Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner dead at 74

SAN FRANCISCO - Paul Kantner, an original member of the 1960s rock group Jefferson Airplane who stayed with the San Francisco-based band through its transformation from hippies to hit makers as the eventual leader of successor group Jefferson Starship, has died at age 74.

See Full Article

Kantner, who drew upon his passion for politics and science fiction to help write seminal favourites such as "Wooden Ships" and "Volunteers," died on Thursday of organ failure and septic shock at a San Francisco hospital where he was admitted after falling ill earlier in the week, his former girlfriend and publicist Cynthia Bowman, the mother of one of his three children, told The Associated Press.

The guitarist and songwriter had survived close brushes with death as a younger man, including a motorcycle accident during the early 1960s and a 1980 cerebral hemorrhage, and gone on to recover from a heart attack last year. His death first was reported Thursday by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Few bands were so identified with San Francisco or so well-embodied the idealism and hedonism of the late '60s as Jefferson Airplane, its message boldly stated on buttons and bumper stickers that read "THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE LOVES YOU."

The band advocated sex, psychedelic drugs, rebellion and a communal lifestyle, operating out of an eccentric, Colonial Revival house near Haight-Ashbury. Its members supported various political and social causes, tossed out LSD at concerts and played at both the Monterey and Woodstock festivals.

Formed by veterans of the folk circuit in the mid-'60s, the Airplane combined folk, rock, blues and jazz and was the first group from a Bay Area scene that also featured Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead to achieve mainstream success, thanks to the classics "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit."

Besides Kantner, who played rhythm guitar and added backing vocals, the Airplane's best-known lineup included singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin; lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen; bassist Jack Casady; and drummer Spencer Dryden. Jefferson Airplane, named in part after blues artist Blind Lemon Jefferson, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and is scheduled to receive the Recording Academy's lifetime achievement award this year.

Kantner, who looked as much like a college student as a rock star with his glasses and shaggy blonde hair, did not have the vocal or stage presence of Balin and Slick, or the instrumental power of Kaukonen or Casady.

But he became the conscience of the band and by the end of the '60s was shaping its increasingly radical direction, whether co-writing the militant "Volunteers" with Balin or inserting a profane taunt into his own incendiary "We Can Be Together," leading to an extended fight with their record company, RCA.

Meanwhile, Kantner and Slick became one of rock's most prominent couples. Rolling Stone would note their contrasting styles, labeling Slick "the Acid Queen of outrageousness" and Kantner her "calm, dry, sardonic flip side." In 1971, Slick gave birth to their daughter, whom the couple originally wanted to call God, but decided to name China. (China Kantner became an actress and MTV VJ.)

Slick and Kantner broke up in the late 1970s and Kantner had a son, Alexander, with Bowman, and another son, Gareth.

Kantner was the Airplane's only native San Franciscan and its most political and experimental thinker. He had been a science fiction reader since childhood and with friends David Crosby and Jerry Garcia among others recorded a 1970 concept album about space travel, "Blows Against the Empire," credited to Kantner and "Jefferson Starship."

Kantner, Crosby and Stephen Stills would collaborate on the escapist, post-apocalypse fantasy "Wooden Ships," a rock standard which Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills and Nash each recorded and performed at Woodstock.

With perfect timing for a '60s band, the Airplane began splitting apart at the end of decade. Kaukonen and Casady formed the blues group Hot Tuna, and Balin, the band's estranged original leader, also left. In 1974, Kantner and Slick brought in new musicians and renamed the group Jefferson Starship. Their sound softened and, with Balin back, they had hit singles with "Miracles" and "Count On Me" among others and a No. 1 album, "Red Octopus."

But by the mid-1980s, when Slick and Mickey Thomas were lead vocalists, Kantner found the music so "mundane" that he left the Jefferson Starship and successfully forced the remaining members not to use the name "Jefferson." (His former bandmates called themselves "Starship" and had three No. 1 songs, including "Sara" and "We Built This City").

Over the past 30 years, Kantner, Balin and Casady occasionally performed as the KBC Band and a reunited Airplane briefly toured and recorded. Kantner made a handful of solo and Jefferson Starships albums and used various musicians in the studio and on the road, including daughter China on vocals and son Alexander on bass.

Kantner was born in 1941, the musical and nonconforming son of a travelling salesman. He dropped out of college to pursue a career in folk music and became friendly with Crosby and future Starship member David Freiberg, spending days and nights on the beach, strumming guitars and indulging in Crosby's premium stash of marijuana.

Soon after the release of the Airplane's first album, "The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off," the group underwent a fateful change: Vocalist Signe Toly Anderson left to have a baby in the fall of 1966 and was replaced by Slick, who had been a member of the Bay Area group The Great Society.

Slick brought a fiery, charismatic style and, just as important, "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit," anthems for 1967's "Summer of Love" and highlights of the Airplane's landmark psychedelic album "Surrealistic Pillow." Kantner, who spent much of his life in his native city, would look back years later and remember a golden age of art, free love and joyous possibility.

He joked that San Francisco was a privileged haven, "49 square miles surrounded by reality."

He believed deeply in the '60s dream, often citing an anecdote that for a few days in 1966 the stars were so aligned that you could expect any wish to be granted. "Which, needless to say, it was," he liked to add.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Prosecutors can use Bill Cosby's deposition at trial, judge rules

    Entertainment CTV News
    PHILADELPHIA - Damaging testimony that Bill Cosby gave in an accuser's lawsuit, including admissions that he gave young women drugs and alcohol before sex, can be used at his sex assault trial, a judge ruled Monday. Source
  • Jessica Williams, Cate Blanchett star in Sundance permieres

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES - Former "Daily Show" correspondent Jessica Williams flexes her dramatic chops, Cate Blanchett pays homage to great 20th century artists and "Silicon Valley" star Kumail Nanjiani tells a very personal story in some of the films premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Source
  • Lady Gaga reveals she suffers from PTSD: 'I've never told anyone that before'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Lady Gaga has been secretly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ever since she was raped at the age of 19. The Perfect Illusion hitmaker has been candid about her sex assault since going public with the news in 2014, revealing she was attacked by a producer at the start of her music career. Source
  • Director Bernardo Bertolucci tries to clear up 'Last Tango in Paris' controversy

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci has clarified controversial remarks he made about a rape scene in his film Last Tango In Paris, insisting late actress Maria Schneider was aware she would be taking part in the violent scene with Marlon Brando. Source
  • Where does 'Westworld' go from here? And other questions about the season finale

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    "Westworld" ended its season on a strange note. The episode was not exactly a cliffhanger, but it also did not offer much in the way of closure. The final moments were not unlike another story of A.I. Source
  • Jimmy Kimmel to host Academy Awards

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — The Oscars finally have a host: Jimmy Kimmel will emcee the 89th Academy Awards. Kimmel will be hosting the show for the first time, the Academy of Motion Pictures said Monday. In September, he hosted the Emmy Awards for the second time. Source
  • Guillermo and mean tweets head to the Oscars? Jimmy Kimmel to MC Academy Awards

    Entertainment CBC News
    With two Emmy Award telecasts under his belt, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel is now heading to the Oscars. The Academy Awards show producers have tapped the Jimmy Kimmel Live star to MC Hollywood's annual celebration of cinema. Source
  • Justin Bieber: 'I'm single... but not looking'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Justin Bieber has confirmed he’s a single man and isn’t “really looking” for a relationship. The 22-year-old singer has been linked to various famous faces including Lionel Richie’s daughter Sofia in recent months. But as he filmed an interview for U.S. Source
  • WATCH: R. Kelly invites female fan to 'grab' his crotch

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    R. Kelly was left shocked when a woman took him up on his invitation to “grab” his crotch at a recent gig. The Ignition singer performed his 12 Nights of Christmas concert, named after his album of the same name, in Detroit on Friday to a packed crowd, at one point freestyling about how hot he felt on stage in his fur coat. Source
  • Patti Smith to perform on behalf of Bob Dylan at Nobel Prize ceremony

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Patti Smith will perform on behalf of Bob Dylan at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm on Saturday. Dylan became the first songwriter to be awarded the literature prize in October, with the Swedish Academy praising him for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Source