Starship circles back to its roots


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

It's taken four decades-plus for Jefferson Airplane to circle back to its original San Francisco folk roots.

To paraphrase an oft-quoted observation from a fellow rock band from the Bay Area's psychedelicized days, the Grateful Dead: What a long, strange trip it's been, and original member Paul Kantner has seen it all.






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Jefferson Airplane was rechristened Jefferson Starship in '74, but the band still featured the stellar vocal lineup of Kantner, Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Already building on a repertoire of previous hit singles and albums—memorable songs like “;Somebody to Love,”; “;White Rabbit,”; “;Crown of Creation,”; “;Volunteers,”; “;We Can Be Together,”; “;Good Shepherd,”; plus the first of what Kantner calls his “;science-fiction, rock 'n' roll”; tunes, “;Have You Seen the Saucers”;—Jefferson Starship would have a major hit in '75's “;Red Octopus”; album and the breakout song “;Miracles.”;

But Kantner would leave the band over creative differences in 1984 and would sue and later settle over the use of the group's name with his former bandmates. So Slick and singer Mickey Thomas went on to front the single-monikered Starship, best known—or reviled—for the '85 pop anthem, “;We Built This City,”; called by Blender music magazine four years ago the absolute nadir of “;The 50 Worst Songs Ever.”;

Needless to say, Hawaii fans will NOT be regaled with “;We Built This City”; when the band comes to the islands for an interisland tour starting Friday.

Kantner, speaking by phone from San Francisco last week, said that what will be featured, along with a selection of choice JA/JS songs, are cover tunes from the band's latest album, “;Jefferson's Tree of Liberty.”;

With Kantner still very much a part of the band's soaring vocal sound—the close harmonies filled out now with David Freiberg (his original partner in a pre-JA folk duo) and Cathy Richardson—he said the band's acoustic-based sound “;hearkens back to our beginnings, when the vocals were thrust to the forefront.”; The band presents these vocals through inspirational songs from the Weavers, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and even folk tunes from Ireland and Nicaragua.

Along with a Kantner original, “;On the Threshold of Fire,”; and a heartfelt medley of Bob Marley's “;Redemption Song”; with John Lennon's “;Imagine”; sung by Richardson, guest contributions by Balin, Slick and original bassist Jack Casady help fill out the album.

And with the band no longer a part of the corporate music machine, Kantner also finds a sense of liberty in the music-making.

“;It's not an effort to do this anymore. ... Considering that we have a great lexicon in our (musical) playbook, and with a new album out, we have a great future ahead of us. We just keep on going. We're believers in the theory of 'do it 'til you don't.'

“;Living in San Francisco, away from Los Angeles, the music industry has little relevance for us. We ignore it all, and we're happy for that. ... We have the luxury to just be musicians without that frou-frou, and we treasure that,”; he said.