By Warren Kurtz
On Monday, January 25, actress China Kantner, the daughter of Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, celebrated her 45th birthday. Shortly afterward, her father suffered a heart attack and sadly, on Thursday, January 28, he passed away at the age of 74. The same day, an unbelievable and unrelated coincidence happened. Signe Anderson, the original female vocalist for the group also passed away from health-related issues. She was likewise 74.
In 1974, Jefferson Starship officially debuted as a group, including some members previously featured on Paul Kantner’s solo album titled “Jefferson Starship: Blows Against the Empire” and some members from Jefferson Airplane. Their full vocal sound was drawn from the Jefferson Airplane 45 flip side “We Can Be Together” and Paul Kantner’s first track on Jefferson Airplane’s 1971 “Bark” album “When the Earth Moves Again.” Jefferson Starship’s album “Dragon Fly” was released in the fall of 1974 and kicked off with the Paul Kantner composition, which became the new group’s Top 100 debut single, “Ride the Tiger.” Paul Kantner promoted eastern philosophy by offering the contrast, “It’s like a tear in the hands of a western man, he’ll tell you about salt, carbon and water. But a tear to a Chinese man, he’ll tell you about sadness and sorrow of the love of a man and a woman. I want to ride the tiger.” Paul Kantner always shared a unique way of being a deep-thinking, thought-provoking leader, while often using sarcasm to evoke a smile.
The group’s next album “Red Octopus” is considered among the classic albums of the ‘70s, featuring their highest charting single “Miracles.” The flip side of the album’s second single “Play on Love,” was the Paul Kantner-driven “I Want to See Another World,” with a vision for a better world for his children, family and humanity. The album closed with a love anthem he co-wrote with Marty Balin and their protégé guitarist Craig Chaquico, “There Will Be Love,” with the full group singing, “Whatever I do, there will be love in it.”
By 1979, Grace Slick and Marty Balin departed, with Paul Kantner being the only Jefferson Airplane member remaining in Jefferson Starship. When others thought this could be the end, Mickey Thomas was brought in as the lead vocalist and Jefferson Starship’s “Freedom at Point Zero” album, the title of Paul Kantner’s flip side of their hit single “Jane,” was a solid album, supported by a small club tour for fans to get to know the new lineup. The deep richness in Paul Kantner’s voice was heard on his song “Lightning Rose,” balancing Mickey Thomas’ higher range.
By the mid-‘80s, Paul Kantner left the group, legally taking the “Jefferson” prefix with him. Starship continued without him. At the end of the decade Jefferson Airplane reunited with a self-titled album, which began with Paul Kantner’s anthem on childhood and parenting called “Planes.”
In 1999, Jefferson Starship, led by Paul Kantner, again had half of Jefferson Airplane in the group for the album “Windows of Heaven” where Paul Kantner packed a lot of built-up thoughts in the opening number “The Light (Ginger & Metaphysics).”
Paul Kantner is survived by his children China, Alexander and Gareth.