Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner Dead at 74

Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner's Last Flight-R.I.P.

Kantner_Jefferson_Starship_1975-BW One fall day in 1977 some friends and I went to a house on Bear Lake in New York where I dropped acid for the first time. It was my very first drug experience and as the trip rose to its peak and we’d listened to Tangerine Dream, Donovan and Hendrix, we put on The Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter’s. I swear the group literally came out of the speakers, reached out their hands, shook mine and said, “Welcome to the new world man!” But truthfully, I’d already gotten there 10 years before when I first heard the Airplane.

And now, Paul Kantner, the architect of so much of that sound, is gone at 74 from complications from his second heart attack on Thursday, January 28.

The Jefferson Airplane, along with Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, created the first music I heard that opened up a new state of consciousness, unassisted by drugs. It was music that spoke to a higher purpose and meaning. I knew something was going on with Surrealistic Pillow, their second album and the one with their biggest hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” But it was their third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, which sent my mind and imagination spinning.

“It’s a wild time. I see changes. All around me are changes.” – Wild Tyme

JeffersonAirplane-BaxtersI wanted in. I hadn’t done any drugs at that point, and it would be a decade before I did. But the music sent my 13 year old mind me into a space I’d never experienced. In “Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane” author Jeff Tamarkin claims that “Baxter” was the band’s code for “LSD” and the title, as a whole, translates to After Tripping On Acid. It certainly sounded that way on the opening track, the Kantner penned and sung psychedelic anthem, “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” a roaring gallop into time shifting space that captures the whiplash connections and euphoria of an acid trip.

Grace Slick’s siren, domineering voice stormed the walls of convention. She sang like she knew exactly what it was all about. It’s little wonder Kantner fell in love with her. He was the one who stalked her at concerts with The Great Society, the band she was in before the Airplane. That was where she first wrote “White Rabbit” and sang “Somebody to Love” written by her brother in-law, Darby Slick.

Jeffesron Airplane-PosedKantner was the third voice and rhythm guitarist in the group. But he wrote many of their most beautiful songs like “Today” which was actually two songs, one written by Kantner and the other by singer Marty Balin. They did that a lot on songs like “She Has Funny Cars” and “Saturday Afternoon/Won’t You Try.” “Saturday Afternoon” was written about the first San Francisco Be-In and Kantner lifted many of his lyrics from critic and Airplane supporter Ralph J. Gleason’s chronicle of the event.

Kantner’s transition from the acid folk ballad “Martha” into the psychedelic celebration, “Wild Tyme” was mind bending and exhilarating. He also wrote most of their hard driving and political songs like “Crown of Creation.”

JeffersonStarship-BlowsKantner and Slick went on to record some beautiful and underrated albums, including Sunfighter, their homage to their newborn child and cautionary tale of the world she was born into, and Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. There was also the first iteration of Jefferson Starship, a west coast all-star band Kantner put together for his psy-fi concept album, Blows Against the Empire that included David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart.

The Jefferson Airplane left a legacy of music that still hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves for its inventive style, wild three part harmonies, unusual song structures and instrumental arrangements. They represented everything that was wonderful and hopeful in the psychedelic revolution. Ironically, the Jefferson Airplane are set to receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in the spring. And now Paul Kantner, who struck blows against the empire and got high at Pooneil Corner, has taken the final flight.

~John Diliberto

  9 comments for “Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner Dead at 74

  1. Yes…well done and important to do….I don’t believe the Airplane has received the credit they deserve …they were strong voices for social awareness….against falling prey to the ‘military industrial complex’. I would think the millennials would appreciate the Airplane….and the creativity of the music…not the commercial template. I was digging’ the Airplane before I was aware of the Dead…pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

  2. I enjoyed your remembrances. I certainly understand how Jefferson Airplane and the others could have been instrumental in your awakening to a bigger world and the possibilities of broader consciousness. Being a little older, my introduction to the San Francisco Sound came in high school in Saint Louis with the Grateful Dead’s “Morning Dew” and JA’s “Somebody to Love” (and all the other fantastic songs on the Surrealistic Pillow album). But it was in college that my world exploded with both groups’ subsequent albums, as well as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, Steve Miller Band & many others. And now we are losing so many of these talented people. Fortunately, Jefferson Starship came to Anchorage last year and I got to see Paul Kantner one last time. I had expected/hoped that you would play “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight” from the Blows Against the Empire album. May I request that you play this song (& perhaps “Today,” as well) soon as a tribute to Kantner and his ability to write exquisitely beautiful melodies.

  3. Donovan said it best ‘Fly Jefferson Airplane gets you there on time” Paul Kantner was my hero and inspiration as a musician more so than any other rocker. I moved to San Francisco in 1976 for ten years because the best thing about Camden N.J. was leaving it. I wanted to see the place where all this great music came from and I got to do that. What a great place, and what a great place to be young.Paul Kantner gave us so much music an d I’m so very grateful to have heard it as it has had a profound effect on myself and many other like minded people.Please do another tribute to Paul, a half hour isn’t long enough.Thanks for last night’s tribute it was great.”My life is to survive and be alive for you”

  4. Comment: Well, you sure picked the good ones! Your tribute for Paul Kantner included some of the best! ‘Today’ was our wedding song and the others you chose, also in our ‘favorites’ list. It’s very difficult to find someone who really apperciates and understands the Airplane. They are and always will remain our favorite group forever. Good job John! We HAVE seen the stars!
    peace out…

    Tony and Barb

  5. Paul was our ship captain and navigator on many excursions for sure. We were tripping and playing a cassette of Blows by chance at the part where the ship fires up engines while driving my father’s Oldsmobile to the bottom of the big hill in town. Stepped on the gas right then, what a rush. Then it seemed this passage happened to play often when it came to ordinary 39cent a gallon rushes at the bottom of that same hill. Remember back then we typically had only a handful of albums and a cassette was copied from the LP.

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