People Who Died: Paul Kantner by Rich Hopkins

Paul Kantner

I was really bummed when I heard Paul Kantner passed away this year. He was, after all, the leader of The Jefferson Airplane, a band that was my all-time favorite. He was their spiritual leader, singer, songwriter and sneaky-good rhythm guitarist. I knew he was touring with his other band, the Jefferson Starship, so I'd thought I'd eventually catch him somewhere but alas, it wasn't to be.

The first time I noticed Paul was when I bought the Surrealistic Pillow LP. Ya know the album cover? The one with the band on the front in a pink frame? "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" were all over the radio at that time. I remember listening to KTKT and KIKX in Tucson in the late '60s and they played all the cool hits and obscure garage bands of the day. The Airplane looked so cool with their kinda long hair and deadpan looks, except Grace Slick who was actually smiling. Paul was the one in the middle bottom with the grown out Beatle-y hair and thick-framed glasses with a violin headstock covering one of his eyes. Mysterious, I thought.

Paul wasn't the cute one, Marty Balin was. And he wasn't the band's best guitarist, Jorma Kaukonen was. And he didn't write their hit songs. Grace Slick did! But he was their true leader, the glue and an innovative rhythm guitarist. He was a songwriter penning songs about revolution and tearing down walls in songs like "We Can Be Together," "Volunteers" and "Crown of Creation." All heavy stuff for an innocent teen, of course I was hooked immediately. Grace Slick's looks didn't hurt things either ...

Paul was a man who had integrity and ended his 40-plus year career still playing in Jefferson Starship, a band he adored. The rest of the original Airplane had all moved on years ago. They'd burned out, had differences of opinion, and so on. Paul and Grace started Jefferson Starship, and if you haven't their debut, 1974's Dragon Fly, you should. You'd freak out how great it is. The Starship became a huge commercial success, but for my money, they couldn't touch vintage Airplane.

I' m sad that I never saw Jefferson Airplane, or even what was left of the Starship, but I'm grateful for their music. In a sense, we never die, at least not when you have the albums! Long live Paul Kantner.

— Rich Hopkins

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