In Memoriam – Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson
Funny how the Jefferson Airplane became the psychedelic band most imitated on film, but not by other musicians. Because they couldn’t. Jack Casady had done time with James Brown, and he brought that funk with him. And Paul Kantner was the rare rock guitarist who could fling dancing figures into the air and not sound cliched. And now he’s gone.
With the Airplane, Kantner quickly grew into one of the 60s’ most distinctive and interesting guitarists. He loved noise and feedback and was a prime mover experimenting with them. He didn’t waste notes and was content to fire off two or three notes where another guitarist would have automatically reached for a full chord. He didn’t invent psychedelia by himself, but he was one of the originators of the style. He swung like crazy. And now he’s gone.
Listen to what might be his finest moment on vinyl, Young Girl Sunday Blues, from the 1968 After Bathing at Baxter’s album. Without Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s acidic leads would just evaporate. And as much as the 60s contained Kantner’s finest moments, when the Airplane reunited in the late 80s to tour, he reaffirmed that a starship hadn’t swooped down, loaded with cash, and stolen his edge.
In a creepy coincidence, the Airplane’s first frontwoman, Signe Anderson, died along with Kantner, many miles away, also on the 28th of this past month. When she was in the band, Grace Slick, then fronting garage band the Great Society, took notice and was significantly influenced by Anderson’s elegant, precisely articulated folk-rock style. That influence would cut through in the Airplane’s quieter moments after Slick took over on vocals.
What a horrible year it’s been for rock legends!