Grace Slick - 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 there) 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 issue of 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 from this run. These bits and pieces have circulated among collectors ever since. Between those (often mislabeled) fragmentary recordings and the disagreement between first hand recollections in print (including those of bandmembers and historians of the band) 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 Signe leaving the band, as well as Signe's actual farewell to the audience.
This fifth show of the run would be Grace Slick's debut with Jefferson Airplane. This may come as a surprise to even the most conscientious of Jefferson Airplane collectors and archivists, as other mislabeled recordings from the following month have been universally considered to be Grace's first show. This recording, in addition to the late show on this night are the real deal and one listen will make it quite obvious that these two recordings are indeed Grace's debut. Neither of the classic songs that Grace brought to the band ("White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love") had been arranged for the Airplane yet and are not to be found here.
Not surprisingly, the confident, outspoken and demonstrative Grace Slick is not to be found here, either. Instead, we have a very tentative Grace, just beginning to feel her way in. She isn't an overt presence and when she does sing, it is primarily to duplicate Signe Anderson's harmony parts. At times, she even takes on some of Signe's vocal mannerisms including her vibrato. Grace's charisma and remarkable stage presence are not yet apparent here. Still, this set is quite interesting as it gives one a brief glimpse of the band during this initial transition. Marty and to a lesser degree, Paul, take the leading roles here. They play it safe for the most part and the majority of the set is material from the first album.
The set begins with a cover of Fred Neil's "The Other Side Of This Life." The band takes the song at a slower tempo than usual, possibly in an effort to make Grace more comfortable. Grace seems familiar with this song and it's great to hear Marty, Paul and Grace singing together for the first time. Jorma also gets in several vibrant solos. They continue with "Let's Get Together," also taken at a slower pace than usual. Grace gets her first solo vocal on one line of the song but otherwise tries not to get in the way. The band seems to struggle a bit on this number and possibly as a result, Grace does not participate in the next two songs. Paul fronts the band for a strong version of "Let Me In" that gets the band back in stride. Jack Casady is remarkable during this number and his bass playing would continue to become more aggressive following Signe's departure.
Next up is Marty's "Don't Let Me Down." Surprisingly, this is taken at an extremely slow tempo. At first it isn't even recognizable as the same song they played just days before. Marty's vocals are a bit over the top, but it's otherwise an interesting listen and sounds a lot like a precursor to "Emergency," a song that would not be written for another few years. The relatively short set closes with two more songs from the first Airplane album and Grace again joins in. "Run Around" is quite good, but with an abundance of lyrics, Grace sounds like it is all she can do to keep up with Paul. Marty announces that they'll do one more song before Mama Mae (Big Mama Thornton) comes out and they conclude the set with a respectable take of "It's No Secret." Here the blend between Grace and Marty's voices is better than on earlier numbers and she sounds more comfortable.
All in all, nothing outstanding here, but seeing as they were just beginning to integrate a new member into the band, not a bad performance either. The tentative nature is certainly understandable and Grace Slick's confidence level would increase considerably with every performance.
Written by Alan Bershaw