Paul Kantner, co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, dies 

Paul Kantner
Paul Kantner, playing with Jefferson Starship in  Washington in March 2013 Credit: Rex Features

Paul Kantner, the guitar player of Jefferson Airplane, has died aged 74.

 Jefferson Airplane was among the first and the most commercially successful of the San Francisco psychedelic rock groups of the Sixties, with hits including Somebody to Love. Kantner was a co-founder of the group in 1965 with Marty Balin and the guiding spirit of its successor, Jefferson Starship.

Kantner, who was born on March 17, 1941 in San Francisco, died  of multiple organ failure and septic shock on January 28, 2016, just weeks after it was announced that Jefferson Airplane would receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award next month.

Jefferson Airplane's anthems such as White Rabbit and Somebody to Love  encapsulated  the counterculture "Summer of Love" in which young people took over San Francisco in 1967.  "San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality," Kantner once said.

Kantner is one of several people, including Timothy Leary, who is credited with coming up with the quote: "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there."

While vocalists Grace Slick and Balin were the public faces of Jefferson Airplane, guitarist and songwriter Kantner was often the creative force of the band, bringing a freshness from the folk music scene that was his background.


Paul Kantner playing with Jefferson Starships in New York in 2001 Credit: AP


Jefferson Airplane headlined at two historic festivals of the era: Monterey, where the band turned its performance into a live album, and Woodstock, where the band's set due for Saturday evening ended up taking place at 8:00 am the next morning.

Kantner was also a significant songwriter. He collaborated with Balin on some of the group’s best-known songs, including Today, Young Girl Sunday Blues and Volunteers. He also wrote most of the songs on the group's third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, which is considered the band's best.  Kantner also composed the 1969 song We Can Be Together, which was inspired by the Black Panther movement, and contained the controversial lyrics:

"We are obscene, lawless, hideous, dangerous, dirty, violent and young/But we should be together."

Kantner defended his music, claiming that his songs were "violent in terms of violently upsetting what's going on, not a violence of blowing buildings up."

He was also open about his drug use, enjoying LSD and advocating the legalisation of marijuana. "He was the first guy I picked for the band and he was the first guy who taught me how to roll a joint," Balin wrote on Facebook . "And although I know he liked to play the devil's advocate, I am sure he has earned his wings now," he said.

Paul Kantner, centre, with glasses, and the rest of Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco in 1968. From left, singer Marty Balin, singer Grace Slick, drummer Spencer Dryden, Kantner, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass guitarist Jack Casady. Credit Credit: AP


Kantner described LSD trips as the "most formative moment of my life," telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2015 that the psychedelic drug "gave me what I always hoped religion would give me, and never did".

Kantner was also renowned for his spats with other musician. When George Harrison of the Beatles said in 1967 that San Francisco was awash with "horrible, spotty, drop-out kids", Kantner hit back 40 years later telling The Hook newspaper of Virginia, "I guess he didn't get laid, which was hard to do back then."


Intriguilingly, Kantner once discussed with writer Kurt Vonnegut the prospect of making a science fiction movie based on his 1970 album  Blows Against the Empire? 

Disputes among Jefferson Airplane caused the band to fall apart in the early Seventies. Kantner went on to form Jefferson Starship, which was recorded with his girlfriend Slick,  and with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. He left the band in 1984, complaining that it had become too commercial. He re-formed Jefferson Starship with Balin in 1991.  In 2008 they recorded Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty, a collection of protest songs.

He also wrote a book called Nicaragua Diary: How I Spent My Summer Vacation, or, I Was a Commie Dupe for the Sandinistas.