Jefferson Airplane Co-Founder and Guitarist Paul Kantner Dead at 74

Paul Kantner, one of the giants of the San Francisco music scene, died Thursday (January 28) at 74.

Kantner, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, had suffered a heart attack this week.

His death was confirmed by his publicist and friend, Cynthia Bowman, who said he died of multiple organ failure and septic shock. Kantner had a string of health problems in recent years, and even suffered a heart attack in March 2015.

As a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was a pioneer of the mid-to-late-Sixties rock scene in San Francisco. Along with the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Airplane were one of the most significant Bay Area groups to emerge during that time. Their 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow, was a signature recording of the psychedelic rock era and featured two of the period’s biggest hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

With his blond hair and wire-frame eyeglasses, Kantner cut a distinctive figure in the group, performing during their Sixties prime with a Rickenbacker 360/12. Although lead vocalists Marty Balin and Grace Slick took the spotlight, it was Kantner who eventually became the group’s leader, seeing Jefferson Airplane through its reinvention as a hard rock act in the late Sixties and onward to its rebirth as Jefferson Starship in 1974, a group he led until his death.

Robby Krieger and John Densmore of the Doors, Jefferson Airplane’s Sixties contemporaries from Los Angeles, paid tribute to Kantner Thursday.

“Our condolences go out to the friends, family and fans of Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane on the news of his passing,” the surviving Doors members wrote on their Facebook page. “Music would not be the same without the sounds of the Doors and Jefferson Airplane, which both contributed so heavily to the signature sound of the Sixties and Seventies.”

Jefferson Airplane released their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, in October 1966. A month later, they were joined by Slick, who wrote one of the band's greatest hits, “White Rabbit," while her brother-in-law Darby Slick wrote “Somebody to Love."

Ultimately, inner-band drama, including Kantner’s romantic relationship with Slick (not to mention plenty of drug use), led to the band’s dissolution, with Kantner moving to the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra. He formed Jefferson Starship in 1974 with Slick, David Freiberg, Craig Chaquico, Pete Sears and Papa John Creach. The band was Kantner’s primary focus over the ensuing decades, though he did reunite with Jefferson Airplane twice, including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Paul Lorin Kantner was born March 17, 1941, in San Francisco. He had three children; sons Gareth (film producer) and Alexander (musician), and daughter China (actress).

Top video: Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock (1969); bottom video: Jefferson Airplane reunite at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996):

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