Jefferson Airplane PhotoFORMED: 1965, San Francisco, CA
DISBANDED: 1973

Jefferson Airplane was the first of the San Francisco psychedelic rock groups of the 1960s to achieve national recognition, and in its later configurations, billed as Jefferson Starship or simply Starship, it remained a significant popular recording act well into the 1980s. The band was organized in the summer of 1965 by singer/songwriter Marty Balin (b. Jan. 30, 1943, Cincinnati), who recruited a band to play at the Matrix, a club he was planning to launch in San Francisco. Balin brought in guitarist/singer Paul Kantner (b. Mar. 12, 1941, San Francisco), guitarist/singer Jorma Kaukonen (b. Dec. 23, 1940, Washington, D.C.), and singer Signe Anderson (b. Sept. 15, 1941, Seattle). After the original rhythm section didn't work out, Balin persuaded guitarist Skip Spence (b. Apr. 18, 1946, Ontario, Canada) to switch to drums, and Kaukonen invited his friend Jack Casady (b. Apr. 13, 1944, Washington, D.C.) to join on bass. RCA signed the Airplane and released their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (Sep. 1966) to little commercial response. Anderson and Spence then left the group. Spence (who went on to form Moby Grape) was replaced by Spencer Dryden (b. Apr. 7, 1943). In Anderson's place, the group invited in the lead singer of a rival group, Grace Slick (b. Oct. 30, 1939, Chicago) of the Great Society. The new lineup released Surrealistic Pillow (Feb. 1967), a gold-selling Top Ten hit that spawned the Top Ten singles "Somebody to Love" (which Slick brought with her from the Great Society) and "White Rabbit" (which Slick wrote). This success made Jefferson Airplane the top San Francisco group during the 1967 Summer of Love and helped touch off the national craze for psychedelic music, the hippie lifestyle, and youthful drug-taking.

After Bathing at Baxter's (Nov. 1967) was a more experimental effort that was less successful. But Crown of Creation (Sep. 1968) was another gold-selling Top Ten hit, despite the lack of a successful single. Bless Its Pointed Little Head (Feb. 1969) was a live album, followed by Volunteers (Nov. 1969), another gold studio album. At this point, Dryden left and was replaced by Joey Covington. Violinist Papa John Creach (b. May 28, 1917, Beaver Falls, PA, d. Feb. 22, 1994) joined in the fall of 1970, and Balin quit in early 1971. The group began to release solo and offshoot albums including Kantner's Blows Against the Empire (Dec. 1970) (co-credited to a group of friends he dubbed "Jefferson Starship") and recordings by Kaukonen and Casady's Hot Tuna.

The next Airplane album was Bark (Aug. 1971), which went gold, as did its follow-up, Long John Silver (Jul. 1972) (by which time Covington had been replaced by John Barbata). Ex-Quicksilver Messengers member David Freiberg was brought in to belatedly replace Balin as male lead singer, and the group made a second live album, Thirty Seconds over Winterland (Apr. 1973).

Kaukonen and Casady then left, and were replaced by guitarist Craig Chaquico (b. Sep. 26, 1954, Sacramento) and (after a brief stint by Kaukonen's brother Peter) bassist Pete Sears (b. England), as the group name was changed to Jefferson Starship. This new aggregation made Dragon Fly (Oct. 1974), a gold-selling hit that also featured one song sung by Marty Balin. Balin joined Jefferson Starship full-time for Red Octopus (Jul. 1975), contributing "Miracles," which hit the Top Ten as the album topped the charts. The next two albums, Spitfire (Jun. 1976) and Earth (Feb. 1978) were Top Ten million-sellers.

Then Slick, Balin, and Barbata left the group. Veteran drummer Aynsley Dunbar (b. Jan. 10, 1946, Liverpool) and ex-Elvin Bishop Group singer Mickey Thomas (b. Cairo, GA) joined, and the next album, Freedom at Point Zero (Nov. 1979) went gold and reached the Top Ten. Slick rejoined for Modern Times (Mar. 1981), which was followed by Winds of Change (Oct. 1982), after which Don Baldwin replaced Dunbar. Nuclear Furniture (May 1984) was the group's final album, after which Kantner (the last original Airplane member) and Freiberg left and the remaining lineup of Slick, Thomas, Chaquico, Sears, and Baldwin carried on as Starship. (See Starship.)

In 1989, Jefferson Airplane reunited with original members Balin, Kantner, Kaukonen, Casady, and Slick for a tour and an album, Jefferson Airplane (Sep. 1989). In 1995, a new edition of Jefferson Starship featuring Kantner, Balin, and Casady, released Deep Space/Virgin Sky. ~ William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide