Jefferson Starship Family (Two Hours of Music)

Revisiting the band, solo projects and offshoots that evolved from the Jefferson Airplane.

"You can't just sit around and make protest albums all your life; eventually it comes to the point where you have to do something." – Paul Kantner, founder, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship

By 1970, the Jefferson Airplane were effectively a spent force artistically, even though they continued to chart top 20 albums and the occasional minor chart single for a couple of more years. They attempted to re-tool their sound to a more hard rock direction, attempting to distance themselves from the psychedelic San Francisco sound they were pioneers of. Members of the band either left, like founder Marty Balin, started splinter groups (Hot Tuna) or released solo albums (Paul Kantner and Grace Slick). Adding to the unknown future of the Airplane was singer Grace Slick’s throat surgery during this period, which left her unable to perform.

After Balin's departure, he founded a short lived band, Grootna, which morphed into a band that released one LP, Bodacious D.F. Original Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, much like Balin, was soured incredibly by the reception and ugly experience of the actions of the Hell's Angels at the ill-fated Altamont concert in 1969, headlined by the Rolling Stones, where the motorcycle club assaulted members of the Jefferson Airplane while performing live on stage, knocking Balin out cold; concert-goer Meredith Hunter was later murdered in front of the stage. Dryden went on to form a new band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, with members of the Grateful Dead and was even their manager for several years.

Backstage at a "Black and White" fundraiser, 1978. (l-r) Grace Slick, Craig Chaquico ad Paul Kantner.Photo by Roger Ressmeyer, San Francisco Chronicle Archives.

Airplane co-founder founder Paul Kantner released an album in 1970 entitled Blows Against The Empire and credited it to Jefferson Starship to signal a change in musical direction from his most well-known outfit: In a sense, the Jefferson Airplane were the 1960’s, the Jefferson Starship the 1970’s. He would continue to record with the Airplane and on albums with Grace Slick, to whom he was romantically involved. By 1974, after Airplane members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady opted out of not returning to the Airplane, Kantner and Slick retooled their sound even further and released a gold-selling album called Dragon Fly, and credited it to the Jefferson Starship with new members, including 17-year old Craig Chaquico and a 55 year-old Black fiddle player, Papa John Creach. (This didn’t cause any seeming acrimony, though, as members of the Airplane/Starship often guested with Hot Tuna, with Hot Tuna eventually opening for the Jefferson Starship on tour.) Interestingly, Marty Balin, still friends with the band, contributed music and vocals to the album.

Jefferson Starship, 1980, backstage, Oakland Coliseum. Band members left to right; Aynsley Dunbar, David Freiberg, Mickey Thomas, Craig Chaquico, Pete Sears & Paul Kantner. Photo by Roger Ressmeyer, San Francisco Chronicle Archives. Note that Grace Slick isn't present, who was undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction during this period.

By 1975, the fully-fledged Jefferson Starship had become a major commercial force with their album Red Octopus, which hit the pole position on the Billboard 200 LP chart on several occasions during the summer, something the band’s previous incarnation had never done. Splitting their repertoire between rockers, romantic ballads and using a great many outside writers, the band bore little resemblance to the Airplane. Critics were quick to slam the band’s new direction, wanting instead to hear the group once on former President Nixon’s “enemies list”. Trouble was ahead, however, as Grace Slick’s alcohol addiction caused the band a great deal of grief, and at one show she drunkenly scolded a German audience for losing the war; she quit for a brief period. Balin also left the band in 1978 to care for his daughter, who has spina bifida, and eventually released several solo albums in the 1980’s.

Marty Balin, 1976, performing with the Jefferson Starship. Photo by Tom Hill/Getty Images. 

By 1979, Kantner again resumed control of the band, and recruited Elvin Bishop vocalist Mickey Thomas. The results were immediate: a tougher, more album rock radio sound, top 20 Billboard Pop hit, a #1 rock radio single and a gold-selling album, a rarity for many acts that change one lead vocalist, much less two. Slick returned after an extended detox and the band headed into the 1980’s with a steady sustained series of commercial successes. By their last album of the 1980’s, Nuclear Furniture, Kantner had grown weary of the band’s furthering new mainstream pop direction and quit the group just prior to a U.S. tour.

Fiddler Papa John Creach performing with Jefferson Starship at the Academy of Music in New York City on March 29, 1974. Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images.

The remaining band members dropped the Jefferson moniker altogether, becoming Starship in 1985, complete with a pop radio, middle-of-the-road sound which eventually gave them three number one Billboard Hot 100 singles in less than a year and a half before Slick called it a day, leaving no members of the Jefferson Airplane associated with the band.

Hot Tuna, performing at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, 1977. (l-r) Jorma Kaukonen,  Bob Steeler and Jack Casady. Photo by Ed Perlstein.

Concurrently in 1985, Kantner, Balin and Casady formed the KBC Band, released an modest-selling album and toured while Starship easily topped the charts. In 1989, the Jefferson Airplane reunited for what would be their eighth and final self-titled album and tour, featuring Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Starship carried on with Mickey Thomas leading the group. Neither band was able to achieve their previous success and both quietly went the way of short tours, reunion appearances and in some cases, members went into retirement from the music business altogether.

Our tracks this week: Title, Year, Album, Artist, lead vocals

First Hour First Part
1. Stranger, 1981, Modern Times, Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas
2. Runaway, 1978, EarthJefferson Starship, Marty Balin
3. Hit Single #1, 1975, America's Choice, Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen
4. Miracles (full-length album version), 1975, Red OctopusJefferson Starship, Marty Balin
5. Sayonara, 1985, KBC Band, The KBC Band, Marty Balin

First Hour Second Part
6. Jane, 1979, Freedom At Point ZeroJefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas
7. Hearts, 1981, Balin, Marty Balin (solo), Marty Balin
8. No Way Out, 1984, Nuclear FurnitureJefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas
9. Sara, 1985, Knee Deep In The Hoopla, Starship, Mickey Thomas
10. Across The Board, 1972, Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome NunPaul Kantner, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg, Grace Slick

First Hour Finale
11. Caroline, 1974, Dragon Fly, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, Marty Balin

To download this program, please click this link.

Second Hour First Part
1. Sea Child, 1972,  Burgers, Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen
2. Panama Red, 1973, The Adventures of Panama Red New Riders of the Purple Sage, Dave Nelson
3. Ride The Tiger, 1974, Dragon Fly, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner
4. Laying It On The Line,1984, Nuclear Furniture, Jefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas
5. Play On Love, 1975, Red Octopus, Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick
6. Count On Me, 1978, Earth, Jefferson Starship, Marty Balin

Second Hour Second Part
7. Hesitation Blues (live), 1970,  Hot Tuna, Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen
8. Winds of Change, 1982, Winds of Change, Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas
9. With Your Love, 1976, Spitfire, Jefferson Starship, Marty Balin
10. Let's Go Together, 1970, Blows Against The Empire, Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick
11. Good Folks, 1973, Bodacious D.F., Bodacious D.F., Marty Balin

Second Hour Finale
12. You're Driving Me Crazy (live at Winterland), 1975, Red Octopus (expanded edition), Jefferson Starship, Marty Balin

To download this program, please click this link.

Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner

“Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for 'fair use' for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

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