Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane 2From: San Francisco, CA, USA

Jefferson Airplane are considered to be the first psychedelic band to come out of San Francisco to reach national recognition. The Grateful Dead would eventually become the most popular of the San Francisco bands, but it was the Airplane that got things started. Jefferson Airplane epitomized the hippie scene, with their excessive drug-use and antiwar statements. Between the years of 1965 and 1972, the band was incredibly busy, playing at the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock Festival, and Altamont. Over this span, they released seven studio albums. Of those seven, five reached gold-record status. Jefferson Airplane also released two live albums during this span, making a total of nine releases in seven years.

Jefferson Airplane was originated by Marty Balin when he was 23. Born in Ohio and raised in San Francisco  Balin had an unsuccessful solo career in 1962, as well as a stint with the folk group the Town Criers in 1963-64. It was the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion where Balin saw a merger of folk music with rock and roll. It was at this time that he decided to form a band that would play this style. Balin caught the interest of three investors when he suggested turning a pizza restaurant on Fillmore Street into a small venue that would be called the Matrix. He then began to start picking members for his band. First to be chosen was rhythm guitarist/singer Paul Kantner. Kantner then recommended Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals). Balin was hoping to add a complementary powerful female voice, and was happy to come across Signe Toly. Bob Harvey (bass) and Jerry Peloquin (drums) were added to complete the band. The band got their name from Kaukonen who was jockingly called “Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane” in reference to blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson.

August 13, 1965 marked the debut performance by the Jefferson Airplane. The band played at the Matrix, and would become a regular at the club. They received solid reviews from the press, which led to record labels showing interest. By September, the Airplane had several different offers from record companies. The group had already experienced some personnel changes at this time, as Peloquin was fired and replaced by the one and only Skip Spence. Although Spence was more of a guitarist than he was a drummer, he had some experience playing the instrument. October saw the firing of Harvey, who was replaced by Jack Casady. Also, Toly married and became Signe Anderson. On November 15, 1965, Jefferson Airplane signed with RCA Victor Records.

In February 1966, Jefferson released their first single with Balin’s “It’s No Secret.” Although the single failed to chart, the band began landing more prestigious gigs in San Francisco. They also began touring outside of the Bay Area. In May of 1966, Anderson gave birth to a daughter and left the band, as it was too difficult to raise a child and perform with the band. It was also around this time that Spence was becoming increasingly detrimental, as his drug problems were reaching greater levels. In June, Spence was replaced by session drummer Spencer Dryden. Skip Spence went on to form Moby Grape. In July, Jefferson Airplane released their second single. Just like the first single, “Come Up The Years” did not make the charts.

On August 15, 1966, the group released their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. The album had only modest success, peaking at #128 on the Billboard album chart. Anderson finally decided that it was time to leave the band and focus on family, so the band sought out a strong replacement. The band recruited Grace Slick, lead singer of the Great Society. Joining the band in mid-October 1966, Slick was in the studio with the band by the end of the month. Slick brought with her two songs from the Great Society catalog: “Somebody To Love,” which was written by her brother-in-law and the Great Society‘s guitarist, Darby Slick, as well as her own “White Rabbit.” Both of these songs would appear on Jefferson Airplane’s next album.

Jefferson Airplane 1

Neither “Somebody To Love” or “White Rabbit” were released as the advance single for the second album, Surrealistic Pillow. Instead, RCA decided to go with the Spence-written “My Best Friend” for the advanced release. This would be the fourth single in a row that failed to chart. The album was released in February 1967, and climbed the charts upon the release of “Somebody To Love,” the first Airplane song to feature Grace Slick on lead vocals. By May, both the song and album were in the Top 40, and a month later, in the Top 10. Upon this success, “White Rabbit” was released as a single, and it too made the Top 10. Surrealistic Pillow would become the first gold album for Jefferson Airplane.

Jefferson Airplane had begun to attract national media attention by this time. The band began recording its third album while continuing to tour. June 17, 1967 was the date of Jefferson Airplane’s performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival. The band’s performance has been heavily bootlegged and has turned up on numerous occasions over the years.

Jefferson Airplane’s nature made it difficult for the band to find much commercial appeal. Their music was restricted from several AM Top 40 radio stations, concerned with the fact that the band had a hit with “White Rabbit,” widely criticized for its drug references. Jefferson Airplane would never again find the same radio play needed to secure at Top 10 hit. This did little to upset the band. Their next single was Kantner’s “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” most definitely not a pop record. The release marked the last time Jefferson Airplane would crack the top 50 on the Hot 100 list, reaching #42. However, the rise of FM radio, where creativity and experimentation were more widely accepted, Jefferson Airplane’s music fit in perfectly.

The third album Jefferson Airplane released was After Bathing At Baxter’s, coming out November 27, 1967. The album was less successful commercially, but still managed to crack the Top 20. After Bathing At Baxter’s was arranged into longer, more experimental pieces. Unlike Surrealistic Pillow, this album did not have enough of a pop element to appeal to the general crowd. Still, this album is quite often regarded as one of the best albums to come out of the psychedelic era, and is worthy of its Top 20 status.

Once the next Jefferson Airplane single, Kantner’s “Watch Her Ride,” saw very limited success (#61), RCA released one another Slick composition, “Greasy Heart” for their next single. At this point, radio was increasingly resisting to play the band’s material, and the song only got to #98. “Greasy Heart” was included on the next Airplane album, Crown of Creation, which was released in August 1968. Crown of Creation was less experimental than After Bathing At Baxter’s, and the album managed to reach the Top 10, eventually achieving gold status.

In 1969, Jefferson Airplane released the live album, Bless Its Pointed Little Head, highlighting the appeal of the band’s shows. That August, the band played Woodstock and were featured on the triple-album that would go onto sell over a million copies. Volunteers was released in October 1969, and although the album was just shy of cracking the Top 10, it achieved gold status in just three months. The album was yet another strong effort by Jefferson Airplane. In December, the band played at the disaster that was Altamont. At this performance, Balin was beat by Hell’s Angels, highlighting one of the many atrocities of this show. Jefferson Airplane’s performance can be seen on the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter.

One more single was released in 1970 on the RCA label, the marijuana anthem “Mexico,” which did not chart. Many changes to the band’s lineup came during the 1970s. Kaukonen and Casady had been splitting their time between Jefferson Airplane and their new band, Hot Tuna. Dryden was fired and replaced by Joey Covington. Most shockingly, Marty Balin left Jefferson Airplane at the end of the band’s fall tour in 1970, although his resignation was not announced until April 1971.

Jefferson Airplane 3

Because of the situation the band had been in, they did not have an album to release in 1970. RCA decided to release a compilation entitled The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. The album went gold rather quickly, and would eventually go platinum. This was released right after Kantner released his first solo album, Blows Against the Empire. Blows Against the Empire featured most of the members of Jefferson Airplane as well as several other musicians. After contemplating everything, Kantner co-billed the album to Jefferson Starship. No such band had actually existed at this point in time, but Kantner would eventually use the name later on.

Once Jefferson Airplane completed their commitment to RCA, they began to look for another label. However, RCA managed to keep the band by offering them their own imprint, Grunt Records. 1971 was the year the band released their sixth studio album, Bark. Just shy of the Top 10, Bark would also go gold. “Pretty As You Feel,” written by Covington, Casaday, and Kaukonen, was the last time Jefferson Airplane would land on the Hot 100, reaching #60.

The early years of the 1970s saw the members of Jefferson Airplane increasingly distracted by side projects. In 1972, Covington left and John Barbata came in as his replacement. The band then recorded their seventh studio album, Long John Silver, released in the summer of 1972. Long John Silver would reach the Top 20 and achieve gold status within a six month time frame.

Many changes occurred over the next little while and Jefferson Airplane eventually disbanded. Jefferson Starship began soon after, in which Kantner and Slick founded. In 1989, Jefferson Airplane got back together for a tour and an album. The self-titled album was only modestly successful, sounding nothing like the band’s earlier material.

Artist information sources include: an article by William Ruhlmann at Allmusic.com

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1966 album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off
Jefferson Airplane Takes Off

  • Blues From An Airplane
  • Let Me In
  • Bringing Me Down
  • It’s No Secret
  • Tobacco Road
  • Runnin’ ‘Round This World
  • Come Up The Years
  • Run Around
  • Let’s Get Together
  • Don’t Slip Away
  • Chauffeur Blues
  • And I Like It
  • Let Me In (Uncensored Version)
  • Run Around (Mono Uncensored Version)

From the 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow
Surrealistic Pillow

  • She Has Funny Cars
  • Somebody To Love
  • My Best Friend
  • Today
  • Comin’ Back To Me
  • 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds
  • D.C.B.A.-25
  • How Do You Feel
  • Embryonic Journey
  • White Rabbit
  • Plastic Fantastic Lover

From the 1967 album After Bathing at Baxter’s
After Bathing at Baxter's

  • The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil
  • Young Girl Sunday Blues
  • Martha
  • Wild Tyme
  • The Last Wall Of The Castle
  • Rejoyce
  • Watch Her Ride
  • Two Heads
  • Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon

From the 1968 album Crown of Creation
Crown Of Creation

  • Lather
  • In Time
  • Star Track
  • Share A Little Joke
  • If You Feel
  • Crown Of Creation
  • Ice Cream Phoenix
  • Greasy Heart
  • The House At Pooneil Corners

From the 1968 album Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Bless Its Pointed Little Head

  • 3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds [Live 10/68]

From the 1969 album Volunteers
Volunteers

  • We Can Be Together
  • Good Shepherd
  • The Farm
  • Hey Fredrick
  • Turn My Life Down
  • Wooden Ships
  • Eskimo Blue Day
  • A Song For All Seasons
  • Meadowlands
  • Volunteers

From the 1971 album Bark
Bark

  • When The Earth Moves Again
  • Feel So Good
  • Crazy Miranda
  • Pretty As You Feel
  • Wild Turkey
  • Law Man
  • Rock And Roll Island
  • Third Week In The Chelsea
  • War Movie

From the 1972 album Long John Silver
Long John Silver

  • Long John Silver
  • Twilight Double Leader
  • Trial By Fire

From the 1973 album Thirty Seconds Over Winterland
Thirty Seconds Over Winterland

  • Have You Seen The Saucers

From the 1974 album Early Flight
Early Flight

  • High Flying Bird
  • J.P.P. McStep B. Blues
  • Mexico

From the 1992 box-set Jefferson Airplane Loves You
Jefferson Airplane Loves You

  • Come Back Baby
  • Go To Her (Version Two)
  • Things Are Better In The East

From the 2009 album The Woodstock Experience
The Woodstock Experience

  • Plastic Fantastic Lover [Live Woodstock]

Live At The Fillmore

  • She Has Funny Cars [Live 5/67]
  • High Flyin’ Bird [Live 5/67]
  • Let’s Get Together [Live 5/67]
  • Other Side Of This Life [Live 5/67]
  • Tobacco Road [Live 5/67]
  • White Rabbit [Live 5/67]
  • Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon [Live 5/67]

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