If you’re a fan of psychedelic rock, you already know all about how the San Franciscan band Jefferson Airplane. They formed in 1965 and were one of the groups that helped define what’s become known as the San Francisco sound. They were also the first group from the San Francisco Bay Area that managed to achieve international commercial success. Thus taking the once-niche genre into the mainstream.
After headlining groundbreaking events such as the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. They became household names of sorts. One of their most noteworthy albums, Surrealistic Pillow, which hit store shelves in 1967. It is often regarded as one of the most significant records of the social phenomenon in the summer of 1967. Known as the “Summer of Love”.
A couple of tracks off that record, ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’, have even been cited by Rolling Stone Magazine as being two of the greatest songs of all time.
In 1972, Jefferson Airplane, in it’s original form, split up into two separate factions. Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassidy formed their own band named Hot Tuna. Lead vocalist Grace Slick, guitarist Paul Kantner, drummer Spencer Dryden, and back-up vocalist Marty Balin, went on to form another band called Jefferson Starship.
While Jefferson Airplane was certainly an influential band that completely changed the way the public viewed psychedelic rock music sadly, it’s been many years since their heyday. Many of the band members that originally made up Jefferson Airplane’s line-up are sadly no longer with us. Join FactsVerse as we take a look at which members of the band have passed away and which ones are still alive.
Who are the Jefferson Airplane’s Members ?
As a founding member of the band, guitarist and singer Paul Kantner helped fine-tune Jefferson Airplane’s trailblazing sound. After the band was regrouped into Jefferson Starship in 1974, he continued in his role as a member of this new group.
Kantner was born on March 17, 1941. Jefferson Airplane was formed in 1965 after Paul met bandmate Marty Balin. He ended up eventually becoming the leader of the band and was instrumental in leading it through it’s immensely successful period in the late-60s. In 1970, while he was still a member of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner and a handful of other Bay Area musicians recorded an album called Blows Against the Empire, which was the first time that the name Jefferson Starship was used, although it wouldn’t be until 1974 before the name of this new band would officially be used in a more formal sense.
Kantner would continue to perform and record with Jefferson Starship until 1984, when the band members decided to go their separate ways. He would later reform Starship in 1992 and continued to perform with the group until his death.
Paul Kantner Death
Kantner passed away on January 28, 2016, at the age of 74. Several days before his death, he suffered a heart attack which led to him experiencing multiple organ failure and septic shock. The combination of these three things ultimately brought about his death. By sheer coincidence, he died on the very same day as one of Jefferson Airplane’s lesser-known co-founders, Signe Toly Anderson.
Kantner was the longest continuous band member of Jefferson Airplane and Starship. He spent 19 years with the initial run of Airplane and Starship and another 24 with the Jefferson Starship revival band. Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead stated shortly after his death that Kantner was the backbone of Jefferson Airplane and that he deserved just as much credit as Grace Slick.
Signe Toly Anderson
As we just briefly touched on, Anderson, the original singer of Jefferson Airplane, passed away on the very same day as Paul Kantner.
She was born on September 15, 1941, in Seattle Washington. Before co-founding Jefferson Airplane, Anderson sang in a band with three male musicians whom she had met in high school. That group, which was known as Three Guys and a Gal, even ended up performing at a campaign function for John F. Kennedy in 1959.
After marrying one of the Merry Pranksters, Jerry Anderson, Anderson helped form Jefferson Airplane with Marty Balin and Paul Kantner and ended up being the primary vocalist on the band’s first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, in 1966.
Anderson was distrustful of the band’s first manager, Mathew Katz, and flat-out refused to sign a contract with him unless it provided her with an escape clause that would free her from him she chose to leave the band.
Signe Toly Anderson Leaving the Band
In July of 1966, after coming to the realization that bringing her then-newborn child and husband on the road with her wasn’t really feasible, she informed her bandmates that she was leaving the band. They managed to convince her to stay with the group until October so that they could find a suitable replacement. That’s when they signed on Grace Slick after Sherry Snow of the folk-rock group Blackburn & Snow declined their offer.
After leaving the band, Anderson moved to Oregon, where she continued to sing for nine years with the group Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Company. After being diagnosed with cancer in the mid-70s, she managed to make a full recovery.
In the 90s, Anderson battled several more health issues. Notably, she broke her neck and had bypass surgery. At the age of 74, Anderson died from complications of COPD at the age of 74 in her home in Beaverton, Oregon.
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Born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 30, 1942, he was one of the co-founders and lead singers and songwriters of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. As a child, Buchwald was diagnosed with autism. After his family moved to the Bay Area, he changed his name to Marty Balin in 1962. After leading a folk quartet called The Town Criers, Balin co-founded Jefferson Airplane in 1965. He served as co-vocalist and lead songwriter from 1966 to 1971 when he left the band following their 1970 tour.
After leaving the band, Balin broke off all communication from the rest of his bandmates. In 1993 he revealed that the reason for this primarily was because of feeling like he and the rest of the band members were moving in different directions. He was into things like yoga, health food, and natural living, while the rest of the band was doing a lot of drugs and partying heavily. He hated cocaine and felt like it adversely affected the music they were making and performing. So, he had little regret when he finally decided to leave.
Balin would later join Kantner’s Jefferson Starship in 1975 after penning the power ballad ‘Caroline’ for the groups 1974 album Dragon Fly. After three years of touring with the group, he abruptly left in 1978 after Grace Slick’s departure.
Balin would remain active in the music industry for the remainder of his life, frequently collaborating with some of his old bandmates on their various projects. He passed away at his home in Tampa, Florida, on September 27, 2018, at the age of 76.
Born on April 18, 1946, Spence began his musical career as a guitarist with the Quicksilver Messenger Service before joining Jefferson Airplane as the band’s first drummer in 1965. After leaving the band in 1966, he co-founded the band, Moby Grape. As that band’s guitarist he performed until 1969 before putting out one solo album, Oar. After that, he withdrew from the music industry as he fell into drug addiction and mental illness. Spence died just two days before his 53rd birthday on April 16, 1999.
Best known for being the drummer for Jefferson Airplane and later the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Dryden was born on 7th of April, 1938, in New York City. After Skip Spence left Jefferson Airplane in 1966, Dryden was recruited to replace him. Alongside bassist Jack Cassidy, Dryden helped create a phenomenal rhythm section for the group. Dryden’s affinity for free-form improv jamming can be heard in Jefferson Airplane tracks such as ‘Bear Melt’ and ‘Thing’.
Dryden quit Jefferson Airplane in 1970 after the band’s infamous violent experiences at the Altamont Festival in which Marty Balin was knocked out by a member of the Hell’s Angels and an audience member named Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death. When he left, he was quoted as saying that the ‘vibes’ were no longer what they used to be.
From 1970 to 1977, Dryden played drums with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He later would play with the Bay Area supergroup The Dinosaurs before retiring in 1995.
Dryden passed away from colon cancer on January 11, 2005.
Born on June 27, 1945, Covington’s musical career began when he was 10.
After playing with a variety of different bands that got a chance to open for acts like The Rolling Stones. The Shangri-Las, and Lou Christie, to name a few, Covington was called into replace Spencer Dryden for Jefferson Airplanes 1969 album ‘Volunteers’. After leaving the group in 1972 to pursue a solo career, he briefly reunited with Jefferson Starship to record their 1976 single ‘With Your Love’. He later toured as a member of the San Francisco Allstars in the 1980s and 90s.
Covington died in a car accident in Palm Springs, California, on June 4, 2013, when his vehicle slammed into a retaining wall at high speeds. He was 67 years old.
Papa John Creach
Skilled in many different genres, including jazz, blues, rock, and pop, Creach was a violinist best known for his years with Jefferson Airplane.
He was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania on May 28, 1917. After forming a group called the Chocolate Music Bars in 1930s, Creach relocated to LA in the 40s. He began playing at cocktail loungers throughout California for the next two decades.
In 1970, Joey Covington introduced Creach to the members of Jefferson Airplane. Nicknamed ‘Papa’ by the comparatively younger members of the band, Creach Performed with Jefferson Airplane until it’s disbandment in 1972. From 1971 to 1973, he also played with the band Hot Tuna.
Creach died of natural causes at the age of 76 on February 22, 1994.
Jefferson Airplane Legacy
Of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, the most notable members still alive are lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Cassidy, and lead vocalist Grace Slick. Although several other musicians that played with these two bands over the years are still around as well.
Who was your favorite band member of either Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship? And we’re you surprised to learn of the deaths of any of the members we just discussed? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section down below.
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