January 29, 2016


Kantner, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane, was 74 and had suffered a heart attack this week.

His death was confirmed by longtime publicist and friend, Cynthia Bowman, who said he died of multiple organ failure and septic shock.

Mr. Kantner had a string of health problems in recent years, including a heart attack in March.

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The band was formed in 1965 in a Union Street bar called the Drinking Gourd, when Balin met Mr. Kantner and expressed his interest in creating a “folk-rock” band. It didn’t take long for the Airplane to attract a sizable local following, enough so that when fledgling promoter Bill Graham opened his legendary Fillmore Auditorium, the Jefferson Airplane served as the first headliner.

The Airplane was the first of the so-called “San Francisco sound” bands to sign a recording contract with a major label, and in August of 1966, its debut album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” was released. Slick joined the band a year later and songs like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” became national hits as the love children came streaming into San Francisco.

Kanter transmogrified the Airplane into Jefferson Starship in the 1970s, to cash-in on the slick radio-friendly corporate rock sound the group Boston invented and San Francisco rivals Journey perfected, but looked oddly out of place as the group’s token Beatles moptop coiffed, granny glasses bespectacled hippie in the late ’70s and ’80s. However, he was wise enough to bolt the group in the mid-‘80s (taking with him the “Jefferson” half of its name by suing his former bandmates when they attempted to use it) shortly before its nadir with the uber-‘80s hit “We Built This City.”

By the way, telling line in the San Francisco Chronicle’s obit:

A sometimes prickly, often sarcastic musician who kept his own counsel and routinely enraged his old bandmates — they sued him for trademark infringement (and settled) after he started his own version of Jefferson Starship in 1991 — Mr. Kantner became something of a landmark on the San Francisco music scene, the only member of the band still living in town.

“Somebody once said, if you want to go crazy go to San Francisco,” he said. “Nobody will notice.”

What a perfect summation of that city and what drives it myriad woes.