Jefferson Starship PhotoWith their 1974 metamorphosis into the Jefferson Starship, the group once known as the Jefferson Airplane underwent a radical facelift which resulted not only in a change of name but also a new lineup and a new musical identity. Formerly torch-bearers of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, famed for psychedelic-era landmarks including Surrealistic Pillow and Volunteers, as the Starship the group reached even greater heights of success, forging a more mainstream sound and attitude which established them as one of the predominant hard rock units of the 1970s.

The new group's origins actually dated back to 1970, when Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner issued the album Blows Against the Empire, credited to "Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship." Featuring guest appearances from Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Graham Nash, the record reflected Kantner's fascination with science fiction, and became the first musical work ever nominated for the sci-fi field's Hugo Awards; when, four years later, the Airplane decided to relaunch after a series of personnel shifts, the Starship name was permanently installed to draw a clear line of demarcation between the band's past and its future. In addition to Kantner, the initial Jefferson Starship roster featured vocalist Grace Slick, bassist David Freiberg, violinist Papa John Creach, and drummer John Barbata, all holdovers from the final incarnation of the Airplane; rounding out the line-up was 19-year-old guitarist Craig Chaquico, an alumnus of the group Steelwind.

After the addition of bassist/keyboardist Pete Sears, Jefferson Starship entered the studio to record their 1974 debut Dragon Fly; after former Airplane vocalist/guitarist Marty Balin guested on the track "Caroline," he signed on as a permanent member in the early weeks of 1975. The follow-up, Red Octopus, became the Starship's most successful effort, topping the charts off and on throughout the year on the strength of Balin's Top Three ballad "Miracles." Despite Slick's protests that the music was growing too commercial - prompting a new round of conflicts with Balin, with whom she'd repeatedly battled during their Airplane days - the band continued to hone a more mainstream identity on 1976's Spitfire, their first platinum-selling release.

In 1976, Slick and Kantner's lengthy romance ended, and in November she married the band's lighting director, Skip Johnson. In the midst of considerable interpersonal difficulties, Jefferson Starship recorded 1978's Earth, another smash which spawned the Top Ten hit "Count on Me." However, in the wake of the record's release Slick's long-standing drinking problem spun out of control, and she left the group during a European tour. Balin exited later in 1978, leaving the Starship without a lead singer; finally, in 1979 the remaining members recruited vocalist Mickey Thomas, best known for his lead turn on the Elvin Bishop hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love." Aynsley Dunbar, a session drummer best known for his work with Frank Zappa and David Bowie as well as a tenure with Journey, replaced Barbata prior to 1979's Freedom at Point Zero, which launched the hit "Jane."

In 1980, Kantner - now the group's lone original member - suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage which, remarkably, left no permanent damage. After a period of recovery, he reassembled the Starship for 1981's Modern Times, which featured a cameo appearance by Slick. She rejoined the group full-time for the following year's Winds of Change, which scored hits with "Be My Lady" and the title track. After 1984's Nuclear Furniture, Kantner - who had long been vocally dissatisfied with his diminishing role in the group and their glossy mainstream sound - exited the Starship's ranks; a battle ensued over rights to the band name, with Kantner finally awarded custody of the "Jefferson" prefix. The remaining members continued on as simply Starship, scoring the hits "We Built This City", "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."

In 1989, Slick, Kantner and Balin reteamed with former bandmates Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen in a revived Jefferson Airplane; Starship broke up soon after, but when the revitalized Airplane fizzled as well, Kantner reclaimed the now-dormant Jefferson Starship name and in 1991 formed a new line-up of the group featuring Creach and Casady as well as new vocalist Darby Gould, formerly of the band World Entertainment War. Balin signed on in 1992, and the band - dubbed "Jefferson Starship-The Next Generation" - mounted a tour; in 1995, along with guest Slick, they recorded Deep Space/Virgin Sky, a live collection of original material as well as new versions of Airplane and Starship favorites. Windows of Heaven followed in 1999. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide