Jefferson Starship: Dragon Fly (1974)

Starlog 1.0: MEET THE JEFFERSONS. As the Airplane was winding down, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick went off to record solo albums that loosely collected a lot of the same players, so that you could reasonably argue their solo records were really just extensions of the Airplane’s journey. In 1974, the pair decided to create a new vehicle using the available Airplane parts–John Barbata, Papa John Creach, David Freiberg–and round it out with then 20-year-old guitarist Craig Chaquico and multi-instrumental Englishman Pete Sears, both of whom had appeared on Slick’s most recent solo album, the unfortunately titled Manhole. Co-credited to Kantner and Slick, Dragon Fly featured eight tracks of partly mystical and partly mainstream rock. The album went gold on the strength of songs like “Ride The Tiger” and “Caroline,” the latter featuring a briefly returning Marty Balin on vocals. A reader of Progrography once asked me if I thought Jefferson Starship was a progressive rock band, and I would nix the notion here. A lot of classic rock bands, many of them formed in the psychedelic ‘60s, were pushing artistic envelopes that sometimes got mailed to strange and exotic destinations: Santana, Grateful Dead, CSN, The Doors. San Francisco, nexus of the hippie stoner bands, nurtured an experimental environment where music was written to transcend the real. As Paul Kantner sings on the opening ride, “We got something to learn from the other side.” And while Dragon Fly does feature some musical flights of fancy (“Hyperdrive,” “Devils Den”), it’s felicity not alice aforethought. Put enough talented musicians together, some of whom have an artistic or mystical bent (Kantner, Slick), and you’re bound to detect the scent of prog in the air from time to time. But Jefferson Starship is just a part of the California Dream that embraced drugs, spirituality, youth, love and music. As with a lot of 70s rock bands (Santana, Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult), endless songwriting permutations exist, including collaborators outside the proper band (Robert Hunter, Tom Pacheco), which makes Dragon Fly a hard album to pin down stylistically. A magnum opus it isn’t, but so long as you don’t come after this expecting any Miracles, Dragon Fly is worth netting.

Original LP Version
A1. Ride The Tiger (Paul Kantner/Grace Slick/Byong Yu) (5:06)
A2. That’s For Sure (Jerry Gallup/Craig Chaquico) (4:56)
A3. Be Young You (Grace Slick) (3:45)
A4. Caroline (Paul Kantner/Marty Balin) (7:27)
B1. Devils Den (Grace Slick/Papa John Creach) (3:59)
B2. Come To Life (David Freiberg/Stephen Schuster/Bob Hunter) (3:44)
B3. All Fly Away (Tom Pacheco) (5:24)
B4. Hyperdrive (Grace Slick/Pete Sears) (7:39)

The Players
Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals), Grace Slick (piano, vocals), John Barbata (drums, percussion), Craig Chaquico (lead guitar), Papa John Creach (violin), David Freiberg (bass, keyboards, vocals, piano, organ) and Pete Sears (bass, keyboards, piano, harpsichord, organ) with Marty Balin (lead vocal on track 4). Produced by Jefferson Starship and Larry Cox, engineered by Larry Cox. Pat Ieraci (Maurice) is credited as production coordinator, Paul Dowell is listed as amp consultant and Steve Mantoani is mentioned as the recordist. As for Byong Yu, there really is such a person; he was apparently Paul and Grace’s karate instructor (which would explain why “Ride The Tiger” kicks ass).

The Plastic
Originally released on elpee on October 1974 in the US, UK and Canada (Grunt, BFL1-0717) and in Japan (RCA, 6256) with lyrics innersleeve. Also released on quadrophonic elpee in 1974 in the US (Grunt, SFD1-0717). Re-released on elpee in the US (RCA, AYL1-3796) and Europe (RCA, NL8-3796). Re-released on digitally remastered CD on January 28, 1997 in the US (RCA, 66879) and in 1998 in Japan (Grunt, BVCM-7331). Cover illustration by Peter Lloyd (who also designed album covers for Rod Stewart and Kansas), with art direction by Acy Lehman and Frank Mulvey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *