Saturday, January 30, 2016

Paul Kantner-- On To The Next Gig


Paul Kanter and Grace Slick and their daughter, China

I didn't know we had computers back then and I'm sure Mitchel Cohen has the date wrong as well, but this was waiting in my inbox yesterday when I woke up:
Yet more awful news. The Airplane was my favorite rock band. My first date-- a "computer date" at Stony Brook when I was 17-- was to see the Airplane live in the Stony Brook gym in 1966. (Don't ask about the brilliant computer match-up).
It was actually 1967. How do I know? I was the chairman of the Student Activities Board at Stony Brook and I booked the show. It was February 18, 1967-- 2 days before my 19th birthday. Sandy Pearlman had originally turned me on to the band's pre-Grace Slick first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, which featured Signe Anderson. [UPDATE: Signe died the same day as Paul.] Many of the San Francisco bands were doing "Let's Get Together," which had first been released in 1964 by the Kingston Trio, then by the We Five in 1965 and then by the Airplane in 1966. The following year, The Youngbloods had a big hit with it. Here's the Airplane's version, sung by Paul Kantner, Signe Anderson and Marty Balin.

It was one of the songs I listened to a lot in my freshman year at college and on one of my trips to San Francisco to pick up marijuana I met concert promoter and Airplane manager Bill Graham who started sending me live tapes of the San Francisco bands I could play on my WUSB overnight radio show. I was hanging out in Manhattan a lot, at the Cafe Au Go Go, and I made a deal with Howard Solomon, the owner, that we would book cool bands together. I would get a Friday or Saturday night for Stony Brook and he would have the rest of the week. That's how I wound up with the Airplane on their first trip to the East Coast, a week or so after the release of their groundbreaking second album, Surrealistic Pillow. "Somebody to Love" and then "White Rabbit" where huge counterculture hits but the song I liked most was one of the songs Paul wrote with Marty Balin, "Today."

Paul had really started the band and he was the most outgoing of the members when I met them. I had been kicked off campus and out of the dorms for selling drugs and lived down Nichols Road in a suburban track development, Strathmore, where I was renting a room in a split level house with 5 or 6 girls who took care of me. The Airplane bus parked in front and they all crashed on the floor and I turned them on to my favorite album, the Classical Music of Pakistan by qawwali singers Salamat and Nazakat Ali. This was the song, influences from which showed up a few years later on another album. A lot of pot was smoked and after the concert, I went with Paul and Marty, Bill Graham and Sandy Pearlman to Ratner's Deli on Second Avenue in the East Village for some food. Timothy Leary had given me a tab of acid when he spoke at the school a couple months earlier-- cool speakers series, huh?-- and I had saved it and taken it that night-- my first acid trip. Maybe that's why I wound up bonding with Paul so strongly. I had hired the Daily Flash, a Seattle band that was playing in my friend Brad Pierce's club, Ondine's, under the 59th Street Bridge, to open the show. They were ok. The Airplane, though, was great that night so it didn't matter. The show was in the gym and it was free for students and, I think, $5.00 to non-students. Good crowd but not sold out. Other than a private RCA promotional show at Webster Hall in Manhattan a month earlier, it was the Airplane's first East Coast gig.

Many years later-- after a trek to Pakistan to meet Salamat and Nazakat (who weren't in the village in the mountains near Lahore when I got there) and a few years living in Europe-- I moved to San Francisco and renewed my friendship with Paul. He was one of the few guys from the psychedelic scene, passé by then, who understood and enjoyed the deep connection to the new punk rock scene that was starting up in the late 70's. Paul became a Mabuhay Gardens regular. He taught me how to make myself invisible and blend into a crowd. It was great for not attracting unwanted attention from fans and for getting into places for free.

Years later, another one of the Airplane guys, bassist Jack Cassidy, started a punk band, SVT, and I put his record out on my label. I never had any business dealings with Paul, just a strong bond, a lot of respect and admiration and a warm friendship. Paul had a heart attack early in the week and died Thursday from organ failure caused by septic shock. He was 74. He had three children, China, Gareth and Alexander and a couple of grandchildren.

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At 5:28 AM, Blogger George Colombo said...

What a terrific post. Thanks.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I agree with GC, Awesome post. Your history and world view are quite interesting. A part of the past that I hold dear seems to be important to you as well. Keep up the great work.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Hardy Cross said...

I was there too.


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