April 7, 1938|
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||January 11, 2005
Petaluma, California, United States
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, acid rock, country rock, jazz|
|Labels||RCA, BMG, Columbia|
|Associated acts||The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Jefferson Airplane, New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Dinosaurs|
Spencer Dryden (April 7, 1938 – January 11, 2005) was an American musician best known as the longest-serving drummer for Jefferson Airplane. He also played with New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Dinosaurs, and The Ashes (later known as The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.)
Life and career
Dryden was born in New York City to Alice Chapple, a member of the Radio City Ballet Company, and Wheeler Dryden, a British actor who was the half-brother of Charlie Chaplin. Dryden often concealed this information, preferring to be judged on his own abilities, rather than on his uncle's name. He moved to Los Angeles as an infant, when his father went to work as an assistant director for Chaplin. Spencer fondly recalled playing at his famous uncle's Hollywood studio as a child. His father was a jazz fan, and took him to LA jazz clubs in the 1950s, which inspired his musical ambitions.
In mid-1966 Dryden was recruited to replace Skip Spence as the drummer in leading San Francisco psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane. The former jazzer, together with bassist Jack Casady, created an exceptional rhythm section. A feature of live Airplane sets at the time were free-form improvisational jams, with Dryden's licks complementing Casady's fluid style, examples of which can be heard on "Thing" and "Bear Melt" from Bless Its Pointed Little Head. During this time also, he had an affair with Grace Slick.
The song "Lather", appearing on the Airplane's Crown of Creation, is said to have been written by Grace Slick on the occasion of Dryden's 30th birthday. Its lyrics tell of a boy who stays as young as possible until one day when he is shattered by having to finally grow up. The instrumental sections are wild and purposefully discordant. On the news of his death, Slick and other bandmembers wrote tributes to Dryden that appeared on the group's website. Slick's ends with this: "Lather was 30 years old today, they took away all of his toys." - Grace Slick (January 13, 2005)".
In 1969, music critic Ralph J. Gleason published The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound. The book included an engaging forty-four page interview with Dryden.
Dryden quit Jefferson Airplane in February 1970, motivated in part by the group's unpleasant experiences at the notorious Altamont Festival, during which lead singer Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by Hells Angels bikers and a festival patron, Meredith Hunter, was fatally stabbed. Dryden seemed to have some sense of foreboding about the concert, as he initially did not want to play, saying the "vibes" were wrong.
New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Dinosaurs
Dryden left the music business for a short period, and returned to drumming as a member of The New Riders of the Purple Sage. He performed and recorded with them from late 1970 until 1977, at which point he became the manager of the band. After leaving the New Riders, Dryden went on to play a lengthy stint with The Dinosaurs and Barry Melton's band before retiring from drumming in 1995.
Dryden did not participate in Jefferson Airplane's 1989 reunion. In 1996, Dryden was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the rest of Jefferson Airplane, playing with the band for the first time since 1970. He joined the group onstage for the last time in 2003, with the Jefferson Starship Galactic Reunion.
He needed hip replacement and heart surgeries in the few years before his death. In 2004, several musicians, led by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers Band), raised US$36,000 to help pay Dryden's medical bills. He had also lost his home due to a fire in 2003; later in 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer. The benefit re-kindled Spencer's friendship with Jefferson Airplane band member Jorma Kaukonen, who remembered him fondly for the way he said, "Aww, MAN!!" It was not until 2004 that Kaukonen became aware that Spencer was the nephew of Charlie Chaplin. Spencer's last public appearance was with Jefferson Airplane bandmembers in 2004, at a DVD party for the release of the group's Fly documentary.
Dryden died from colon cancer (intestinal cancer which spread to his liver) on January 11, 2005. He lived in relative obscurity, reportedly living in a small house with a few acres on rented property in Penngrove, California. Married three times, he was survived by his three sons Jeffrey, Jesse and Jackson Dryden, five grandchildren, and his mother Alice Chapple Judd, who died on December 25, 2005 at the age of 94.
- "Spencer Dryden". Jefferson Airplane.com. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Jefferson Airplane drummer loses battle with cancer". The Sunday Hour. 14 January 2005. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Spencer Dryden Dies at 66". Soulshine. 17 January 2005. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Spencer Dryden, Drummer For Jefferson Airplane, Dies". WPBF-TV. 15 January 2005. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- Baileyand, Peter (16 January 2005). "Milestones: Jan 24, 2005". Time. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- Silverman, Stephen M. (13 January 2005). "Queen Latifah to Host Grammy Awards". People. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Spencer Dryden: A Tribute". Jefferson Airplane.com. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Spencer Dryden Dies Of Cancer Aged 66". Gigwise. 15 January 2005. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Jefferson Airplane". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1996. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "The 1996 Induction Ceremonies". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Jefferson Starship Live on the West Coast (Galactic Reunion 2003)". Holding Together (HT) Issue #28. 2003. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- "Fly". Internet Movie Database. 2004. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- October 14, 2004; personal communication Valerie Gawin.
- "Alice Chapple Judd". ednapurviance.blogspot.com. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
- Spencer Dryden memorial page
- Alice Chapple Judd, ednapurviance.blogspot.com
- Devenish, Colin. "Airplane's Dryden Dies", Rolling Stone, January 13, 2005
- Spencer Dryden at Find a Grave