Prairie Prince, Chris Smith & Diana Mangano
In 1965, Kantner and Balin formed Jefferson Airplane, embarking from Balin's San Francisco nightclub The Matrix. With Casady, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, vocalist Signe Anderson and drummer Skip Spence, Jefferson Airplane became the first San Francisco rock group to sign a recording contract with a major label. Their first album on RCA, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, was released in 1966. Vocalist Grace Slick joined the Airplane in 1967, bringing with her the hits "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit," anthems that announced the "Summer of Love" and permanently altered the perspective of an entire generation. Both songs hit the Top 10 that year, making Jefferson Airplane the most successful rock band in America.
Born of the decade marked by civil rights activism, the war in Vietnam and the counterculture Mecca of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, Kantner's group defined the psychedelic nation with their appearances at the Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont music festivals. Now icons in the reformation of American music and thought, the LPs Surrealistic Pillow, Crown of Creation, Bless its Pointed Little Head and Volunteers surpassed the limits of musical and lyrical expression previously unexplored, introducing strident and striking political tracts, yet capable of evoking the most tender emotions.
Jefferson Airplane disbanded in 1972, leaving in its wake the canon of work that includes "It's No Secret," "My Best Friend," "Comin' Back To Me," "Plastic Fantasic Lover," "We Can Be Together," "Today," "Wooden Ships" (with David Crosby and Steven Stills) and "Volunteers" (which, nearly 30 years after its inception, was featured in the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump and the PBS documentary Baseball).
Earlier, in 1970, Kantner embodied his utopian vision of music and community with the science fiction opus Blows Against the Empire. Recorded with Slick, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, David Crosby, Graham Nash and David Freiberg, Blows Against the Empire was nominated for science fiction literature's prestigious Hugo Award. To date, the album is the only recording in rock 'n' roll history to have been honored so.
The Blows Against the Empire collaboration was the prototype for Kantner's next ensemble, Jefferson Starship, which he formed in 1974. Joined by Balin, Slick, lead guitarist Craig Chaquico, bassist Pete Sears and drummer John Barbata, the first incarnation of Jefferson Starship reigned as one of the most artistically and commercially successful rock groups for a decade.
The band's initial release, Dragonfly, spawned the rock radio staples "Ride the Tiger" and "Caroline," both penned by Kantner. The band's breakthrough album came a year later with Red Octopus, which featured the hit single "Miracles" and catapulted the group to the top of Billboard's album chart four separate times in 1975. The band's subsequent releases -- Spitfire (1976), Earth (1978), Freedom at Point Zero (1979), Winds of Change (1981), and Nuclear Furniture (1983), -- generated the hits "With Your Love," "St. Charles," "Count on Me," "Runaway" and "Jane."
Balin left the group in 1979 to pursue a solo career. His 1980 debut release, Balin, yielded the hit "Hearts." In 1983, Kantner released his second solo album, Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra, featuring guitarist Ronnie Montrose, Slick and China Kantner, the daughter of Kantner and Slick. The next year, Kantner departed from Jefferson Starship to work on his own projects.
Kantner rejoined with Balin and Casady in 1985 to form the KBC BAND, which indited the 1987 Arista release KBC Band (including the Kantner hit "America") and also featured keyboardist Tim Gorman from the Who and guitarist Slick Aguilar from David Crosby's band. In 1987, Kantner embarked on a fact-finding tour of Nicaragua and the Sandinista government. Upon his return to the U.S., he published his journals of the trip in Paul Kantner's Nicaragua Diary.
In 1989, Kantner briefly reunited with Jefferson Airplane, a much-anticipated project that resulted in an album, Jefferson Airplane, and a summer tour. Two years later, Kantner was back on the road with a stripped-down, acoustic ensemble called Paul Kantner's Wooden Ships, a trio that included Aguilar and Gorman from the KBC BAND. In addition to his classic songs, Kantner and his group performed new material which received resounding praise. The success of this project prompted Kantner to reinvent his electric band and Jefferson Starship took off once again. In addition to Aguilar and Gorman, Kantner recruited former collaborators Casady and the late blues violin master Papa John Creach; former Tubes drummer Prairie Prince; and former World Entertainment War vocalist Darby Gould. Shortly after the band's rebirth, Marty Balin rejoined Jefferson Starship, ending a 15-year hiatus from the group.
Papa John died in early 1993, weeks after touring Europe. Concurrently, a sensational young vocalist, Diana Mangano joined the group with her debut at “Woodstock In Mexico”, replacing Gould, and in 1996, 6-time Grammy nominated keyboardist T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs, Widespread Panic) replaced Gorman. In classic Kantner style, the group expands at times to include family members Slick and China; original Jefferson Airplane vocalist Signe Anderson; drummers Trey Sabatelli and Dean Johnson; & keyboardist John Ferensic (from Todd Rundgren Band).
In 1995, Jefferson Starship headlined a tribute to the at Hollywood's House of Blues, broadcast nationally on the CBS Radio Network Concert Series. With very special guest Grace Slick (in her last live performance to date), they debuted new material, together with timeless classics, comprising the 1995 release Deep Space/Virgin Sky.
In 1996 Kantner, Balin & Casady were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of Jefferson Airplane. Since reforming, Jefferson Starship has performed almost 500 concerts in 16 countries.