Rock Flashback: Jeffersons Airplane And Starship

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jefferson starship Rock Flashback: Jeffersons Airplane And Starship

Jefferson Starship at the Woodstock 40th anniversary celebration, 2009 (Getty Images/Mario Tama)

The [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jefferson Airplane[/lastfm], dating back to the prehistory of the counterculture in 1965 San Francisco, has gone through more incarnations than Shirley MacLaine. (I realize that joke probably doesn’t mean anything to some amongst the readership, but rest assured that to those of us who are a little older, it’s freakin’ hilarious.)

The Airplane earned its place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame between 1967 and 1972, and arguably with a single album, Surrealistic Pillow, their second release in February 1967, which contains both “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” But even during these years, band members engaged in side projects that would point toward the band’s future: [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jack Casady[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jorma Kaukonen[/lastfm] recorded as [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Hot Tuna[/lastfm], while [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Paul Kantner[/lastfm] released an album in 1970 under the name Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship.

The band officially became [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jefferson Starship[/lastfm] in March 1974 with the album Dragon Fly. This incarnation of the group enjoyed a great deal of chart success in the late ’70s with the albums Red Octopus, Spitfire, Earth, and Freedom at Point Zero. After a few less-successful albums in the early ’80s, Kantner, by this time the last founding member of the band, left—and took the “Jefferson” part of the name with him, after some litigation. The group continued on as [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Starship[/lastfm] through the remainder of the ’80s, continuing to score radio-friendly hit singles.

In 1991, Starship split in two. [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Mickey Thomas[/lastfm], who had come aboard as lead singer in 1979, went on the road with Mickey Thomas’ Starship, while Paul Kantner formed Jefferson Starship: the Next Generation with Jack Casady and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Papa John Creach[/lastfm] from the Airplane’s glory days. (It was in this era that I spent a marvelous hour hanging out backstage with Kantner and Casady before a Starship show.) Original Airplane vocalist [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Marty Balin[/lastfm], who had been in and out of the band since the ’60s, rejoined Kantner’s group in 1993. [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Grace Slick[/lastfm] even came back for a while.

Here’s Jefferson Starship in 1980 performing “Jane”:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s the Airplane performing “Volunteers” at Woodstock in 1969:

As of this moment, the Mickey Thomas version of Starship still exists; so does Kantner’s version. A website devoted to the history of the Airplane is here; the Starship’s website, with 2011 tour dates, is here.

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