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

  • Tambor doesn't see how he can return to 'Transparent'

    Entertainment CTV News
    Jeffrey Tambor, second from left, a cast member in the Amazon series "Transparent," poses with fellow cast members, from left, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker during a ceremony awarding him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Tuesday, Aug. Source
  • Jeffrey Tambor doesn't see how he can return to Transparent

    Entertainment CBC News
    Actor Jeffrey Tambor says he doesn't see how he can return to the Amazon series Transparent following two allegations of sexual harassment against him. In an ambiguous statement Sunday, Tambor referenced what he calls a "politicized atmosphere" that has afflicted the set. Source
  • Cosby Show actor Earle Hyman dead at 91

    Entertainment CBC News
    Earle Hyman, a veteran actor of stage and screen who was widely known for playing Russell Huxtable on The Cosby Show, has died. Jordan Strohl, a representative for The Actors Fund, says that Hyman died Friday at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Source
  • Women of colour face different battle in sexual harassment scandal

    Entertainment CBC News
    In the overwhelming number of sexual harassment and assault complaints being revealed en masse, it's easy to overlook. We often miss what we can't see. But if you're a woman of colour, you notice. Since allegations surfaced against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, provoking a landslide of more high-profile perpetrators including James Toback, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and Louis C.K. Source
  • Model accuses Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Model Keri Claussen Khalighi has come forward to accuse Def Jam Records mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct in 1991 when she was 17 years old. In a report Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, Khalighi says that Simmons coerced her to perform a sex act and later penetrated her without her consent. Source
  • Model accuses music mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct

    Entertainment CBC News
    Model Keri Claussen Khalighi has come forward to accuse Def Jam Records mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct in 1991 when she was 17 years old. In a report Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, Khalighi says that Simmons coerced her to perform a sex act and later penetrated her without her consent. Source
  • 'Justice League' disappoints with US$96 million opening

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Only in the modern era of superhero films could a US$96 million opening weekend be considered anything less than impressive. But that's the situation Warner Bros. and DC's "Justice League" is in. Source
  • Longtime country singer-songwriter Mel Tillis dead at 85

    Entertainment CBC News
    Mel Tillis, the affable longtime country star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. Source
  • Longtime country singer, songwriter Mel Tillis dies

    Entertainment CTV News
    NASHVILLE -- Mel Tillis, the affable longtime country star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. Source
  • American Music Awards reflect 2017 pop music, in which male acts dominate

    Entertainment CBC News
    The performers at the 2017 American Music Awards are evenly split between men and women, but the nominees? Not so much. In categories like artist of the year and favourite pop/rock album, where men and women compete, no female acts are in contention. Source