Counterculture Hero


The SRO Show – Paul Kantner

Counterculture Hero

Produced by Lawrence Standifer Stevens

Written by Joseph E. Casanova



The very first album I owned when I was a teenager was Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane which was co-founded by the subject of this profile — guitarist, Paul Kantner.

With Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, guitarist Paul Kantner evolved from psychedelic counterculture pioneer to more mainstream rocker with classics such as Somebody to Love and Miracles.

The music world recently lost another talented artist as Paul Lorin Kantner passed away at age 74 in San Francisco where he was also born in 1941.

Along with Linda Ronstadt and Earth Wind & Fire, Jefferson Airplane are among this year’s Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award recipients.

According to Rolling Stone, Jefferson Airplane  formed after Kantner played in a folk group with singer and guitarist Marty Balin, later adding guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady.

Kantner composed some of Airplane's songs with syfy themes, including The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil and the controversial "We Can Be Together.”

After the group's modest debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966, the members saw greater commercial success with the addition of former model, Grace Slick.

Slick’s powerful vocals helped the band define the acid rock movement with the release of 1967’s album Surrealistic Pillow as well as the top ten hit “Somebody to Love” and the anthemic “White Rabbit.”

Rolling Stone called Kantner and Slick the “the psychedelic John and Yoko” after the couple started living together in 1969. They recorded a track about the birth of their daughter China called A Child Is Coming, which appeared on Blows against the Empire.

A new lineup in 1974 saw the emergence of Jefferson Starship, which led to a string of gold and platinum albums.    

In 1975, the band earned its only #1 album with Red Octopus and its #3 ballad Miracles featuring Balin’s haunting vocals. Jefferson Airplane continued its chart run in 1978 with Count on Me and Runaway, in which Balin also sang lead.

Once Balin and Slick left, the group opted for a harder edged sound with 1979’s Freedom at Point Zero and — with new front man Mickey Thomas, formerly of the Elvin Bishop Band — the scorching rocker Jane.

The early 80’s saw Kanter’s songwriting return to his fantasy and science fiction themes which had made him famous two decades before. The title track, Winds of Change, made it to the top 30 in 1982.

Kantner left Jefferson Starship in 1984 citing the band had deviated too far from its “original counterculture roots.” He later formed KBC with Balin and Casady the following year, months after the launch of Starship.

Paul Kantner may be gone but his fans are always ready to fly in a vintage Jefferson Airplane.