You’d have to work hard to overestimate the musical contribution of Paul Kantner (and the Jefferson Starship). Paul died yesterday, Essentially of old age, at 74.
Formed in 1965, the Jefferson Airplane truly defined the “psychedelic era” in music. They performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969). “Somebody to love” and White Rabbit” are among Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time”. The Airplane was inducted into the R & R Hall of Fame in 1996.
Paul didn’t talk much but he was the pillar that created, maintained and now died with the Jefferson Airplane, one of the truly seminal musical groups of the 60’s, an era defined by it’s music. Lead singer Gracie Slick got all the media attention because she was volatile and the camera loved her. Gracie was the first female megastar in rock history and a brutally candid, sensuous symbol of 1960s counterculture. Now with snow-white hair, Gracie once remarked on a talk show that she once woke up at 110 mph in a Porsche on the 405.
In a 1968 Amsterdam concert incident, Doors singer Jim Morrison, under the influence of God knows what, appeared on stage and began dancing like a pinwheel. The Airplane played “Plastic Fantastic Lover” increasingly faster, Morrison continuing to spin faster finally falling senseless at Marty Balin’s feet. Morrison was hospitalized.
Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen is an acquaintance; I played with him a couple of decades or so ago. He went on to form “Hot Tuna” and is still playing gigs out there on the road. I met Gracie a while back and have her signature on a poster in my music room.
Others in the group coming and going, Paul played with the Airplane’s entire history,. When the Airplane broke up in 1972, Kantner then formed the “Jefferson Starship” which went on until Gracie quit due to age-related loss of interest in 1988. This year she’s 76 years old and rarely seen in public.
Paul Kantner was a very important person in music throughout his lifetime. He and many others of his ilk, soon to expire, defined an age that will probably never be seen again. Rest in peace, Paul. A life well lived.