RIP PAUL KANTNER, RIP SIGNE TOLY ANDERSON: Well, Paul Kantner.
Growing up, I pretty much missed the whole Beatles vs. Stones thing; for me, the bands that mattered most were Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd (NOT "The Jefferson Airplane" or "The Pink Floyd").
I was able to pull high school buddies Scott Brotherston (and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Halstead) into my passionate fascination with Jefferson Airplane. Brotherston went so far as to scour the news media for the pithy sayings of Grace Slick, his favorite Airplane member, and drew a lot of hilarious cartoons featuring an always-blotto Slick doing outrageous things.
I guess it's fair to say that Kantner was my least-favorite JA'er. He certainly was the least compelling of the four vocalists, and his perpetually-jangly Rickenbacker guitar didn't always mesh well with lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's country blues or psychedelic shriek. Then there was his songwriting, which from about "Volunteers" onward was either political ranting or dweeby science-fiction stuff tending to a one-or-two-chord drone.
Let's not even get started on the Starship. Yuk.
And yet, when Kantner was on, he could be VERY on, and remind you that Jefferson Airplane would not have been Jefferson Airplane without him. I may not have overly appreciated his special gift, but there's no doubt that he had one.
Here are, IMHO, a couple of examples of Kantner at his very best.
The first is from "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off", before Slick or drummer Spencer Dryden even joined the band. Kantner kills, with some monumental help from Jack Casady on bass:
And then there's this little gem from "Crown of Creation," four albums later. Brotherston referred to this as "the first Hot Tuna song," and the delicate interplay between Kantner's (and Slick's) vocals, Jorma's guitar, and Jack's bass are extraordinary.
Let's add a very late-period Airplane performing Kantner's "Alexander the Medium," always a favorite of Halstead's and one of the few Kantner science-fiction epics I really like. The song and Kantner's vocals are interesting enough, but his performance is overshadowed by some really nasty playing by Kaukonen, Casady, violinist Papa John Creach, and Grace wailing away in the outro.
RIP Paul. The others in the band (with the notable exception of Slick, who had always laughed at the very idea of elderly rock stars) had been kicking around the idea of some kind of reunion. Not going to happen now. Bummer.
I am one of those Sixties throwbacks who (thanks to the older brother of a middle-school friend of mine) was introduced to revolutionary bands like Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane long before they were famous. So I felt a special pain for the loss of Syd Barrett, who to me represented the original voice of the Pink Floyd I quickly grew to love... and, similarly, knowing that Signe Anderson is no longer with us leaves a void in my heart. I loved to play her signature Airplane song, "Chauffeur Blues," at maximum volume for anyone who cared to listen. Yes, I love Grace Slick... but Signe was something else entirely, a cute girl from the Pacific Northwest who wore her hair in Dorothy pigtails and (according to Jorma) acted as "den mother" to "our dysfunctional family". It would have never occurred to Signe to make war on American culture, or anything else for that matter. She was an endlessly pleasant woman who enjoyed singing and cared nothing for the life of a rock star, feeling lucky to occasionally be called onstage to sing a couple of songs when Hot Tuna or Jefferson Starship would cruise through Portland.
It speaks volumes for Signe that her fans... including Jorma, Jack (who stayed in frequent touch with her), Paul, and even Grace (to say nothing of me)... have never forgotten her.]
Signe sings "Chauffeur Blues" at her last performance with Jefferson Airplane:
Signe jams with Paul Kantner in happier days... photo credit unknown, but I found it here.
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