Signe Anderson - vocals; Marty Balin - vocals, percussion; Paul Kantner - vocals, guitar; Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar; Jack Casady - bass; Spencer Dryden - drums
This particular run of six shows, occurring over three days in October 1966, featured Jefferson Airplane, Big Mama Thornton (a big influence on Janis Joplin, who was likely in attendance) and the most legendary original lineup of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. For scholars of Jefferson Airplane lore, this run has inspired endless discussion, as it encompasses the most critical transition in the group's history: the departure of original female vocalist Signe Anderson, and the emergence of Grace Slick as her replacement. The circumstances surrounding Anderson's final show and Grace Slick's debut has been the source of speculation for nearly four decades. With the emergence of underground radio in San Francisco, Bill Graham provided local underground radio stations with several sequences from his personal recordings of this run. These bits and pieces have circulated among collectors ever since. Between those (often mislabeled) fragmentary recordings and disagreements between first hand recollections in print (including those of bandmembers and group historians), it seemed possible that we might never know when exactly the Anderson/Slick transition occurred. That was until now, as Bill Graham's nearly complete and accurately dated master reels of the Jefferson Airplane performances from this legendary run now reveal exactly when the transition occurred. The last four shows with Signe Anderson and the first two shows with Grace Slick are here in outstanding quality, complete with humorous introductions by Bill Graham (on 5 of them), Marty Balin's announcement about Anderson leaving the band, as well as her actual farewell to the audience. These six performances will be addressed individually in terms of setlists and relevant content, but the fact that this was a monumentally fascinating time to have heard Jefferson Airplane in concert is universally applicable. It's well known that the original first album lineup, which included Signe Anderson, had developed a highly innovative original sound that helped establish the group's reputation; and you'll find no better example of the original band in concert than the first four shows of this run - also the last four shows they ever did with Anderson. By the end of 1966, after performing together just a little over a year, it was becoming obvious that the group had taken their initial musical stage as far as it could go. They were beginning to head in a direction that would require them to leave their more traditionally structured sound behind - and embrace experimentation in every sense of the word. Within days of this run, the band would begin recording much of their classic second album, Surrealistic Pillow. Soon after, they would experience international recognition - and eventually become musical icons of the 1960s. Indeed, these shows give one the opportunity to observe the original lineup at the peak of their live abilities - as well as Grace Slick's initial, tentative steps on her very first day as a member of Jefferson Airplane.
The first performance of this run was an all ages show, and Bill Graham introduces the band accordingly by saying, "For everyone over or under the age of 18, the Jefferson Airplane." As the group's customary opening of a jet taking off roars through the PA system, the band begins a hot jam that leads into "Don't Let Me Down." This rarity, showcasing the improvisational skills of the musicians as well as lead vocalist Marty Balin, would never make a proper Jefferson Airplane album, but would eventually surface on the Jefferson Airplane Loves You box set decades later.
A great early example of Jorma Kaukonen's capabilities as frontman is next with a cover of "Kansas City." Even at this very early juncture in the bands history, the seeds of Hot Tuna were being sown. Paul Kantner continues with "Let Me In," a track from the group's debut album. These first three songs more or less demonstrate the three distinct power factions existing in the band at this point in time. Signe Anderson then takes the front to add her vocals to the mix on "High Flying Bird." As Anderson's singing is added, that magic blend of powerful vocals over the distinctive instrumentation created by Kaukonen, Casady and Spencer emerges, creating that classic sound that established the band's early reputation. The same can be said of the next song, "Runnin' 'Round This World," a tune that was deleted from the group's debut LP due to lyrical content. Two more tracks from that first album follow. The band's cover of the J.D. Loudermilk classic, "Tobacco Road," is particularly strong, and features more inspired vocals by Balin, especially when blended with Anderson's on the choruses. "Run Around" again features that magic three way vocal blend of Anderson, Balin and Kantner that set the band apart.
They close this early show with "3/5 of a Mile In 10 Seconds." The tune, soon to become one of their most powerful live vehicles, is surely a sign of where the band was heading in the near future. It's interesting to hear this performed with Anderson's vocals, and this version shows that the arrangement of this classic song was already firmly in place. At the close of the song, Marty encourages the audience to stick around for sets by Big Mama Thornton and the Butterfield Blues Band.
Although a fine example of the original lineup in a live context, this set is relatively tame, likely due to it being an all ages show.
Written by Alan Bershaw