It really took me away from the normal
kind of teenage drudgery that follows you around. For me, music was the great
By 1959, Jack and Jorma had formed a band called The Triumphs with
drummer Ronnie McDonald and Warren Smith. As Jack recalls, “I played lead
guitar, Jorma played rhythm guitar and sang. The PA system was a Wollensac tape
recorder put in the monitor mode so Jorma’s vocals were coming through a 3-inch
speaker. It was kind of raw but it was fun while it lasted.”
The following year, Jorma graduated from high school and went to
Antioch College, where his interest in folk music deepened and his
fingerpicking chops blossomed. “By the end of the ’50s, the popular music scene
had taken a downturn,” Jack explains. “After the payola scandal the industry
wanted to clean things up, so all of a sudden you had Pat Boone singing Little
Richard tunes. It just wasn’t the same. So then the interest for me shifted
into the folk music of America while my older brother became interested in
English folk music and ballads and also Irish music. A lot of people got caught
up in the folk music revival in the early ’60s.”
But while his musical interests broadened, Jack continued working
with various cover bands around the D.C. area. “There was a certain kind of
music that you played in clubs during those days — lots of Louis Prima and Ray
Charles songs,” he explains. “And the bands that formed back then were mostly
bigger small ensembles with at least two or three saxes. In D.C., that was sort
of a scene unto itself.”
By age 16, Jack got a call to fill in for a bass player on a gig.
It proved to be the beginning of a longstanding career as a bassist. “As soon
as I started playing bass my work quota expanded tremendously,” he recalls.
“And I started falling in love with the instrument. There was just a certain
sound, that register of the bass and also the higher register of the bass which
is kind of going into the cello range that I really was attracted to.”
With the aid of a forged ID, made on Jorma’s grandfather’s copy
machine, the under-age Casady began working at various clubs around the D.C.
area. “Later on I hooked up with various bluegrass and country bands playing on
the fair circuit. We’d also go up and play the beaches along the New Jersey
shore. It was a great education and an interesting time for me being that young
and yet being in what was considered an adult world. I mean, I’d go back to
high school in the morning after spending all night playing in some club
backing up Little Anthony & The Imperials. And now that I look at some of
the pictures from those days, there’s no way I could pass for 18(the drinking
age at that time).”
In the early ’60s, Jack did some extended gigging in Florida with
his D.C. colleague Dick Heinze before enrolling in Montgomery Junior College in
1963. By 1964, the music scene had changed. Beatlesmania was starting to come
on strong in the States, which shifted the nature of the club scene and greatly
affected the working musicians. “I was kind of discouraged by it all,” says
Jack in retrospect. “I would still play with bands on weekends and things like that.
But at that point I was kind of lost.”
Then in September of 1965, Casady got a fateful call from his old
friend Jorma Kaukonen, who had transferred from Antioch College to Santa Clare
University in San Francisco and became immersed in a new music scene developing
there. As Jack recalls, “Jorma told me he had joined a band called Jefferson
Airplane and I kind of laughed at the name. He asked me what I was doing and
seemed surprised to hear that I was playing the bass. Then he says, ‘Wait a
minute. I’ve got a bass player in this band that I’m not fond of. It’s not
working out, in my opinion.’ So then he says, ‘Let me call you back.’ A few
minutes later he calls back and says, ‘We got this band. We got a manager. And
the manager promises to pay us $50 a week whether we “worked or not.” What do
you think?’ And I said, You’re on!’”
Jack quit school in the middle of October of ’65 and came out to
San Francisco to join the Jefferson Airplane. “And there began my career in
earnest,” says the bassist who became renowned for the inventive, melodic lines
he contributed during his seven-year tenure with the band “What was great for
me was the opportunity of coming to San Francisco in that environment in the
mid ’60s where you had a lot of people who didn’t even come from as much of a
professional background as I had but had picked up a guitar in college and
wanted to expression themselves in original ways. You had a tremendous number
of middle class white kids trying desperately to do anything their parents
didn’t. And all these kids were suddenly out there playing instruments, making
up songs. And that whole coming together aspect created some different music,
most of it not keeping up to professional polish of other areas of the country,
but still, people wanted to make their own statement. And so I found myself in
this band that I thought was the craziest band I had ever seen.”
Paul Kantner came from a folk music background as a fan of Pete
Seeger and the Weavers. Marty Balin came from a pop background and had previously
recorded a couple of singles in the early ’60s. Kaukonen was an accomplished
fingerpicking stylist in the tradition of Rev. Gary Davis. The drummer, Skip
Spence, was a frustrated guitar player. The original singer was Signey Anderson
and Casady with his R&B background.
“We had a format to play four nights a week and get material
together,” says Jack of those early Airplane days. “At our first gigs, the
music writer Ralph Gleason liked us and gave us good reviews, which led to a
record contract with RCA. And it was a fairly unique deal for the time. We made
everybody an equal in terms of payment and participation.”
That band’s debut for RCA, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off , was
recorded in February of ’66 and released in August of that year. “It had
somewhat of a local success,” explains Jack. “It was the material that we had
been playing as a group around the Bay area for a while. We recorded it on
3-track, all pretty much live performances.”
When the group’s originally singer Signe Anderson left the group in
late 1966 to have a baby, she was replaced by the lead singer in another San
Francisco band called The Great Society. Grace Slick not only brought her
distinctive voice to the group but also two potent songs in “Somebody to Love”
and “White Rabbit,” a drug-oriented song which developed Lewis Carroll’s “Alice
Through The Looking Glass” via its acid connotations. Both songs (from 1967′s
Surrealistic Pillow ) became hit singles and served as a rallying point for the
emerging Haight Ashbury freak community. “That album was really a unique
statement,” says Casady in retrospect. “There were a lot of different styles of
songs contributed by everybody, including an an instrumental acoustic
fingerpicking original tune by Jorma called ‘Embryonic Journey.’ It was quite
an eclectic album and it still holds up today.”
The Jefferson Airplane subsequently released a string of acclaimed
recordings –After Bathing At Baxter’s (late ’67), Crown of Creation (’68), the
live Bless Its Pointed Little Head (’69), Volunteers (’70), Bark (’71), Long
John Silver (’72) and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973).
Meanwhile, by 1970, Kaukonen and Casady had established Hot Tuna as a
blues-drenched spin-off band that sometimes opened for the Airplane in concert.
By the end of 1972, the Jefferson Airplane disbanded. Jorma and
Jack continued to pursue Hot Tuna while Grace Slick and Paul Kantner went on to
form the Jefferson Starship. “We formed Hot Tuna basically because we were
young and had endless energy,” says Casady, “and there was so much material
going into the Airplane from everybody it ended up that you’d only get a couple
of songs per session. And also we wanted to play a style of music that wasn’t
being played by the Airplane. And we kept that up along with Jefferson Airplane
up until ’72, when we decided it was too much to continue the Airplane.”
Starting initially as an acoustic trio and later adding veteran
fiddler Papa John Creach when they went electric, Hot Tuna recorded a series of
albums through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and continues to perform and record to
Hot Tuna did have a hiatus from 1979 to 1982, during which time
Casady formed his own rock band. “But Jorma and I got together in ’83 and have
played regularly since then.” For the past three years, Casady has also been
involved as a bass guitar instructor at Jorma’s Fur Peace Guitar Ranch. A more
recent project was his participation in a tribute recording to the late Allman
Brothers bassist Alan Woody. “I knew Alan quite well,” says Jack. “He was a fan
of mine and a very nice guy. We’ve had a number of conversations together and
often found ourselves talking a lot of shop about basses. So I was very pleased
to be involved in this project honoring Alan’s memory.”
Inspired by recent acoustic duo tours with Kaukonen, Casady finds
that his own musicianship has reached new levels. “I can’t remember having as
much fun but also musically being so in touch and in the moment with the music
as I am now; where every minute, every note counts on stage. And I find it really
unique that I have a situation with a partner of 42 years now where we can just
really enjoy the craft of making music together.”
Spencer Dryden played drums with Jefferson Airplane during its
peak years, 1966-70. Spencer’s varied background in jazz and rock contributed
greatly to the Airplane’s sound, as evidenced by his bolero-style beat on White
was born April 7, 1938, in New York City, to Wheeler and Alice Dryden. Wheeler
was a British stage actor on Broadway, while Alice danced with the Ballet
Company at Radio City. A little-known fact is that Spencer’s father was also
half brother to Charlie Chaplin. Spencer kept that fact secret for many years –
even from the rest of the Airplane — because he wanted to be known for his own
accomplishments, not as Charlie Chaplin’s nephew.
Spencer was one year old, the family settled in Los Angeles. His parents
divorced when he was six, and Spencer spent weekends with his father on the lot
of Chaplin Studios. “I had a playground that was just immense,” Spencer recalls
of living in Hollywood. “I was constantly being around artists and Bohemian
age 13 or 14, Spencer began accompanying his father to jazz clubs — which was
legal in those days — and, sitting very close to the stage, he would pay
attention to the drummers and how they played. By age 16, he was able to go to
clubs on his own and sit in with the bands.
early experience no doubt came in handy when Spencer made the switch to rock
‘n’ roll in the mid ’60s. “Obviously, there was more money in rock ‘n’ roll,”
Spencer says. “Jazz was on the wane at the time, which was unfortunate.” Spencer
joined the Ashes, a five-piece rock band.
odd jobs to make ends meet, Spencer received a call in May 1966, from one
Matthew Katz, who was looking for a drummer for a band he managed in San
Francisco. “Matthew couldn’t find a drummer in San Francisco,” Spencer recalls.
“All the drummers were getting snapped up,” due to the burgeoning Bay Area
refused to tell Spencer the name of the band, but played for him part of their
record — It’s No Secret — over the phone. It was only after driving up to
Katz’s house to meet him that Spencer learned the name of the band — Jefferson
Airplane. Ironically, Spencer had already heard of them though a magazine
article about the strange names favored by San Francisco bands. Unbeknownst to
him, the Airplane had also recently been in L.A., recording their debut album
during the same week when the Ashes were recording their first single.
Spencer flew north to meet the Airplane, he was also blown away by the
community in which the Airplane lived. “I didn’t even know Haight-Ashbury
existed,” he says. “Everybody had long hair, everybody was an artist. And there
was a vibe going on, a lot of energy.”
was hired by the band. “I was the right choice for the band,” he says. “It was
a good match-up. I liked the band, liked their music. I always had a folk-blues
current active in my head. It just worked.” Even Jerry Garcia, guitarist of the
Grateful Dead and “spiritual advisor” of the Airplane, was brought over to
check out the new arrival. “He gave me thumbs up,” Spencer says.
in 1967, Spencer began having an affair with Grace Slick, herself a newcomer to
the band. They formed a faction, and exerted tremendous influence once the
group became famous. According to most accounts, Spencer bullied the others
into getting his way by routinely threatening to quit. Grace, at least tacitly,
went along with him; as neither was yet signed to the band or RCA, the
possibility of Grace going solo was very real.
is often cited as the culprit behind the sacking of Bill Graham as acting
manager in early 1968. Graham wanted the Airplane to work harder and make more
money, but the band members were fed up with the schedule he demanded of them.
Spencer, with Grace’s approval, gave the band an ultimatum: either Graham went
or they did.
content to merely be the drummer, Spencer had creative ambitions, as well. He
contributed two electronic and percussive experiments, A Small Package of Value
Will Come to You Shortly (Baxter’s, 1967), and the eerie Chushingura (Crown of
Creation, 1968). His only song to make it onto an Airplane album was a country
& western parody and clever poke at the music industry, A Song For All
Seasons (Volunteers, 1969).
heavy drinking and questionable judgment were often the source of strife within
the band. For a time, he and Grace shared an apartment next door to Jorma and
Margareta Kaukonen, but the place was burned to the ground when Spencer left
groupies in charge of it. Spencer would openly pick up other women in front of
Grace and later took to carrying a gun. He was also constantly complaining
about matters; in one interview, he estimated that he had threatened to quit 28
final straw apparently came at Altamont. The Airplane performed at the Rolling
Stones’ free concert on December 6, 1969, the day after playing a concert in
Florida. Mentally and physically exhausted, Spencer initially refused to play —
he said that the “vibes” at Altamont were wrong. (Ironically, he turned out the
be right, as the free concert degenerated into violence and murder.) The others
finally convinced him to play — no one wanted to let down the people who had
put the concert together — but Spencer’s constant complaining almost provoked
the band to violence.
this point, Spencer’s relationship with Grace was all but over. On January 26,
1970, he married Sally Mann, a groupie, at the Airplane House with Grace as
matron of honor and Paul Kantner as best man. (Spencer and Sally had a son
named Jesse, but divorced by 1973.) Without Grace, Spencer no longer carried
much weight within the band and, a few weeks later, he was fired. Though he was
asked to stay around long enough to help his successor, Joey Covington, learn
the ropes, Spencer declined, not wanting to linger. He played his last gig with
the Airplane on March 23, 1970.
then played with the country rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage for
several years, also becoming their manager. His subsequent career was largely
out of the public light. From 1982-95, he played with the Dinosaurs and its
off-shoot band, Fish & Chips, along with other San Francisco alumni (e.g.,
Barry Melton, ex-Country Joe & the Fish, and John Cipollina, ex-Quicksilver
Messenger Service). In 1995, he retired from drumming after a 40-plus year
Papa John Creach
Born in 1917 in Beaver Falls, PA, “Papa” John Creach began playing violin in Chicago bars when the family moved there in 1935, and eventually joined a local cabaret band, the Chocolate Music Bars. Moving to L.A. in 1945, he played in the Chi Chi Club, spent time working on an ocean liner, appeared in “a couple of pictures”, and performed as a duo with Nina Russell.
In 1967, while playing at the Parisian Room, he was “discovered” by drummer Joey Covington. When Covington joined the Airplane in 1970, he introduced them to Creach, who was invited to join the band. The audience reaction to his tune-up alone convinced the rest of the Airplane that he was a worthwhile addition to the bands line-up. In addition to playing with the Airplane, Creach also joined Hot Tuna, and the Jefferson Starship, before leaving in August 1976 to concentrate on his solo career. Despite this, he returned as a guest performer on the spring 1978 Jefferson Starship tour. A year later, he renewed his working relationship with Joey Covington as a member of the San Francisco All-Stars (1979-84), and also Covington’s Airplane predecessor, Spencer Dryden, as a member of the Dinosaurs (1982-89). He also continued with occasional guest appearances with Hot Tuna, and was on stage at the Fillmore West that night in 1988 when Casady and Kaukonen were reunited with Kantner and Slick for the first time since the end of the Airplane. Papa John Creach died in February 1994 at the age of 76.
While at San Luis Obispo (CA) High School, he started drumming in a band called the Sentinals, who recorded two albums before he graduated in 1964. In 1966, he joined the Strangers with Joel Scott Hill (later of Canned Heat) and Bob Mosley (later with Moby Grape). He then joined the Turtles from 1966 to 1969, and then Crosby Stills Nash & Young (1970). He also became an in-demand session musician, appearing on some 60 albums up to 1975 by Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Dave Mason and others.
When Joey Covington quit the Airplane in 1972, David Crosby recommended John Barbata as a replacement, and he appeared on “Long John Silver”, as well as the live “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”. When the Airplane collapsed in 1972, he continued working with Kantner and Slick, appearing on their solo projects, before becoming the original drummer for Jefferson Starship.
He drummed for the band all through the multi-million selling 1970′s, but was forced to leave the band following a serious road accident in October 1978, in which he was badly hurt and his passenger died. By the time he recovered from his injuries, he had been replaced by Aynsley Dunbar. He subsequently went on to form a band with Spirit bassist Alex Staehely, and later returned to session work. He now lives in Oklahoma, and still plays the drums regularly.
Self-taught in percussion at the age of 10, Joey Covington started out playing drums in polka bands. By the time he was 14, he had graduated to backing strippers at a club in Johnstown, PA. Moving to New York in 1965, he got his professional break backing singer Danny Apollinar, before joining the Fenways in 1966. He then moved to California, where he met fiddler Papa John Creach in the summer of 1967. Despite their 28-year age difference, they became lifelong friends.
In California, he joined a band called Tsong, and sometime around 1968, met Marty Balin and Bill Thompson. This meeting resulted in Joey being invited to play and record with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady leading to the formation, in 1969, of Hot Tuna. He later guested on Volunteers, and sometimes drummed onstage alongside Spencer Dryden. When Spencer was fired from the Airplane in 1970, Joey was the natural successor. Unfortunately, this was the time the band began to fragment into its various factions. Quitting Hot Tuna in 1970, following a dispute which also ended Marty Balin’s brief tenure as a member of that band, he later quit the Airplane sometime about April 1972.
He only appears on one full Jefferson Airplane album, “Bark”, on which he co-wrote two songs including the band’s last chart single “Pretty As You Feel”. He also played the drums on Paul Kantner’s “Blows Against The Empire”. By the time of the band’s last studio album “Long John Silver”, he was involved in a great many other projects, and only appears on two songs. Unhappy with his position within the band, he sat out the final tour, and , although still officially a band member at the time, does not appear on the live “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”.
Following his departure from the band, he appeared on Peter Kaukonen’s “Black Kangaroo”, before forming his own band, Fat Fandango. Following the failure of this band, he faded from view, briefly re-surfacing as co-writer of Jefferson Starship’s “With Your Love” in 1976.
David Freiberg has played a varied role in San Francisco rock. He started out as bass player and vocalist for Quicksilver Messenger Service, but found fame and fortune as bassist and keyboard player for Jefferson Starship. In between, he was brought in to replace Marty Balin as lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, a role for which David, who has been described as amiable and easy-going, seemed ill-suited.
David was born August 24, 1938, in Boston, MA, but grew up in Cincinnati, OH. His family had a background in classical music — his grandfather, an orthopedic surgeon, was an amateur violinist — and David even made the Ohio All-State Orchestra as a violist and violinist while in high school. After graduating in 1956, David married, then moved to California in 1959. The marriage soon ended, however, and David taught himself the guitar and began performing in folk clubs. In 1962, he began singing in a duo called David and Michaela, who played their last show on February 9, 1964, the night the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. David also joined a trio called the Folksingers of Peace, who reportedly were deported from Mexico for being subversive.
During 1963-64, David lived in a “proto-hippie commune” in Los Angeles with Paul Kantner and David Crosby. According to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joel Selvin, David found himself busted for drugs on two separate occasions in 1965. During the first stretch in jail, he was visited by Paul, who announced the formation of his new band, Jefferson Airplane. On the night before he began his second sentence, he heard his other friend, Crosby, singing with the Byrds on the radio. In an LSD-induced epiphany, David decided that rock ‘n’ roll was the way to go. Upon his release, he learned to play bass and soon co-founded Quicksilver Messenger Service.
QMS achieved notoriety as one of the last major San Francisco bands to sign a recording contract; after watching many of their contemporaries get burned, they refused to sign until Capitol Records agreed to all of their demands. But after a promising start with two legendary albums — their eponymous debut in 1968, and Happy Trails in 1969 — QMS fell prey to personnel changes and drifted aimlessly. In 1970, they achieved a moderate hit with Fresh Air, but faded into obscurity just a few years later.
While in QMS, David married Julia “Girl” Dreyer. Although it was a marriage of convenience, intended to keep the teen-aged runaway out of jail, they stayed together for several years and had a daughter, Jessica (b. ca. 1967).
In September 1971, David began yet another jail sentence for drugs, which effectively ended his tenure with Quicksilver. He did session work and lived on unemployment for a time, until his old friend, Paul Kantner, called in 1972, and asked him to join Jefferson Airplane for its upcoming tour. David handled the vocal chores abdicated by Marty Balin and appeared on the live set, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973).
David soon began collaborating with Paul and Grace Slick, and was given equal billing on their 1973 effort, Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. He also assisted Paul in completing Grace’s solo album, Manhole (1974). Largely out of the public eye since leaving Jefferson Starship in the 1980s, David owns Free Mountain Studios near Novato, CA, and occasionally sings with the refurbished QMS, known simply as Quicksilver. He contributed backing vocals to their albums Piece by Peace (1986) and Shape Shifter (1996), and guested on Quicksilver’s 2000 tour. While recording Piece by Peace, he met singer Linda Imperial, with whom he’s been romantically involved ever since.
(Greg Gildersleeve, 1998).
One of the original members of Jefferson Airplane, Signe Toly was a respected folk singer before joining the band. Soon after joining the Airplane, she married the Matrix’s lighting director (and former Prankster) Jerry Anderson. It was her departure in 1966, following the birth of her first daughter, which bought Grace Slick into the band.
Following her departure from the band, she returned to Oregon, where she sang for nine years with a ten-piece band. Then, in 1975, she was diagnosed with cancer, which she eventually beat. By 1977, she had married a local building contractor, Michael Alois Ettlin, and had decided to retire from singing.
In recent years, she has made the occasional guest appearance with both the KBC Band and Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation, but remains in official retirement from performing, and currently works in a department store. Sometime around 1996 she had some further medical problems, which caused serious atrophy of her legs. Fortunately, medical intervention corrected this problem, but caused severe financial hardship for Signe and her family.
Alex “Skip” Spence
Alex “Skip” Spence is better known as guitarist for another legendary San Francisco band, Moby Grape, but he managed to play drums for Jefferson Airplane just long enough to appear on their first album. Unfortunately, both of his music roles became overshadowed by decades of mental illness exacerbated, if not brought on, by drug abuse. Today, Skip, who died in 1999, is remembered either with fondness as a lost genius of the ’60s, or as one of rock’s most tragic drug casualties.
Alexander Lee Spence Jr. was born April 18,1946, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the son of a decorated war hero of the Canadian Air Force. Skip’s father was also a jazz pianist whose career resulted in several relocations — to Cincinnati, New York, Arizona, and, finally, California. Skip reportedly grew up as a normal kid whose sole eccentricity was phoning Little Richard to protest the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s decision to give up music for the ministry.
Upon being discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1965, Skip auditioned as guitarist for an early version of Quicksilver Messenger Service. QMS were rehearsing at the San Francisco club the Matrix.
The Airplane’s Marty Balin thought Skip looked like a drummer and invited him to join, even though Skip had only limited experience playing drums. Skip proved to be a quick study, however, and reportedly mastered the drums in two weeks.
But Skip was ill-suited to being the drummer and longed to be a front man. Then in May 1966, shortly after the album was completed, Skip was allegedly fired for missing rehearsals. The 20-year-old drummer had taken a holiday to Mexico without telling the rest of the band. (Reportedly, he did tell manager Matthew Katz, who failed to inform the others.)
Skip didn’t seem to mind being fired; he was already laying plans to form his own band, also to be managed by Katz. He remained on friendly terms with the Airplane, who recorded his song My Best Friend for their second album, and even released it as a single. (In a small touch of irony, My Best Friend became the Airplane’s first chart single six months after Skip left.) (Another of Skip’s songs for the Airplane, the enigmatically titled J.P.P. McStep B. Blues, would later be resurrected on Early Flight.)
In September 1966, Skip formed Moby Grape, which also included guitarists Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller, bassist Bob Mosley, and drummer Don Stevenson. Moby Grape went on to become briefly famous and the subject of everlasting notoriety. Fondly remembered as one of the best of the San Francisco groups, they specialized in short, psychedelic pop tunes instead of run-on jams. But their commercial appeal was sabotaged when their record company released all ten songs from their debut LP as five singles. Radio stations, not knowing which song to promote, stayed away from all of them.
Then, in a move that further reduced Moby Grape’s reputation to gimmickry, their second album contained a song that could only be played at 78 rpm. The members of Moby Grape, of course, did their own part to undermine their chances of being taken seriously. Skip, along with Lewis and Miller, was arrested in the company to under-aged girls. Then Skip’s already tenuous hold on reality was compromised further by drugs. After running amok with a fire axe, Skip was confined to the prison ward of Bellevue Mental Hospital in New York, in 1968. There, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Moby Grape continued without him for a time before splitting up and reforming several times, with and without Skip.
Skip returned to the music business long enough to record his only solo album, Oar, in 1969. Proving once again that he was a quick study, he played every instrument. Rolling Stone Magazine, however, dismissed it as a “joke,” full of “haphazard folk music” and “sad, clumsy tunes that seem to laugh at themselves.” Oar reportedly became the lowest selling album in Columbia Record’s catalogue and subsequently a much sought-after collector’s item.
Before vanishing from an active role in music forever, Skip played one final, crucial role in launching another very successful band. When West Virginia drummer John Hartman came west to join an aborted Moby Grape reunion, Skip introduced him to guitarist/singer Tom Johnston. Hartman and Johnston went on to form the Doobie Brothers.
Skip spent most of the next two decades in and out of mental institutions and battling alcoholism. He was named a ward of Santa Cruz County and, by 1994, was living in a residential care home in San Jose. He had only recently been reunited with his four children. He continued to perform occasionally and, in 1996, was briefly reunited with Moby Grape. That year, he also wrote and recorded a song for the X-Files movie soundtrack, featuring his old Airplane colleague, Jack Casady. The song, Land of the Sun, was not selected for the final cut. (It subsequently showed up as a bonus track on the 1999 Tribute album More Oar.)
Meanwhile, Skip’s health continued to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. On April 5, 1999, he entered a Santa Cruz hospital and died there on April 16, two days before his 53rd birthday.
Skip’s talent, however, continues to inspire musicians such as Robert Plant, Tom Waits, and Beck, who recorded their own versions of his songs on More Oar two months after his death.