Love, Haight and War. These were the ingredients for the American psychedelic rock movement of the Sixties. The world first got a whiff of it coming from the kitchen of a band called Jefferson Airplane. Other bands melted together (Grateful Dead, CSN) and drifted apart while the Airplane added passengers, jettisoned others and emerged in the mid 70s under a new crew, all the while selling records and setting trends.
Founded by singer Marty Balin, the band might have been no more than a signe of the times had they not reached into Great Society for a new female singer, Grace Slick. Suddenly, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” were everywhere and the world was watching the airwaves for what Jefferson Airplane would do next. The answer came in increasingly trippy records with material written mostly by Balin, Slick and guitarist Paul Kantner. Everything up to and including Volunteers is essential, both historically and musically.
With time, however, it became clear that Jefferson Airplane had too many captains and not enough cocktail servers. Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady (bass) began to divert their energy to another project, Hot Tuna, while Kantner and Slick began releasing solo albums. Balin left altogether. The Airplane managed to stay aloft for two more albums (Bark, Long John Silver) and then disbanded.
In the mid-70s, Kantner and Slick rechristened the band as Jefferson Starship (a name Kantner had used earlier on his 1970 album, Blows Against The Empire) and began making more commercial rock music with a new group that featured John Barbata, Craig Chaquico, Papa John Creach, David Freiberg and Pete Sears. Balin rejoined the group and picked up where he left off as the band’s primary balladeer; his association with Starship provided the same spark that Slick had earlier, giving the band a new string of hits including “Miracles,” “Count On Me” and “Runaway.”
Personalities continued to clash, and on 1979’s Freedom At Point Zero Kantner brought vocalist Mickey Thomas on board to replace both Balin and Slick, ushering in an age of Jeffersonian gerrymandering that found Slick returning, Kantner leaving to join Balin and Jack Casady in the KBC Band, Starship jettisoning the Jefferson, the original Airplane reconciled for a new album in 1989, and finally a reunited Jefferson Starship. But I’d already gone to bed by then, my head upon the surrealistic pillow of the past.