Paul Kantner, one of the biggies of the 1960s San Francisco music scene, died on January 28. He was 74. Kanter was a founder of the famed Jefferson Airplane group that featured the storied vocalist, Grace Slick. Earlier this week he suffered a heart attack. His friend and publicist, Cynthia Bowman, confirmed his passing and let be known that he died of multiple organ failure and septic shock. Kanter had suffered from faltering health over the last few years and had a heart attack in March 2015.
While featured with Jefferson Airplane, Kanter was a pioneer of the San Francisco sound. The band had seminal hits such as “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” The group was well-known for its vocalist, who included Kanter, Slick and Marty Balin. Its psychedelic blues sound was based on guitarist Jorma Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady. Its trippy 1960s-era revolutionary lyrics were a hallmark of the time.
Jefferson Airplane got together in San Francisco’s Union Street in a bar known as the Drinking Gourd. It was there that Balin and Kanter met. An idea of forming a folk-rock band morphed into Jefferson Airplane, which then got the attention of a growing fan base. It was big enough so that when rock music promoter Bill Graham opened his renowned Fillmore Auditorium, Jefferson Airplane was the first headliner.
The Airplane was the first of the so-called “San Francisco sound” bands to sign a contract with a major recording label. It was in 1966 that its debut album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” was released. Grace Slick joined the band in 1967 and songs like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” were national hits during the Summer of Love in San Francisco. But the high point for the band may have been its early morning performance at Woodstock. This was followed by its Slough of Despond when it played at the infamous Altamont concert, where the band was joined by the Rolling Stones. It was there that members of the Hells Angels were providing security and knocked bandmember Balin unconscious.
Plagued by infighting and lawsuits, Kanter joined Slick to transform the group into Jefferson Strship in 1972. And when he departed that group in 1984, he accepted $80,000 and agreed not to use the names “Jefferson” or “Airplane’ without the consent of Slick. Slicek continued with the program and managed to have a hit with “We Built This City” before the band folded in the late 1980s.