Jan. 28, 2016: Two Jefferson Airplane Members Die

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Jefferson Airplane, 1966, via Marty Balin’s Facebook page. Paul Kantner is second from left; Signe Anderson is second from right

The classic rock world was saddened to learn on Jan. 28, 2016, that Paul Kantner, a founding member of both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, had passed away at age 74. Kantner, who played rhythm guitar, sang and wrote songs for both bands, had suffered a heart attack earlier that week (and had experienced a previous one in March 2015). His death was attributed to multiple organ failure.

But even more shocking was the revelation, a couple of days later, that Signe Anderson, the female singer on the Airplane’s 1966 debut album, had died the same day as Kantner. It is unknown whether two former members of the same band had ever passed on the same day while in different locations.

Signe Anderson Ettlin was the same age as Kantner when she died. She had been sick for some time and had recently entered hospice care. Her family withheld news of her passing for a couple of days after learning of Kantner’s death so that the news of her death would not be overshadowed.

Related: When the Airplane sang from a NYC rooftop

Jefferson Airplane was formed in 1965 and was among the founders of San Francisco’s so-called psychedelic era music scene in the ’60s. They scored twin 1967 “Summer of Love” hits with “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” from their Surrealistic Pillow album, both of which featured Grace Slick on lead vocal. Slick, formerly of the band Great Society, had replaced Anderson, who left the Airplane when she became pregnant. The two hit songs were the only ones by the early incarnation of the band to chart within the Top 40 of the U.S. singles chart, but the group, which underwent several further lineup shifts, enjoyed a long and successful run on the albums chart with six straight LPs charting in the Top 20 from 1967-1972.

Watch Jefferson Airplane sing “We Can Be Together,” co-written by Kantner

And here’s the band, with Slick, performing “Somebody To Love” at Woodstock in 1969. Grace Slick: “Alright, friends, you have seen the heavy groups… Now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, yeah. It’s a new dawn.”

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Kantner, of course, was part of the band’s classic lineup, joined by Slick, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Spencer Dryden. When Kaukonen and Casady split to form Hot Tuna, Slick and Kantner launched a new band, naming it Jefferson Starship.

Among Kantner’s songwriting credits are “Volunteers” (with Balin). He also co-wrote “Wooden Ships” with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Both CS&N and the Airplane recorded the song, though the former version is far better known.

Jefferson Starship kept many of the Airplane’s loyal fans and enjoyed an even stronger run in the ’70s, as albums became the configuration of choice for record buyers. In a 10-year period from 1974-1984, during which they were also joined by Balin for four years, the band released eight albums, including the #1 Red Octopus. All of the titles were certified at least gold, signifying sales of at least 500,000.

Jefferson Starship earned two Top 10 hits: 1975’s “Miracles” and 1978’s “Count On Me.” In the late ’70s when Balin left the group, they recruited a new lead singer, Mickey Thomas, whose biggest career achievement up until that point was serving as lead vocalist for the Elvin Bishop hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Kantner left the group after the 1984 release of Nuclear Furniture and did not participate in the next spinoff, Starship. He formed a new incarnation of Jefferson Starship in the early ’90s that remained active until his death (and is still going as of this writing, with other musicians).

Anderson joined Jefferson Airplane at the band’s very beginning in 1965 at the invitation of Balin, who had heard her sing at a local (San Francisco) club. She sang on their 1966 debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. At what would be Anderson’s final performances with the band on October 15, 1966 – two sets at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium– Balin revealed to the audience that Anderson was departing. She announced, “I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and box balloons. I love you all. Thank you and goodbye.” (Slick made her JA debut the next evening.)

Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Listen to “High Flyin’ Bird” by Jefferson Airplane featuring Signe Anderson

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  1. ClassicFan
    #1 ClassicFan 29 January, 2020, 19:16

    This article contains a seriously inaccurate claim. It states that: “Among Kantner’s songwriting credits are “Volunteers” (with Balin). He also co-wrote “Wooden Ships” with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Both CS&N and the Airplane recorded the song, though the former version is far better known.

    The band kept many of its loyal fans and enjoyed an even stronger run in the ’70s, as albums became the configuration of choice for record buyers. In a 10-year period from 1974-1984, during which they were also joined by Balin for four years, the band released eight albums, including the #1 Red Octopus. All of the titles were certified at least gold, signifying sales of at least 500,000.”

    Airplane broke up and ended completely by 1972. The members went on to do their own things. Kantner and Slick made solo albums. Kaukonen and Casady went full on into Hot Tuna. Airplane was no more. That band did not go on. In 1974 a NEW band was formed by Paul and Grace and named Jefferson STARSHIP, taking the title off of Blows Against the Empire as the name of the new band. So this article’s indicating that Airplane continued and had huge hits from ’74 – ’84 is wrong. The band that had the huge hits in ’74 – ’84 was Jefferson Starship and it was a different band from Airplane with different band members in key places, songwriters, producers, etc…

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    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 30 January, 2020, 16:05

      The article notes, two paragraphs before the one you cite, “When Kaukonen and Casady split to form Hot Tuna, Slick and Kantner launched a new band, naming it Jefferson Starship.” But the wording about the JS years was a little weird, so we’ve clarified it.

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