Paul Kantner

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Paul Kantner
Paul Kantner Jefferson Starship 1975.JPG
Paul Kantner, 1975.
Background information
Birth name Paul Lorin Kantner
Born (1941-03-17)March 17, 1941
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died January 28, 2016(2016-01-28) (aged 74)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Genres Psychedelic rock, folk rock, acid rock
Instruments Vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo
Years active 1964–2016
Labels RCA, Grunt, Arista
Associated acts Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, KBC Band
Notable instruments
Rickenbacker 360/12 Fireglo & Mapleglo

Paul Lorin Kantner[1] (March 17, 1941 – January 28, 2016) was an American rock musician. He is best known as the co-founder, rhythm guitarist, and occasional vocalist of Jefferson Airplane, a leading psychedelic rock band of the counterculture era. He continued these roles as a member of Jefferson Starship, Jefferson Airplane's successor band.

Jefferson Airplane formed in 1965 when Kantner met Marty Balin. Kantner eventually became the leader of the group and led it through its highly successful late 1960s period. In 1970, while still active with Jefferson Airplane, Kantner and several Bay Area musicians recorded a one-off side project under the name "Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship."

Jefferson Airplane continued to record and perform until 1972. When the band officially broke up, Kantner revived the Jefferson Starship name and continued to record and perform with that band until his death in 2016. Kantner had the longest continuous membership with the band, with 19 years in the original run of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship and 24 years in the revived Jefferson Starship. At times, he was the only founding Jefferson Airplane member to remain in Jefferson Starship.[2] He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Jefferson Airplane in 1996.

Early years[edit]

Kantner was born on March 17, 1941, in San Francisco, California,[1] the son of Cora Lee (Fortier) and Paul Schell Kantner. Kantner had a half-brother and a half-sister by his father's first marriage, both much older than he. His father was of German descent, and his mother was of French and German ancestry.[3] His mother died when he was eight years old, and Kantner remembered that he was not allowed to attend her funeral. His father sent him to the circus instead.[2] After his mother's death, his father, who was a traveling salesman, sent young Kantner to Catholic military boarding school. At age eight or nine, in the school's library, he read his first science fiction book, finding an escape by immersing himself in science fiction and music from then on.[2][4][5] As a teenager he went into total revolt against all forms of authority, and he decided to become a protest folk singer in the manner of his musical hero, Pete Seeger.[5] He attended Saint Mary's College High School, Santa Clara University and San Jose State College, completing a total of three years of college before dropping out to enter the music scene.[2][6]


Paul Kantner 1972
Kantner in 1972.
Kantner and Grace Slick with Jefferson Starship
Kantner and Grace Slick, circa 1977, while members of Jefferson Starship.

During the summer of 1965, singer Marty Balin saw Kantner perform at the Drinking Gourd, a San Francisco folk club, and invited him to co-found a new band, Jefferson Airplane.[2][4][7] When the group needed a lead guitarist, Kantner recommended Jorma Kaukonen, whom he knew from his San Jose days.[2] As rhythm guitarist and one of the band's singers, Kantner was the only musician to appear on all albums recorded by Jefferson Airplane as well as Jefferson Starship. Kantner's songwriting often featured whimsical or political lyrics with a science-fiction or fantasy theme, usually set to music that had a hard rock, almost martial sound. Kantner wrote many of the Airplane's early songs, including the chart hits "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil", "Watch Her Ride" and "Crown of Creation"; the controversial "We Can Be Together"; and, with Balin, co-wrote "Today" and "Volunteers".[8] He also wrote, with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, the song "Wooden Ships", though for contractual reasons he was not credited initially.[9]

With Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was among the performers at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Recalling Woodstock 40 years later, Kantner stated: “We were due to be on stage at 10pm on the Saturday night but we didn’t actually get on until 7.30am the following day.”[10] Later in 1969, the group also played at Altamont, where Marty Balin was knocked unconscious during their set by a Hells Angels member originally hired as security for the concert. Kantner appears in the documentary film about the Altamont concert, Gimme Shelter, in a tense on-stage confrontation with a Hell's Angel regarding the altercation.[11]

Despite its commercial success, the Airplane was plagued by intra-group fighting, causing the band to begin splintering at the height of its success.[12] Part of the problem was manager Bill Graham, who wanted the group to do more touring and more recording.[13][14] During the transitional period of the early 1970s, as the Airplane started to come apart, Kantner recorded Blows Against The Empire, a concept album featuring an ad hoc group of musicians whom he dubbed Jefferson Starship.[5][12][15][16] This earliest edition of Jefferson Starship included members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (David Crosby and Graham Nash) and the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) alongside some of the other members of Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick, Joey Covington and Jack Casady).

In Blows Against the Empire, Kantner and Slick sang about a group of people escaping Earth in a hijacked starship. The album was nominated in 1971 for the Hugo Award, the premiere award voted by science fiction fandom.[17] A sequel (Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra) including several Blows Against the Empire participants was released as a Kantner solo album in 1983.[18]

Kantner had been in love with Grace Slick for some time, but she was involved in a relationship with the band's drummer, Spencer Dryden. After their two-year affair ended, he finally had a chance with Grace.[2][14][19] In 1969, Kantner and Grace Slick began living together publicly as a couple. Rolling Stone magazine called them "the psychedelic John and Yoko." Slick became pregnant, and a song about their child's impending birth, "A Child Is Coming," appeared on Blows Against the Empire. Kantner and Slick's daughter China Wing Kantner was born in 1971.[20][21][22]

Kantner and Slick released two follow-up albums. Sunfighter was an environmentalism-tinged album released in 1971 to celebrate China's birth. China appears on the album cover, and the track list includes "China", a song written and sung by Slick about her new baby. Kantner and Slick made news again in 1972, when they were accused of assaulting a policeman after their Akron, Ohio concert.[23][24] 1973's Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun was named after the nicknames David Crosby had given to the couple. Through a songwriter friend Kantner discovered teen-aged guitarist Craig Chaquico during this time, who first appeared on Sunfighter and went on to play with all of the incarnations of the Starship name through 1991. Slick left Kantner in 1975 to marry Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship roadie.[4] Despite the split, she remained with the band through 1978.

After Kaukonen and Casady left the Airplane in 1973 to devote their full attention to Hot Tuna, the musicians on Baron von Tollbooth formed the core of a new Airplane lineup that was formally reborn as "Jefferson Starship" for a tour in 1974. Kantner, Slick, and David Freiberg were charter members along with two late-Airplane holdovers – drummer John Barbata and fiddler Papa John Creach – and Chaquico and Pete Sears, who played bass and keyboards. Marty Balin also began to work with Jefferson Starship while their first album, Dragonfly, was still in the works, co-writing the early power ballad "Caroline" with Kantner; by 1975's Red Octopus, he was a full member and had ensconced himself as a dominant creative force in the group.[16][25]

After the 1978 release of the album Earth – to which Kantner contributed just one song – Jefferson Starship saw major personnel changes. Slick took a leave of absence, and Balin quit the group to pursue a solo career. No attempt was made to replace Slick, but Balin was replaced by Mickey Thomas, who had previously achieved success as a member of the Elvin Bishop Group.[26][27] Freedom at Point Zero, an album dominated by Kantner compositions, was released to commercial success in 1979. Grace Slick returned for the 1981 follow-up album, Modern Times, featuring "Stairway to Cleveland (We Do What We Want)," a declamatory punk rock pastiche penned by Kantner and inspired by a phrase uttered by Nite City guitarist Paul Warren.[4]


In October 1980, Kantner was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in serious condition from a cerebral hemorrhage.[5] Kantner had been working in Los Angeles on an album when he became ill.[28] He was 39 years old at the time and beat considerable odds with a full recovery without surgery.[29] A year later, Kantner talked about the experience, saying, "If there was a Big Guy up there willing to talk to me, I was willing to listen. But nothing happened. It was all just like a small vacation." It was his second brush with serious illness or injury, having suffered a serious motorcycle accident in the early 1960s: "I hit a tree at 40 miles an hour head first and nearly shattered my skull. I had a plate in there for a while."[4] The injury from the motorcycle accident was credited with saving Kantner from serious complications from the cerebral hemorrhage; the hole left by the accident relieved the accompanying cranial pressure.[2]

Kantner in concert with Jefferson Starship, 1996.

In 1984, Kantner (the last founding member of Jefferson Airplane remaining) left Jefferson Starship, complaining that the band had become too commercial and strayed too far from its countercultural roots.[30] Kantner made his decision to leave in the middle of a tour.[26] Upon quitting Kantner took legal action against his former bandmates over the Jefferson name (the rest of the band wanted to continue as Jefferson Starship).[31] Kantner won his suit, and the group name was reduced to simply "Starship."[13] Under the terms of the settlement, no group could call itself Jefferson Starship without Paul Kantner as a member, and no group can call itself Jefferson Airplane unless Grace Slick is on board.[32][33] The legal battle had personal repercussions as well, permanently damaging Kantner's friendships with Mickey Thomas and Craig Chaquiço.

In 1985, following his departure from Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner rejoined with Balin and Jack Casady to form the KBC Band, releasing their only album, KBC Band in 1987 on Arista Records.[12][33] Although the album stalled at #75 in Billboard, a video was made for "America" (a Kantner-Balin collaboration that peaked at #8 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart) and the band embarked on a national tour.[34] In 1986, Kantner headed for court with Slick and her then husband, Skip Johnson, over the taping of some telephone conversations.[35]

With Kantner reunited with Balin and Casady, the KBC Band opened the door to a full-blown Jefferson Airplane reunion. In 1988, during a San Francisco Hot Tuna gig where Kantner was performing, they found themselves joined by Grace Slick. This led to a formal reunion of the original Jefferson Airplane (featuring nearly all the main members, including founder Marty Balin, but without Spencer Dryden, who left in 1970).[36][37] A self-titled album was released by Columbia Records. The accompanying tour was a success, but their revival was short-lived, although the band never formally disbanded.[38] According to Grace Slick, the reunion began as a joke: "We hadn't even talked for a year, and we were battling legally – in fact, there are still some standing lawsuits between me and Paul, something to do with the Airplane. Anyway, the idea was that I'd just sneak in, stand at the side of the stage and come out and sing 'White Rabbit' and see what Paul did. Paul never got the joke, but he liked it, the audience liked it, and that's how it started."[39]


Kantner and his Jefferson Airplane bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.[40] The performance at the induction ceremony was the first time original members Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden and Kantner had played together since 1970.[41] Grace Slick had to miss the ceremonies because of a serious leg infection, but sent a message which was delivered by Kantner, "Grace sends her love."[42]

In 1991 Kantner and Balin reformed Jefferson Starship and Kantner continued to tour and record with the band through 2015. The later versions of Jefferson Starship were primarily a Paul Kantner solo band, with various former Airplane and Starship members dropping in for tours or specific shows. With their latest female vocalist Cathy Richardson and Kantner's son Alexander Kantner on bass, Jefferson Starship released their first studio album since Windows of Heaven, titled Jefferson's Tree of Liberty in September 2008.[43] The album was a return to Kantner's musical roots featuring covers of 1950s and 1960s protest songs.[44][45]

In late 2010 Kantner started to compile collections of "sonic art" performed by him and various artists, including a mix of cover songs, sound effects, and spoken word, releasing multiple volumes under the title "Paul Kantner Windowpane Collective".[46]

On March 25, 2015, it was reported that Kantner had suffered a heart-attack.“Paul’s health took a bad turn this week,” the members of Jefferson Starship said via a Facebook post. “He’s in the hospital, stable and undergoing tests to find out exactly what’s going on, but doctors suspect he had a heart attack. He is in the best possible care and we are sending him all of our best wishes, good thoughts and healing vibes." The band also stated that they're "continuing the tour without him, as most of the shows are sold out or close to it and we have to honor our contracts and our fans who bought tickets and put on the best show possible,” the band said in its official statement. “We will dedicate every show to Paul until he is well enough to rejoin us onstage.”[47] Kantner returned to the group later on in the year, in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane with special shows that also featured Grateful Dead tribute group Jazz is Dead.

Personal life and death[edit]

Kantner had three children: sons Gareth (a restaurateur) and Alexander (a musician who sometimes played with Jefferson Starship), and daughter China (a former MTV VJ and actress).[48]

A political anarchist, Kantner once advocated the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD for mind expansion and spiritual growth, and was a prominent advocate of the legalization of marijuana.[4][49] In a 1986 interview, Kantner shared his thoughts about cocaine and alcohol, saying, "Cocaine, particularly, is a bummer. It's a noxious drug that turns people into jerks. And alcohol is probably the worst drug of all. As you get older and accomplish more things in life in general, you realize that drugs don't help, particularly if you abuse them."[50] When Kantner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1980, his attending physician at Cedars-Sinai, Stephen Levy, was quick to point out it was not a drug-related issue, saying: "There is zero relationship between Paul's illness and drugs. He doesn't use drugs."[51]

Kantner died in San Francisco at the age of 74 on January 28, 2016, from multiple organ failure and septic shock after he suffered a heart attack days earlier.[1] Shortly after Kantner's death, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart reflected, "He was kind of the backbone of that band. It was always about Grace and Jack and Jorma (Kaukonen), I don’t think he got the credit he deserved." [52] He died on the same day as Airplane co-founder Signe Toly Anderson.


Other appearances
Year Album Collaborator Comment
1971 If I Could Only Remember My Name David Crosby backing vocals on "What Are Their Names"
Papa John Creach Papa John Creach rhythm guitar on "String Jet Rock"
1972 Rolling Thunder Mickey Hart rhythm guitar & backing vocals on "Blind John"
1974 Manhole Grace Slick vocals on "Theme from the Movie Manhole", "It's Only Music" & "Epic No. 38"; 12-string guitar on "It's Only Music"; rhythm guitar and glass harmonica on "Epic No. 38"
1984 Software backing vocals on "All the Machines" & "It Just Won't Stop"

Films and books[edit]


In 2004, a documentary containing 13 Jefferson Airplane performances and bandmember interviews was released on DVD.

  • Fly Jefferson Airplane (2004)[53]


  • Nicaragua Diary. How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Or, I Was a Commie Dupe for the Sandinistas. by Paul Kantner, Little Dragon Press; 1st edition (1987)[54]
  • The Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra. by Paul Kantner, Little Dragon Press; 1st edition (2001)[55]
  • Lyrica: Paul Kantner's Theory of Everything. by Paul Kantner, Little Dragon Press; 1st edition (2003)


  1. ^ a b c Vaziri, Aidin (January 29, 2016). "Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner dies at 74". Hearst Communications. Retrieved January 30, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Paul Kantner". Jefferson Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Got a Revolution!". 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Jerome, Jim (September 14, 1981). "To Jefferson Starship's Paul Kantner, a Brain Hemorrhage Was Just Another Menace Overcome". People. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Rock Star Has Stroke". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. October 28, 1980. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  6. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff (2003), Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Schuster, pp. 15–16, ISBN 9780671034030 
  7. ^ Mills, Josh (December 13, 1969). "Jefferson Airplane Pushes Rock Criteria". The Free Lance-Star. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Songs written by Paul Kantner". Retrieved January 29, 2016. 
  9. ^ "The Story Behind "Wooden Ships"". The Hangar. Got A Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  10. ^ Allen, Gavin (November 18, 2009). "Paul Kantner talks Woodstock, Jefferson Starship and smashed cars". South Wales Echo. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Interview: Paul Kantner". April 25, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c "Paul Kantner 'Speaking Freely' transcript". First Amendment Center. June 20, 2001. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Yonke, David (June 8, 2006). "Paul Kantner says Jefferson Starship always put music first". Toledo Blade. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b "Spencer Dryden". Jefferson Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
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  16. ^ a b Campbell, Mary (June 15, 1975). "Balin rejoins Jefferson Starship". Daily News. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  17. ^ Infusino, Divina (July 31, 1983). "Can Jefferson Starship rocket through 1980s?". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  18. ^ Ruhlmann, William (2011). "The Planet Earth R'n'R Orchestra – Paul Kantner | AllMusic". Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
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  20. ^ "Names In The News". Tri City Herald. January 26, 1971. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
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  22. ^ "Singer says her daughter's real name is god". The Windsor Star. February 1, 1971. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
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  28. ^ "Kanter Released". The Leader-Post. November 10, 1980. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
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  31. ^ Funk, Harry (February 17, 2006). "Jefferson Starship soars to Gallactic Reunion". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Airplane Turbulence". Lawrence Journal-World. June 25, 2000. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  33. ^ a b McDonough, Jack (November 2, 1985). New Starship: "Cleaner, More Focused". Billboard. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  34. ^ Nager, Larry (May 11, 1987). "Paul Kantner hasn't lost his 1960s sensibilities". The Telegraph. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Paul Kantner-Grace Slick". Gettysburg Times. August 22, 1986. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  36. ^ Baileyand, Peter (January 16, 2005). "Milestones: Jan 24, 2005". Time. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  37. ^ Scoppa, Bud (October 1989). Back to the Future. Spin. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  38. ^ Pareles, Jon (August 31, 1989). "Reunited Jefferson Airplane: Still Loose, Still Utopian". New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  39. ^ Pareles, Jon (August 29, 1989). "On-Again Off-Again Jefferson Airplane Is On Again". New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  40. ^ "Jefferson Airplane". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1996. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  41. ^ "The 1996 Induction Ceremonies". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  42. ^ Hinckley, David (January 19, 1996). "This is Dedicated to the Women We Love...". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  43. ^ Garcia, Ken (July 21, 2008). "PR maven's journey makes for a true San Francisco tale". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  44. ^ Soeder, John (October 21, 2008). "Revamped Jefferson Starship sets course for Cleveland, with Paul Kantner at helm". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 
  45. ^ Selvin, Joel (September 16, 2008). "Starship travels with Weaver, Guthrie, Seeger". SF Gate. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  46. ^ "Lib at Large: Paul Kantner's 70th birthday brings out the rockers – Marin Independent Journal". November 1, 2011. Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  47. ^ nickderiso (March 25, 2015). "Paul Kantner Has Been Sidelined With a Suspected Heart Attack". Ultimate Classic Rock. 
  48. ^ "Gareth Alexander Kantner". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  49. ^ "High Court Okays Kent State Hearing". The Pittsburgh Press. October 24, 1972. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  50. ^ Van Matre, Lynn (December 15, 1986). "Down On Drugs". The Day. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  51. ^ Loder, Kurt (December 12, 1980). "Drummer arrested on drug charges". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  52. ^ "Mickey Hart - "He was kind of the backbone of that band.... - Facebook". 
  53. ^ "Fly Jefferson Airplane". Internet Movie Database. 2004. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  54. ^ Boehm, Mike (March 7, 1988). "Kantner Says He's Back in Tune With '60s Since Nicaragua". Retrieved November 5, 2015. 
  55. ^ [1]

External links[edit]