Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner: “We were like Columbus, exploring the world”

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LONG JOHN SILVER
GRUNT, 1972
The sleeve – which folded up into a replica of a cigar box, all the better to store your stash – is the most imaginative moment of this otherwise desultory swansong. Three drummers were needed to finish it.

KANTNER: That was probably making a record for the sake of making a record that was due. It wasn’t as focused as the previous LPs, and we were in the process of transition to Jefferson Starship. And then I had a child, and that took a while, and changed a lot of things, as you can imagine.
CASADY: The alcohol and the drug-taking that had fuelled all of this took its toll on your ability to communicate, and to be a good person with others.
KAUKONEN: I’m sure we’d had to put another album out, and we did the best we could. Not that I’m comparing myself to Bob Dylan, but Dylan has always written about whatever was going on at the time. In those tumultuous years of the early ’60s, that was exciting stuff, and the times that were surrounding Long John Silver weren’t inviting those kinds of songs any more. The different time has a lot to do with it; the contractual obligations; the fact that we weren’t really a unified spiritual, creative entity any more. Had the Airplane outlived its usefulness to the times by 1972? Yeah, it had. And that’s reflected by the fact that Jack and I left the band to do Hot Tuna. And Paul carried on with the Starship, that had bigger records than the Airplane ever did. Was it as relevant, or significant? It was a good adult pop band, but I don’t think so.

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JEFFERSON AIRPLANE
EPIC, 1989
After a 17-year absence, Balin, Kantner, Slick, Kaukonen and Casady reconvene.

KANTNER: Jorma had invited me out to play with Hot Tuna, and when we came to the Fillmore, Grace joined us onstage. And there it was.
KAUKONEN: It seemed a good idea at the time. We got involved – and this is so strange for a band that started out the way the Airplane did – with these big-name management companies, and expectations major labels were going to come back. Tiananmen Square was happening, and Paul really got on the oppressive Chinese. But our relevance had passed, we weren’t adult enough to realise, “Look, we’ve gotta make some songs here.” There were extraneous studio players. I remember thinking, “I’m not sure this is going to work.”
CASADY: It was done for shallow reasons. Money! And to see what would happen. It wasn’t based on anything real.
KAUKONEN: It was great to have Marty and Grace back as friends. As far as “putting the band back together again”, I don’t think that happened. I found Paul difficult to deal with at the time, he was very autocratic. But I don’t blame him, as I didn’t have any better ideas. That magic the Airplane once had wasn’t there. It wasn’t that time any more.
CASADY: We couldn’t break down our personality barriers. But let’s face it, in the time that it mattered, that we were relevant as a band, Jefferson Airplane were really a creative high point.
KANTNER: I don’t think we’ve ever thought of a beginning or an end. As long as we’re still alive, I foster hopes of playing with Jack and Jorma and Marty again.

The March 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our 19 page David Bowie tribute plus Loretta Lynn, Tim Hardin, Animal Collective, The Kinks, Mavis Staples, The Pop Group, Field Music, Clint Mansell, Steve Mason, Eric Clapton, Bert Jansch, Grant Lee Phillips and more plus our free 15-track CD

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