The gods of music have always been chaotic and facetious, but January 2016 has already seen the loss of the legendary David Bowie, and the iconic Glenn Frey. Heavy metal staple Lemmy Kilmister lead the way to rock and roll heaven in late December 2015. This week another giant, Paul Kantner, co-founder, co-lead singer and guitarist for the bands Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, passed away at 74 as a result of complications from a heart attack.
In 1965 Kantner and fellow band member Marty Balin founded Jefferson Airplane after meeting in a bar in San Francisco. Both were interested in putting together a “folk rock” band. Kantner had been inspired by Pete Seeger, and had dropped out of college to pursue a musical career. It did not take long before the band, now consisting of Kantner, Balin, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady, was attracting local attention, and when Bill Graham opened his legendary Fillmore Auditorium, Jefferson Airplane was its first headliner. Grace Slick joined the band a year later.
Credited with creating the “San Francisco” sound , the band had major hits with “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” songs that have come to represent the psychedelic/blues/folk mix of the mid to late 60’s. The group was a headliner for a generation of music fans at festivals like Monterey Pop, Golden Gate Park’s “Human Be-In,” and of course Woodstock. At the Altamonte concert a month later, the Hell’s Angels went on a rampage and knocked Marty Balin unconscious.
Like many bands, internal quarreling lead to feuds, lawsuits and an eventual split, in 1974,with Kantner and Grace Slick breaking off to form Jefferson Starship. Kantner left the band in 1985 and signed an agreement with Grace Slick not to use the names “Jefferson” and “Airplane” without Slick’s consent. Slick stayed on with what became Starship, and had a huge hit, “We Built This City” before the band folded completely.
At times, Kantner could be prickly, sarcastic, and provoking and he had a flair for enraging his band mates. He was sued in 1991 for copyright infringement by using the name Jefferson Starship. Kantner stayed on in San Francisco and became a city icon. In 1996 he and Jefferson Airplane were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He maintained a heavy touring schedule, using some form of the Starship name. He also performed regularly with Hot Tuna, formed by original Airplane members Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady in 1969. This year, Jefferson Airplane will receive the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in 1941 to a traveling salesman, Kantner lost his mother at a very young age. He was sent to military school, and found his escape in music and science fiction novels.
For more information and a loving tribute by his former band mates, visit hottuna.com.