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  • Writer's pictureJames Pagliasotti

Fly Jefferson Airplane

A lot of great music came out of San Francisco in the latter half of the Sixties, but none of it better than what the Jefferson Airplane played. They were there at the beginning of that psychedelic soundscape, playing their first gig at Marty Balin's Matrix club in August of 1965 to rave reviews and continuing to attract positive critical attention from even the noted Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason, who called them, "One of the best bands ever."

In its strongest and longest-lived lineup when Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden were added, they recorded several very successful albums, including the classic Surrealistic Pillow, Crown of Creation, and Volunteers. Their vocal harmonies, well-crafted songs, and excellent musicianship gained them huge audiences. They toured constantly, playing clubs large and small, and were featured at the Berkeley Folk Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont. They even gained airplay at that time when Top 40 radio was beginning to give way to the inevitability of the new music that was being made.

The group went through several different iterations in the eight years they made music as the Airplane, struggling with success, interpersonal relationships, lifestyle choices that included copious amounts of drugs and liquor, and through it all they made great music.

Like the many other bands of the era who defined the San Francisco Sound, the Jefferson Airplane were adventurous, inventive, and experimental, but it's interesting in listening to these tapes of their live concerts (HERE) to note the level of sophistication they brought to their work.

The subtlety they bring to songs like Today and Comin' Back to Me contrasts with the pounding interplay between the guitars and the rhythm section in She Has Funny Cars and Plastic Fantastic Lover. Nowhere is their sophistication more in evidence than on Embryonic Journey on the 1.31.68 side 2 tape at the 56:40 mark. This was a band that could do it all and while they lasted, they did it as well as anyone. Enjoy!

Grace Slick (vocals), Marty Balin (vocals and guitar), Paul Kantner (vocals and guitar), Jorma Kaukonen (guitar), Jack Casady (bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums). Founding members also included Signe Toly Anderson and Skip Spence. Later lineups of Jefferson Airplane included Joey Covington on Drums, and Papa John Creach on violins. (credit:

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