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 five 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 this very early 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 third performance of this run begins with Bill Graham introducing the band by saying, "The Haight-Ashbury representatives of the United States Peace Corps, the Jefferson Airplane." Similar to the all ages early show from the previous day, this set is relatively tame, focusing on some of the best material from the first album. Although not announced (yet) to the audience, this would be Signe Anderson's final day as a member of Jefferson Airplane and her second to last performance with the band.
Just like the previous night's late show, the group's customary opening of a jet taking off roars through the PA system and leads directly into a cover of Fred Neil's "The Other Side Of This Life." While not quite as wild as the previous night's, this version is immediately intriguing for its instrumental prowess and fine vocal blends. Also like the previous night, they continue with "Let's Get Together" and "Bringing Me Down," both showcases for the crystal clarity of Marty Balin's voice and the remarkable vocal blends he could achieve with Signe Anderson. Kaukonen takes the limelight for a cover of "Kansas City," which again is an obvious precursor to the sound he and Casady would eventually develop into Hot Tuna, years before the fact.
Three more songs from the band's debut album close the set and all three are near perfect renditions of the album arrangements, but even more enjoyable for their live energy. The late show set would be one of the greatest performances ever by this lineup, but this early show was a fine warm-up exercise for those proceedings - and a wonderful taste of later things to come.
Written by Alan Bershaw