A Rockapaedia Obituary
Band: Jefferson Airplane
Paul Kantner died aged seventy-four on 28th January 2016 in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. from multiple organ failure and septic shock after he had suffered a heart attack days earlier. Paul was survived by his two sons: Gareth and Alexander and his daughter, China.
After joining the late 1960s San Francisco rock scene's exodus to suburban Marin County by briefly relocating to Bolinas, California in the early 1970s, Paul Kantner returned to San Francisco just as the Jefferson Starship era dawned.
A non-repentant cigarette smoker, with a penchant for unfiltered Camels, throughout his adult life, Paul declined to embrace the stop-smoking movement and was noted as saying that if he was not going to give up the few things he enjoyed, then he might as well die from something he liked.
Identifying himself as a political anarchist, Paul Kantner advocated the use of entheogens such as LSD for mind expansion and spiritual growth, and was a prominent voice for the legalization of marijuana, which he regularly used for most of his adult life. But when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1980, his attending physician at Cedars-Sinai, Stephen Levy, was quick to point out it was not a drug-related issue, saying: "There is a zero relationship between Paul's illness and drugs"
Paul Kantner was born on 17th March 1941, in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. Paul had a half-brother and a half-sister by his father's first marriage, both much older than he was. His father was of German descent, and his mother was of French and German ancestry. His mother died when he was eight years old, and Paul remembered that he was not allowed to attend her funeral. His father sent him to the circus instead.
After his mother's death, his father, who was a travelling salesman, sent young Paul Kantner to Catholic military boarding school. At age eight or nine, in the school's library, he read his first science fiction book, finding an escape by immersing himself in science fiction and music from then on. As a teenager he went into total revolt against all forms of authority, and he decided to become a protest folk singer in the manner of his musical hero, Pete Seeger.
He attended Saint Mary's College High School, the University of Santa Clara and San Jose State College, completing a total of three years of college education before dropping out to enter the music scene. For a while, he shared a communal house in Venice, Los Angeles with several other folksingers who would subsequently migrate to rock music, including David Crosby and David Freiberg.
During the summer of 1965, singer Marty Balin saw Paul Kantner perform at the Drinking Gourd, a San Francisco folk club, and invited him to co-found a new band, Jefferson Airplane. When the group needed a lead guitarist, Paul recommended Jorma Kaukonen, whom he knew from his San Jose days. As rhythm guitarist and one of the band's singers, Paul was the only musician to appear on all albums recorded by Jefferson Airplane as well as Jefferson Starship. Paul Kantner's songwriting often featured whimsical or political lyrics with science fiction or fantasy themes.
Although the band retained a relatively egalitarian songwriting structure, Paul Kantner became Jefferson Airplane's dominant creative force from 1967's 'After Bathing at Baxter's' onward, writing the chart hits "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil", "Watch Her Ride" and "Crown of Creation"; the controversial "We Can Be Together"; and, with Balin, "Today" (an earlier effort from Surrealistic Pillow) and "Volunteers". He also co-wrote the song "Wooden Ships" with David Crosby and Stephen Stills but was not credited initially due to pending litigation with Jefferson Airplane's first manager.
With Jefferson Airplane, Paul Kantner was among the performers at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Recalling Woodstock forty years later, Paul Kantner stated that they were due to be on stage at 10pm on the Saturday night but they didn't actually get on until 7.30am the following day. Later in 1969, the group also played at Altamont, where Balin was knocked unconscious during their set by a Hells Angels member originally hired as security for the concert. Paul Kantner appears in the documentary film about the Altamont concert, Gimme Shelter, in a tense on-stage confrontation with a Hell's Angel regarding the altercation.
Despite its commercial success, Jefferson Airplane was plagued by intra-group fighting, causing the band to begin splintering at the height of its success. This was exacerbated by manager Bill Graham, who prodded the group to do more touring and more recording. During the transitional period of the early 1970s, as Jefferson Airplane started to come apart, Paul Kantner recorded Blows Against The Empire, a concept album featuring an ad hoc group of musicians whom he dubbed Jefferson Starship.
In Blows Against the Empire, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick sang about a group of people escaping Earth in a hijacked starship. The album was nominated in 1971 for the Hugo Award, the premiere prize awarded by science fiction fandom. A sequel (Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra) including several Blows Against the Empire participants was released as a Paul Kantner solo album in 1983.
Paul had been in love with Grace Slick for some time, but she was involved in a relationship with the band's drummer, Spencer Dryden. After their two-year affair ended, he finally had a chance with Grace. In 1969, they began living together publicly as a couple. Grace Slick became pregnant, and a song about their child's impending birth, "A Child Is Coming," appeared on Blows Against the Empire. Paul and Grace's daughter China Wing Kantner was born in 1971.
Paul and Grace released two follow-up albums. Sunfighter was an environmentalism-tinged album released in 1971 to celebrate China's birth. China appears on the album cover, and the track list includes "China", a song written and sung by Slick about her new baby. Paul and Grace made news again in 1972, when they were accused of assaulting a policeman after their Akron, Ohio concert. 1973's Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun was named after the nicknames David Crosby had given to the couple. Through longtime friend Jack Traylor, Paul Kantner discovered teenaged guitarist Craig Chaquico in 1971. Chaquico contributed to Sunfighter and Baron von Tollbooth before going on to play with all of the incarnations of the Starship name until 1990.
After Kaukonen and Casady left the Airplane in 1973 to devote their full attention to Hot Tuna, the core band on Baron von Tollbooth was formally reborn as Jefferson Starship in early 1974. Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg, drummer John Barbata, and fiddler Papa John Creach were joined by Chaquico and Pete Sears, a contributor to previous solo efforts by Creach and Slick who alternated with Freiberg on bass and keyboards. Following a long sabbatical, Marty Balin began to work with Jefferson Starship while their first album, Dragon Fly, was still in the works, co-writing the early power ballad "Caroline" with Paul Kantner and performing the song on the album. Although "Caroline" failed to chart, the album peaked at number 11, better than any Jefferson Airplane-related effort in three years. Both Red Octopus and 1976's Spitfire saw Paul Kantner amalgamate his usual songwriting approach with the soft rock ethos favored by the group in such songs as "I Want To See Another World," "St. Charles" and the "Song to the Sun" suite.
Although Earth from 1978 – to which Paul Kantner contributed just one song – duplicated the success of Red Octopus and Spitfire . Jefferson Starship saw major personnel changes before year's end. Grace had left Paul in 1975 to marry Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship roadie. Despite the dissolution of their romantic relationship, she remained with the band through June 1978, when she left the group to seek rehabilitation for her alcohol use disorder after Paul Kantner asked for her resignation following two disastrous concerts in Germany.
Freedom at Point Zero, a hard rock album dominated by Paul Kantner compositions, was released in November 1979. This selection marked the band's last Top Ten album. Kantner's new wave-inspired "Girl with the Hungry Eyes" also charted, peaking at number fifty-five.
In October 1980, Paul Kantner was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in serious condition from a cerebral hemorrhage. Paul had been working in Los Angeles on an album when he became ill. He was thirty-nine years old at the time and beat considerable odds with a full recovery without surgery. A year later, Paul talked about the experience, saying that if there was a Big Guy up there willing to talk to me, he was willing to listen. But nothing happened and it was all just like a small vacation. It was his second brush with serious illness or injury, having suffered a serious motorcycle accident in the early 1960s.
Grace Slick returned for 1981's Modern Times, which featured "Stairway to Cleveland," a declamatory punk rock pastiche penned by Paul Kantner. Despite Paul Kantner's efforts to retain a dialogue with the punk/new wave vanguard and a more idiosyncratic approach, Jefferson Starship became increasingly beholden to the limitations of the album-oriented rock format. Additionally, the band continued to depend on external collaborators to an unusual extent for the era, most notably Jeannette Sears (the wife of Pete Sears) and songwriter/producer Peter Wolf.
In June 1984, Paul Kantner left Jefferson Starship, complaining that the band had become too commercial and strayed too far from its counter-cultural roots. At the time, he was the only remaining original member of Jefferson Airplane in the group. Paul made his decision to leave in the middle of the Nuclear Furniture tour. Upon his departure, Paul Kantner took legal action against his former bandmates over the group's name after the rest of the band resolved to continue as Jefferson Starship. Paul Kantner settled in March 1985, and the group name was reduced to Starship. Under the terms of the settlement, no group could call itself Jefferson Starship without Paul Kantner as a member, and no group can call itself Jefferson Airplane unless Grace Slick is on board. Other accounts maintain that both parties agreed to only use "Jefferson" and/or "Airplane" if unanimous consent was granted by the five corporate directors of Jefferson Airplane. The legal battle had personal repercussions as well, permanently damaging Paul Kantner's friendships with Mickey Thomas and Craig Chaquiço. Although they eventually reconciled, Paul Kantner's decades-long friendship with David Freiberg was also strained when the multi-instrumentalist refused to leave the band with him.
In 1985, Paul Kantner formed the KBC Band with Balin and Jack Casady; they released their only album, KBC Band, two years later on Arista Records. Although the album stalled at number seventy-five in Billboard, the band embarked on a national tour.
With Paul Kantner reunited with Balin and Casady, the KBC Band opened the door to a full-blown Jefferson Airplane reunion. Following the demise of the KBC Band in 1987, Paul Kantner briefly rejoined Hot Tuna after performing in the band's first lineup eighteen years earlier. In 1988, Grace Slick sat in with the band at a San Francisco concert. This led to a formal reunion of most the classic 1966-1970 Jefferson Airplane lineup save for Spencer Dryden. A self-titled album was released by Columbia Records. While the accompanying tour was a success, the revival proved to be short-lived; as in 1973, the group never formally disbanded.
Paul Kantner and his Jefferson Airplane bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The induction ceremony marked the first performance by most of the "classic" lineup of Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden and Kantner since 1970. Grace Slick had to miss the ceremonies because of a serious leg infection, but sent a message which Paul Kantner delivered: "Grace sends her love."
In early 1992, Paul Kantner and Balin reformed Jefferson Starship. Although Balin was forced to scale back his involvement with the group due to family exigencies in the mid-2000s, Paul Kantner continued to tour and record with the band through 2015. Paul was joined in the later versions of Jefferson Starship with various former Airplane and Starship members, most notably Casady and Freiberg, who effectively replaced Balin once again in 2005. With their latest female vocalist Cathy Richardson and Kantner's son Alexander Kantner on bass, Jefferson Starship released their first studio album since Windows of Heaven, entitled Jefferson's Tree of Liberty in September 2008. The album was a return to Paul Kantner's musical roots featuring covers of 1950s and 1960s protest songs from the American folk music revival.
In late 2010 Paul Kantner started to compile collections of "sonic art" performed by him and various artists, including a mix of cover songs, sound effects, and spoken word, releasing multiple volumes under the title "Paul Kantner Windowpane Collective".
In March 2015, it was reported that Paul Kantner had suffered a heart attack. The band released a statement saying that he is in the best possible care and we are sending him all of our best wishes, good thoughts and healing vibes. The band also stated that they werecontinuing the tour without him, as most of the shows are sold out or close to it and they have to honor their contracts and their fans who bought tickets and put on the best show possible. Paul Kantner returned to the group later on in the year, in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane with special shows.