Paul Kantner, guitarist, vocalist, and founding member of ’60s psychedelic rock greats Jefferson Airplane, has died, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. The news was confirmed by his longtime publicist and friend Cynthia Bowman, who said that Kantner died of multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack earlier this week. He was 74 years old.
Jefferson Airplane formed in 1965 when Kantner met singer Marty Balin at a San Francisco club called the Drinking Gourd. They then recruited vocalist Signe Toly Anderson, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, and bassist Jack Casady, with singer-guitarist Skip Spence brought in to play drums (because they thought he looked like a drummer). The band soon gained a following in the Bay Area and signed to RCA Victor, putting out their debut LP Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in September 1966.
Following the release of their first album, Anderson and Spence departed, replaced by Spencer Dryden on drums and former model Grace Slick on lead vocals. With this lineup, the band wrote and recorded their 1967 breakthrough Surrealistic Pillow, which included their signature hits “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” and popularized what became known as the “San Francisco sound.” They went on to release a string of successful albums and perform at iconic countercultural music festivals like Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival, and the disastrous Altamont Speedway Free Festival.
Jefferson Airplane broke up in 1973 after the release of 1972’s Long John Silver, with Kantner going on to form Jefferson Starship with Grace Slick and other former Jefferson Airship members before eventually leaving the band in 1984. Jefferson Airplane later reunited in 1989 and again in 1996, when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Kantner is survived by his three children, sons Gareth and Alexander and daughter China. Revisit some of his work below.