We’ve noticed that more than a few of you are interested in San Francisco and its seminal music scene of the late ’60s, a time and place and sound that Jim Marshall is synonomous with, and that he captured with a thoroughness and passion that remains unmatched. We’re kicking off a string of blogs focusing on some of his best work from that era, starting with a couple of blogs on one of Jim’s fave subjects (judging by the quantity of film rolls in the archive): The Jefferson Airplane and, of course, the dangerously talented and beautiful Grace Slick (more on her in the next installment). About the shot that leads off this blog and is easily one of the best known ever taken of the Airplane, here is Jim’s to-the-point description from “Not Fade Away”: “This image became a very famous picture and poster of the Jefferson Airplane in 1967 taken in Golden Gate Park for Look magazine. Clockwise from the bottom: Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden, Jack Casady, Marty Balin and Paul Kantner. I took the picture from underneath them all – with a 21mm lens on a Leica M4 with no reflector – because I thought it would be far out.” Formed in 1965 by Marty Balin, these psychedelic rock pioneers represented the first band to go mainstream with both critics and the buying public alike. Powerful music journalist Ralph Gleason, the jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, heralded them as “one of the best bands ever” after seeing them play later that year at the Matrix, a former pizza parlor on Fillmore Street that Balin tranformed into a club while he was putting the Airplane together.
According to the Jefferson Airplane Wikipedia entry: The band performed at all three of the most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s — Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969) — as well as headlining the first Isle of Wight Festival. The band’s recordings were internationally successful, and they scored two U.S. Top 10 hit singles and a string of Top 20 albums. Their 1967 record “Surrealistic Pillow” is regarded as one of the key recordings of the so-called Summer of Love and brought the group international recognition. Two chart hits from the album, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” are listed in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The Airplane also benefited greatly from appearances on national network TV shows such as Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on NBC and The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Airplane's famous appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour performing “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” was videotaped in color and augmented by developments in video techniques. It has been frequently re-screened and is notable for its pioneering use of the Chroma key process to simulate the Airplane’s psychedelic light show.
And from Jim’s amazing “Monterey Pop” book, come these Airplane recollections by music writer and SF Chronicle critic Joel Selvin: “Jefferson Airplane was the most anticipated act of the evening, “Surrealistic Pillow,” the band’s second album, had cruised into the Top Ten only weeks before, and the first of the album’s two hit singles, “Somebody to Love,” was one of the most popular records in the country that very week, with “White Rabbit” waiting in the wings. “Even more important, the Airplane was perceived as the spearhead of this new San Francisco sound. The band’s original female vocalist, Signe Anderson, had been replaced by Grace Slick, a former model turned hippie queen, both beautiful and talented, the very makings of San Francisco’s first rock star. Her soaring voice blended like colors in a sunset with former folksingers Marty Balin, who first organized the band less than two years earlier, and Paul Kantner. Instrumentally, the songs were supported by the imaginative folk-blues lead guitar of Jorma Kaukonen, the innovative, adverturous bass of Jack Casady, and propulsive drumming by Spencer Dryden. After spending several days prior to the festival resting at the Buddhist retreat in Tassajara Hot Springs, down the coast from Monterey, the Airplane delivered a spirited 47 minute performance.”
Don't You Need Somebody ...
The only Jefferson Airplane (more like post-Starship) memory I have of my time with Jim was in 1984 or thereabouts, when we went to see Marty Balin perform (either as a solo act or in the beginnings of forming a new band with Jack Casady and Paul Kantner, called KBC Band). I don’t remember the club we went to that night, but what I recall with utter clarity is they rocked pretty hard for a “bunch of old farts” as Jim would say, and that at one point I was eying the dance floor which was sort of jumpin’. Jim, the notorious non dancer that he was, threw his camera down (an unheard of move) on the lap of a friend of mine who had come with us and told her to never take her eyes off it or he would kill her, grabbed my hand and dragged us out into the middle of the bouncin’ crowd “to boogie.” He insisted it was the first time he had EVER danced, he sort of did these strange jabby, punching motions up in the air with his hands and kind of made these little grunting noises as he thrust his hips to and fro, before he grabbed me and spun me around. I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. Touching, endearing, hysterical, head-spinning and a little dangerous, that was the Jim I knew and, come to think of it, those words capture the Airplane he knew, too.
Stay tuned for more on Grace Slick in the next Jefferson Airplane blog installment.