Jefferson Starship Biography

Formerly the Jefferson Airplane, the band evolved into the Jefferson Starship after Paul Kantner (17 March 1941, San Francisco, California, USA; guitar/vocals) had previously released Blows Against The Empire in 1970, billed as Paul Kantner with the Jefferson Starship. His fascination with science fiction no doubt led the Airplane to metamorphose into a Starship.

Jefferson Starship’s official debut was Dragonfly in 1974, which became an immediate success. Joining Kantner on this album were Jefferson Airplane colleagues Grace Slick (b. Grace Barnett Wing, 30 October 1939, Chicago, Illinois, USA; vocals) and Papa John Creach (b. John Henry Creach, 28 May 1917, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 22 February 1994, Los Angeles, California, USA; violin), along with former Quicksilver Messenger Service bass player David Freiberg (b. 24 August 1938, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; vocals, keyboards), Craig Chaquico (b. 26 September 1954, Sacramento, California, USA; lead guitar), John Barbata (drums, ex-Turtles), and the experienced ex-Sons Of Fred and Sam Gopal Dream member Pete Sears (b. Bromley, Kent, England; bass/keyboards). The tracks included ‘Ride The Tiger’, which was accompanied by an imaginatively graphic, early video and ‘Hyperdrive’, a Slick magnum opus featuring Chaquico’s frantic screaming guitar. Old Jefferson Airplane fans were delighted to hear Marty Balin guesting on one track with his own composition ‘Caroline’, and further cheered when he joined the band at the beginning of 1975. Red Octopus later that year became their most successful album and ended up selling several million copies and spending a month at the top of the US charts. The flagship track was Balin’s beautiful and seemingly innocent ‘Miracles’, including its oblique reference to cunnilingus with Balin singing ‘I had a taste of the real world, when I went down on you’ and Slick innocently responding in the background with ‘Mmm, don’t waste a drop of it, don’t ever stop it’.

Soon afterwards, Kantner and Slick separated; she moved in with Skip Johnson, the band’s lighting engineer, and eventually married him. Later that year Slick was regularly in the news when her drinking problems got out of control. Spitfire and Earth continued the Jefferson Starship’s success, although the band had now become a hard rock outfit. Balin’s lighter ‘Count On Me’ was a US Top 10 hit in 1978. That year, Slick was asked to leave the band, to be allowed to return when she dried out. She was eventually dismissed, closely followed by Balin, who left towards the end of a turbulent year. He was replaced by Mickey Thomas and further changes were afoot when stalwart drummer Aynsley Dunbar (b. 10 January 1946, Liverpool, England) joined in place of Barbata. Freedom From Point Zero and the US Top 20 hit ‘Jane’, at the end of 1979, bore no resemblance to the musical style towards which remaining original member Kantner had attempted to steer them. He suffered a stroke during 1980, but returned the following spring together with a sober Grace Slick.

Both Modern Times (1981) and Winds Of Change (1982), continued Jefferson Starship’s commercial success, although by now the formula was wearing thin. Kantner found his role had diminished and released a solo album later that year. He continued with them throughout the following year, although he was openly very unsettled. Towards the end of 1984 Kantner performed a nostalgic set of old Jefferson Airplane songs with Balin’s band, amid rumours of a reunion. The tension broke in 1985 when, following much acrimony over ownership of the band’s name, Kantner was paid off and took with him half of the group’s moniker. Kantner claimed the rights to the name, although he no longer wanted to use the title, as his reunion with Balin and Casady in the KBC Band demonstrated.

In defiance Kantner’s former band performed as Starship Jefferson, but shortly afterwards became Starship. Both Thomas and Freiberg left during these antagonistic times, leaving Slick the remaining original member after the incredible changes of the previous few years. The new line-up added Denny Baldwin on drums and recorded Knee Deep In The Hoopla in 1985, which became their most successful album since Red Octopus. Two singles from the album, ‘We Built This City’ (written by Bernie Taupin) and ‘Sara’, both reached number 1 in the USA. The following year they reached the top spot on both sides of the Atlantic with the theme from the movie Mannequin, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’. Their image was now of slick perpetrators of AOR, performing immaculate music for the MTV generation (on which China Kantner was a presenter). Now, having gone full circle, Grace Slick departed in 1989 to join Kaukonen, Casady, Balin and Kantner in... the Jefferson Airplane.

After Starship broke up in the early 90s, Kantner revived the Jefferson Starship name and by the mid-90s had Balin and Casady in tow occasionally. A new live album was issued in 1995, featuring a guest appearance from Slick. The lacklustre 1998 studio release Windows Of Heaven featured new vocalist Diana Mangano.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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