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

  • What’s new on Netflix, CraveTV in October

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    A monthly look at what’s scheduled to be added to the catalogues of streaming services Netflix Canada and CraveTV in October: TOP PICKS Supernatural pop culture sensation “Stranger Things” returns to the Upside Down with a second season Oct. Source
  • To women of colour, Rihanna's cosmetics launch is personal

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Worokya Duncan is the director of inclusion for a private school in Manhattan, so her embrace of diversity is a no-brainer. She's also a big makeup person frustrated over the years by cosmetics companies that don't seem to get how important it is for women of colour like her to be serviced, too. Source
  • Robert Plant releases new track, announces 2018 North American tour

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Robert Plant is going on tour in North America next year to support his upcoming album, “Carry Fire.” The former Led Zeppelin frontman announced Tuesday that his 2018 tour will begin Feb. 9 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Source
  • 'Kevin Can Wait' Season 2 premiere steps awkwardly around Donna's death

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Let's say you're a TV producer, and you have decided that - despite the fact that your show is a family sitcom - it's time to kill off the wife character after the first season. Things were going fine, but now your leading man's former female co-star is available, and, well, a lot of viewers would probably like to see them together again on-screen. Source
  • 'Underworld' TV series in the works

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Movie maker Len Wiseman is revamping his Underworld film series for the small screen. The popular vampire versus werewolf movies were a vehicle for the writer and director’s estranged wife Kate Beckinsale - he wrote and directed the first two films, Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, wrote and produced 2009’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and produced the remaining two films, Underworld: Awakening and last year’s Underworld: Blood Wars. Source
  • Kit Harington and Rose Leslie engaged: Report

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Game Of Thrones couple Kit Harington and Rose Leslie are reportedly engaged. The 30-year-old actor, who plays Jon Snow in the HBO series, is said to have popped the question to his redheaded girlfriend, also 30, with the couple apparently breaking the news of their engagement to friends and family last week. Source
  • ’Coronation Street’ actress Liz Dawn dead at 77

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    LONDON — Liz Dawn, the actress who played tart-tongued Vera Duckworth in the British soap opera “Coronation Street” for more than 30 years, has died, her family said Tuesday. She was 77. Dawn’s family said in a statement that the actress died “peacefully in her sleep” Monday night. Source
  • 'Dukes Of Hazard' star Tom Wopat slapped with new assault and battery charges

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Former Dukes Of Hazard star Tom Wopat has been hit with new charges of indecent assault and battery amid allegations he acted inappropriately with a minor. The 66-year-old actor stands accused of poking a 16-year-old co-star’s bare stomach during rehearsals for a production of 42nd Street in Waltham, Massachusetts over the summer, when he also reportedly complimented her on her “nice butt” and slapped her backside with his script. Source
  • 'A true Coronation Street legend:' Liz Dawn, Corrie's Vera Duckworth, dead at 77

    Entertainment CBC News
    Liz Dawn, the actress who played tart-tongued Vera Duckworth in the British soap opera Coronation Street for more than 30 years, has died, her family said Tuesday. She was 77. Dawn's family said in a statement that the actress died "peacefully in her sleep" Monday night. Source
  • Video-game voice actors, publishers reach agreement to end strike

    Entertainment CBC News
    Video-game voice actors have agreed to end a nearly yearlong strike against several major gaming publishers. The actors union SAG-AFTRA and a representative for the publishers said Monday they reached a tentative agreement on Saturday to end the strike. Source