Jefferson's Tree of Liberty is a 2008 studio album by Jefferson Starship, released on September 2, 2008. It is the tenth studio album recorded by the band under the Jefferson Starship name, the first studio album since 1999's Windows of Heaven and the first on a major label by the band since 1989 when Starship's Love Among the Cannibals and Jefferson Airplane's reunion album, Jefferson Airplane were both released. The new album includes cover songs from Irish, American, English, and Latin-American traditions. The title is a reference to Thomas Jefferson's quotation, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." The idea began in 2003 as "The Cuba Project", which was to include classic protest and folk songs recorded in Cuba. In 2008 the album was finally recorded but in California. About half of the songs planned for The Cuba Project were used on the final cut, with other songs coming from Jefferson Starship's previous repertoire and another project band member Paul Kantner had planned called "On the Threshold of Fire." The promotional tour for the album began in late June with shows at Larkspur, California followed by tours in the US and Europe before the album's release, and continued through December 2008 with a further tour in the US and a tour in Japan. On February 1, 2009, more tour dates and venues were announced by the band's manager Michael Gaiman, with additional plans to continue the tour through 2010 and bring it to Australia and South America.David Grisman joined the band for the April 2009 tour dates. The band's promotion for the album ended in June 2009 as the band changed their set-list to Jefferson Airplane's Woodstock Festival material and started touring with the "Heroes of Woodstock" through the end of October.
In 2003, Paul Kantner published a book of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship lyrics, entitled Lyrica: Paul Kantner's Theory of Everything. In the book, a new album is mentioned as "es posible?", entitled "The Cuba Project: Flores de la Noche." Marty Balin had been pushing for a classic style Jefferson Starship album, but Kantner and manager Michael Gaiman pushed for the idea of recording older protest songs in Cuba. A song list and Gaiman's notes were published along with the Lyrica book, which included 21 songs selected by Kantner, Balin and Gaiman. Manager Michael Gaiman had visited the University of Havana to set up recording for the band, but the United States Department of State wouldn't allow the venture. The next plan was to record in Amsterdam, but the financing could not be put together and the project was left in limbo as the band continued to tour.
In 2007 Marty Balin began to tour less with the band, turning a majority of his time to taking care of his disabled daughter.Prairie Prince decided to leave after being with the band since 1992. Diana Mangano also left around the same time and was replaced by vocalist Cathy Richardson. Once Richardson joined the band, Gaiman and Kantner decided the time was right to record the album, partly to have an album ready in time for the 2008 US presidential elections. The album would be recorded in California. As the band's personnel continued to change, it was uncertain who would participate in the new album. At the time studio sessions began, the band consisted of Paul Kantner, Slick Aguilar, Chris Smith, Cathy Richardson, Donny Baldwin, and David Freiberg. The band made the decision that the album would be mostly acoustic, so band member Slick Aguilar did not contribute on most of the songs included. Although Donny Baldwin now handled the drums on tour, Prairie Prince returned for the studio sessions. Marty Balin was to have recorded lead vocals for a cover of Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" but his art touring schedule conflicted with studio sessions and he could not attend. Instead, manager Gaiman took the track "Maybe for You" that had appeared on the German version of Windows of Heaven and substituted it for Marty's contribution. Richardson and David Freiberg recorded vocals for other songs that had been planned for Balin. Jack Casady appears on "Maybe for You" but did not participate in the recording of the album. Kantner and Grace Slick's daughter China attempted to convince Slick to sing again, but she did not want to return to performing. Gaiman convinced Slick to at least let the band use a previously unreleased recording from 1970 and Slick's vocals appear on the hidden track at the end of the album. Previous Jefferson Starship vocalists Diana Mangano and Darby Gould also contributed vocals to the album.
The final cut of the album includes about half of the songs originally planned. Other material included on the album include songs that Jefferson Starship has been performing since 1992 but had not committed to an album previously, including "Frenario" and World Entertainment War's "In a Crisis." Also included are several songs that Kantner had learned from The Weavers, adding his own lyrical twists to them, "Wasn't That a Time", "Follow the Drinking Gourd", "Santy Anno", and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." "Santy Anno" had been planned for a solo project entitled On the Threshold of Fire. Kantner folded several songs he had been writing together to create his new version of "On the Threshold of Fire." "Cowboy on the Run", a song from Freiberg's previous band, Quicksilver Messenger Service is also included. "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" was not intended for the album until Darby Gould on the first day of mixing wanted to redo her vocals for "Genesis Hall." Gaiman instead suggested that she record another song, but it would have to be a cappella. They settled on covering Sandy Denny's version of "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood." In a nod to the band's past the album features a small image of the cover art to the 1974 Jefferson Starship album Dragon Fly on its rear cover.
Around March 2007, the band performed some concerts to advertise Microsoft's product, Windows Vista and were paid $100,000. Although Kantner had been using the name Jefferson Starship since 1992, it was in fact a violation of the agreement he had signed in 1985 when he had left the band. Bill Thompson as manager of Jefferson Starship sued Kantner for using the band name. Grace Slick was named as plaintiff along with Thompson. The album was in production at the time the case was going to court, and Slick remains uncredited on the album. The case was however settled in April 2008, with Kantner agreeing to pay a license fee to Thompson and Slick to be able to use the name Jefferson Starship indefinitely.
The album was promoted in several different ways. In addition to the band's own website, a Myspace page was started with several tracks from the album available for listening. The band also posted a live performance of "Chimes of Freedom" to YouTube, and later added a video montage of the studio sessions set to the studio version of the same song. In June, 2008, 3 days of concerts featuring Kantner, Freiberg, Richardson, and Smith were held in Larkspur near San Francisco with performances of Kantner's previous albums Blows Against the Empire, Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun and all the tracks from the new album. In addition, several "listening parties" were held where fans in attendance along with press could hear the album in its entirety before the band itself performed. After the June concerts in Larkspur, several concerts in California and New England including listening parties followed. In late July, a tour of the United Kingdom and Italy began. Slick Aguilar could not tour outside of the US, so Jeff Pevar and John Ferenzik took over guitar duties, and Tony Morley joined the band playing rhythm guitar, mandolin, and percussion. The European tour ended shortly before the album's release and the American tour resumed on the release date of the album, with Aguilar returning and with Marty Balin joining the band for some of the American concerts. The band decided to tour in two different configurations: for the most part they would perform as an acoustic ensemble with Kantner, Freiberg, Richardson, and Smith; and occasionally they would play a full electric set and include Aguilar, Baldwin, and sometimes Balin. The tour continued throughout 2008 with a tour of the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest of the United States. In November, Kantner, Smith, Richardson, and Freiberg left the mainland and performed in Hawaii followed by a tour in Japan, with Tony Morley joining again in Japan. Balin was scheduled for the Hawaii concerts, but did not attend. A further tour was announced in February 2009 covering several US states, the UK, and Holland. In April, the electric version of the band joined David Grisman as "The Jefferson-Grisman" project for a series of performances in April. In June, Jeff Pevar joined the band as bassist, and the band changed its focus from the album to Jefferson Airplane's Woodstock Festival material touring in the electric configuration with Tom Constanten, Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Country Joe MacDonald for a tour known as "Heroes of Woodstock." The tour is scheduled to the end of October.