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History Of The Band Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane started out as a folk-rock band from the Haight-Ashbury area of California, who changed their sound to become one of the most popular psychedelic rock bands of the 60’s. They released their first album in 1966, and became the first San Francisco group to land a contract with a major record label (History), but it wasn’t until the 1967 release of Surrealistic Pillow that they received national attention. The addition of Grace Slick, from a band called the Great Society, was a pivotal move in the Airplane’s success, bringing them two US top 10 hit singles: “Somebody to Love”, and “White Rabbit” (Jefferson). “White Rabbit” was based on the story Alice in Wonderland, and took you on a surreal musical fantasy trip recounting Alice’s experiences in Wonderland (Rock). The song, which made reference to an altered reality after Alice took pills and ate mushrooms, was banned in some cities (Rock).

Between 1967 and 1972 Jefferson Airplane enjoyed significant success with a run of eight consecutive Top 20 albums in the USA (Jefferson). Although none of the singles made it into the Top 40, some didn’t even make the charts at all (Jefferson). The AM Top 40 radio stations were wary of playing their songs due to the drug references that were deemed too controversial, but because of the growing influence of FM radio, which would play their songs, many of their other singles did manage to get some air time.

The Airplane was a very controversial group, during a very controversial time. For their appearance on The Smothers Brothers in the fall of 1968, Grace Slick painted her face black and gave the Black Panther Party’s “black power” salute after finishing the song “Crown of Creation” (Jefferson). The release of one of their next albums, with the planned title “Volunteers of Amerika” was delayed after conflict with their label over the content of songs such as “Uncle Sam Blues”. The album was finally released in the USA in November of 1969 with the shortened title “Volunteers” (Jefferson).

Airplane was the only band to play at all three iconic rock festivals of the 1960’s; the Altamonte Free Concert, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock (Jefferson). The band continued touring throughout 1971, but by early 1972 it was evident that a breakup was imminent. In April of 1973 they released their 2nd live album, which was their last official release until their reunion album of 1989 (Jefferson).

In 1974 the band Jefferson Starship was formally launched, and although they were quite successful, there was still much turmoil. Grace Slick’s alcoholism became a problem, and at a 1978 concert in Germany, Slick was in a drunken stupor using profanity and reminding the audience that their country had lost during WWII and that they were responsible for the wartime atrocities (Jefferson). Grace Slick was asked to resign.

The band Starship rose from the ashes with successful hits like “We Built this City”, and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Other spin off bands included: Hot Tuna, KBC Band, and Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation.

My high school years were spent listening to Jefferson Starship, and Jefferson Airplane, “We Built this City” being one of the more popular songs of that time, and of course the songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” are timeless. My boyfriend at the time was a musician, who had started a band with his best friend, who was also dating my best friend. We would get together in the garage and listen to them play, and they talked us into singing. One of the songs we attempted was “Somebody to Love”, and since my voice was the deepest I did the singing. We never really got out of the garage, but I sure enjoyed those times.

Chronology

The 1960’s was known for the Viet Nam war, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, the first walk in space, Medicare being enacted, LSD, agent orange, and large antiwar demonstrations.

Major Events

1960 – First use of satellites for TV transmission, protests in Greensboro, NC at the Woolworth store because of their refusal to serve African American students.

1962 – Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. puts astronauts into orbit, the first African American student is admitted to the University of Mississippi after 3,000 troops stop riots.

1963 – Civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, AL, Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C., President Kennedy is assassinated, and Johnson becomes president.

1964 – Escalation of fighting in Viet Nam, Civil Rights Act bans discrimination in voting, jobs, public accommodations, etc., Martin Luther King awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, U.S. Post Office assigns zip codes, Lee Harvey Oswald found guilty of Kennedy’s assassination.

1965 – First walk in space, Johnson orders more troops into Vietnam, Voting Rights Act passes, 34 die in Watts riots in Los Angeles, Malcolm X assassinated.

1966 – U.S.S.R and U.S. land unmanned crafts on the moon, U.S. forces move into Cambodia and bomb Hanoi, Medicare coverage is put into effect, law against LSD is passed.

1967 – Large antiwar demonstrations in Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco, Race riots, Marshall is first African American elected to the U.S. Supreme Court, first human heart transplant operation in South Africa, Apollo I astronauts die on launch pad, Abortion is legalized in Colorado, microwave ovens brought to market for home use, 911 emergency phone system is established in NY.

1968 – North Korea seizes USS Pueblo and crew, Vietnam peace talks begin, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are assassinated, First African American woman is elected to Congress.

1969 – Nixon becomes president, U.S. lands on the moon, Vietnam peace talks expand, 250,000 people march on Washington D.C. to protest Vietnam war, Manson family murders.

Woodstock

Woodstock was a free three day outdoor concert that took place in August of 1969 that was held on a 600 acre dairy farm in Woodstock, NY (Woodstock). It was billed as “An Aquarian Explosion: 3 day of Peace and Music, with an attendance of 500,000 concert-goers (Woodstock). It was originally going to be a profit making venture, with 186,000 tickets sold ($18 advance, $24 at the gate), but became a free concert after they realized the event was drawing hundreds of thousands more than they had expected (Woodstock). Some of the most popular bands of the 60’s era were in attendance including: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Blood, Sweat & Tears, among others. There were a total of 32 bands that played over the three days. Some of the bands that declined an invitation were: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zepplin, and the Moody Blues (Woodstock).

The 3 day concert turned out to be amazingly successful despite the number of people, the lack of facilities, and the conditions. The New York governor was going to call in National Guard troops, but was persuaded not to do this by the festival organizer, although Sullivan County did declare a state of emergency (Woodstock). The festival remained remarkably peaceful, and only 3 fatalities were recorded, along with 2 births (Woodstock).

Woodstock was regarded as one of the most pivotal moments in music history, and was listed among Rolling Stone’s “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll” (Woodstock).

Citations

Miller, Jim. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. New York: Random House, (1976): 178-181.

Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles A History. New York: McGraw Hill, (1998): 150-151.

Jefferson Airplane. Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Aiplane>

Woodstock Festiveal. Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodstock_Festival>

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