When you start writing about any current band that has the words 'Jefferson' or 'Starship' in its name, you run the risk of confusing people. The names have been fought over off and on, and the personnel playing under those names has changed as much as the on-court makeup of an NBA team does during a game. What have always been features of the Jefferson Starship music franchise are its intriguing look at the world and its echoes of a legendary period of rock music history.
The whole Jefferson experience got off to an auspicious start in 1966, when the original band of Marty Balin and Signe (Toly) Anderson (vocals), Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen (guitars), Jack Casady (bass) and Skip Spence (drums) translated playing at the Matrix, a nightclub Balin opened to have a venue for the band he wanted to create, into a recording contract with RCA. Before the contract was signed by this crew, there had already been personnel changes. After the first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, was released in 1966, more changes came quickly. Spence gave in to a drug habit and left, and Anderson had a baby and left. Grace Slick took over on vocals, and Spencer Dryden became the new drummer. Apart from playing at the Matrix, where 100 tickets filled the place, the band was on the verge of being able to sell tens of thousands of tickets at far larger venues.
This lineup recorded the 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow, and eventually it spawned two Top Ten singles, 'Somebody to Love' and 'White Rabbit,' written by Slick. Jefferson Airplane became the symbol of San Francisco hippie rock: lots of psychedelic drugs, psychedelic love and psychedelic anti-war commentary. Apart from being the only band to play the Monterey, Altamont and Woodstock festivals, the band was a primary instigator of the 'Summer of Love' in 1967.
Once pop radio caught on to the drug references in 'White Rabbit,' Top 40 airplay was hard to come by, so the band had no more big hit singles. Several albums sold well, however, and Crown of Creation was a Top Ten gold album. By then, founder Marty Balin was being shunted aside as more of a balladeer than a rocker. He was still around, though, when the Airplane played at the Rolling Stones' free concert at the Altamont Speedway. If you watch the documentary Gimme Shelter, you will see some Hell's Angels beating up Marty Balin. Not pretty.
After Balin left Jefferson Airplane, Kantner eventually renamed the group Jefferson Starship. After Balin returned and left and Kantner left, the proceedings got ugly, and a group led by Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas boiled the name down to Starship. While Jefferson Starship and Starship reached the Top Ten five times, with three songs going to #1, the original fans put down their pipes long enough to say 'Hey!' and then ignored the band. A new fan base made (Jefferson) Starship one of the biggest ticket-selling acts of the 1970s and '80s.
Now, with Balin and Kantner at the helm again, Jefferson Starship relives the legacy of Airplane songs, as well as the original science fiction premise of its second incarnation. At any time, some of the long roster of former members will appear with the band. Whoever shows up onstage, if you have tickets to see Jefferson Starship, you are seeing history.
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