Jefferson Starship rages in Vail
Vail’s Hot Summer Nights concert series at Ford Amphitheater opens with a real legend this year – Jefferson Starship. They are considered to be one of the last links with the idealism of the sixties, living legends such as Bob Dylan and Woodstock.
Today’s Jefferson Starship features both new and old players, including Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Slick Aguilar, Tim Gorman, Jack Casady, Prairie Prince and Darby Gould. Their music is a mixture of acoustic, electric, folk, rock, love songs, psychedelic, political polemic and science fiction.
Today they will perform songs from “Blows Against the Empire,” the only recording in rock “n’ roll history to have been honored with science fiction literature’s prestigious Hugo Award.
The band is the descendant of Jefferson Airplane, one of the most successful American rock bands in the sixties.
Infamous for performing under the influence of drugs, an open defiance to authority and an association with the Hell’s Angels, it reached the top of the music business.
“It was the hippiest thing happening and I felt like that was the direction where all the action was,” said Bob Harvey, Jefferson Airplane’s bassist. “I wanted it before anything…. There was no original music for a long time….. The name was right, the timing was right. When Herb Caen wrote about the band in his column (the San Francisco Chronicle) the stampede was on. We were good because everyone expected it. It was magic and the most exciting experience I”ve ever had in my life.”
Jefferson Airplane/Starship history began in 1965, when Marty Balin, inspired by The Byrds, decided to form his own folk band. Paul Kantner, a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, was the first to join Balin. They met at a San Francisco club called the Drinking Gourd. This place soon became a “recruitment stage” for the future band.
Harvey described his first encounter with Jefferson Airplane:
“I was an acquaintance of Marty Balin since we both played in a group that hang out in the Drinking Gourd,” he said. “That night, in early March 1965, I played bass with the Slippery Rock String Band. We were doing our regular gig. We took a break and came off stage. As I walked past the table where Marty Balin and Paul Kantner were sitting I heard Marty say, “I want it to be a folk rock group.’ Without even missing a beat, I responded, “Can I play bass?’ Marty said, “Come over to my place tomorrow and we’ll see how it works.'”
Jefferson Airplane took off on August at the Matrix, a club co-owned by Marty Balin. The ensemble consisted of six musicians, including Balin himself, Paul Kantner, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, vocalist Signe Toly (she changed her name to Anderson after she got married in September), and drummer Jerry Proloquin.
At first they played acoustic instruments. After Kantner and Kaukonen introduced electric guitars, their music shifted to rock.
By the end of the year, when the band signed their first major contract, they had already gone through one of their numerous staff changes. In 1967 a vocalist Grace Slick joined the Airplane, bringing with her the hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” Both songs hit the Top 10, making Jefferson Airplane one of the most popular rock bands in America.
The time of glory didn’t last too long though. The Airplane disbanded in 1972, as a result of solo projects and the general group malaise.
One of these projects was “Blows Against the Empire.” This album was Kantner’s initiative. He recorded it along with Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman, David Crosby, Graham Nash and David Freiberg.
The Blows Against the Empire collaboration became the prototype for Jefferson Starship, another initiative of Kantner, which saw the daylight in 1974.
The band’s initial release, “Dragonfly,” spawned the rock radio staples “Ride the Tiger” and “Caroline,” both written by Kantner. “Red Octopus,” its breakthrough album, came a year later and catapulted the group to the top of Bilboard’s album chart. The Starship’s subsequent releases generated such hits as “With Your Love,” “St. Charles,” “Count on Me,” “Runaway” and “Jane.”
After a decade-long hiatus, the group is back on the tour circuit, playing for those who remember “the good old days” and those who wish they did. They kick off the summer-long free concert series at the Ford Amphitheater tonight. Gates open at 5:30 and music starts at 6:30. Bring a picnic.