Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane Co-Founder & Guitarist, Dies at 74


Jefferson Airplane guitarist, vocalist and co-founding member Paul Kantner has died. He was 74.

Kantner passed away on Thursday (Jan. 28) of multiple organ failure, following a heart attack earlier in the week.

From 1965-1972, Jefferson Airplane was a pioneer in the Bay Area counterculture psychedelic rock scene, first defining what became known as the “San Francisco sound.”

Kantner and guitarist and vocalist Marty Balin formed the band in a bar called the Drinking Gourd, intending the group to be a folk-rock group. Amidst the city’s drug experimentation, they developed something far more interesting.

“Jefferson Airplane had the fortune or misfortune of discovering Fender Twin Reverb amps and LSD in the same week while in college. That’s a great step forward," Kantner told author and music historian Harvey Kubernik. "We went into it our normal selves…. The point is if you find something that makes you joyful take note of it. Amplify it if you can. Tell other people about it. That’s what San Francisco was about. Both musically, idealistically and metaphorically and every other way. That’s what we did here.”

As more and more flower children moved to San Francisco, Jefferson Airplane’s local following grew and it became the first of the city’s psych-rock bands to sign to a major label, releasing its debut Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966. That same year, they became the first band to headline concert promoter Bill Graham’s now legendary Fillmore Auditorium.

By the following year, the band’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, became a soundtrack to the Summer of Love. It hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with the help of singles "Somebody to Love" and “White Rabbit," as the rest of the country began following in San Francisco’s hippy footsteps.

"On our first U.S. tour we were in cities where all the kids came in prom gowns and tuxedos. Then we came back to Iowa a year later and they were having nude mud love-ins and everybody had their faces painted," Kantner told Kubernik.

Jefferson Airplane performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s’ – Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock and Altamont in 1969. In 1996, Kantner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with the band.

Kantner is the first of Jefferson Airplane's founding members to have passed away. He was also a founding member of the group’s spinoff band, Jefferson Starship. which took off in 1974.

Kantner is survived by three children: sons Gareth and Alexander and daughter China. Funeral arrangements are pending.

*Kubernik's interviews with Kantner will appear in his upcoming book called 1967 - The Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love, due in 2017.