Jefferson Airplane (1989)

Jefferson Airplane
By Jefferson Airplane

Epic
Released 2 August 1989

Produced by Ron Nevison, Greg Edward and Jefferson Airplane
Recorded by Ron Nevison and Greg Edward

Recorded at The Record Plant, Los Angeles

TRACKS (CD, so not by LP side)

TrackWriter
PlanesPaul Kantner
FreedomGrace Slick
SolidarityBertold Brecht, Marty Balin, M. Cummings
Translation by H.R. Hays
Madeleine StreetPaul Kantner & Marty Balin
Ice AgeJorma Kaukonen
Summer of LoveMarty Baln
The WheelPaul Kantner
Translated by Margaret Randall
Common Market MadrigalGrace Slick
True LoveSteve Porcaro and David Paitch
Upfront BluesJorma Kaukonen
Now Is The TimeGrace Slick
Too Many YearsJorma Kaukonen
PandaGrace Slick
Jefferson Airplane: Jefferson Airplane, Epic CD 1989

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE:

Grace Slick – vocals, keyboards
Paul Kantner- vocals, guitars
Marty Balin – vocals
Jack Casady – bass
Jorma Kaukonen – vocals, guitars

GUEST MUSICIANS
Three members of Toto. Nicky Hopkins had guested on Volunteers.

Kenny Aronoff – drums & percussion
David Paice – keyboards
Michael Landau – guitars
Nicky Hopkins- keyboards
Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan) – vocals
Charles Judge- keyboards
Efrain Toro- percussion
Peter Kaukonen – guitars
Mike Porcaro-bass
Steve Porcaro- keyboard programming

CHART

US ALBUMS: #85
SINGLES:
Summer of Love – US Adult Contemporary #15
Planes – US Mainstream Rock Tracks #24
True Love did not chart

I can only trace US singles of Planes, and no UK singles at all.

Friends had suggested Bark or Long John Silver, the last two “real” Jefferson Airplane albums, but I always liked both, though not as much as Crown of Creation and Volunteers, my favourite JA albums.

All my friends keep telling me that it would be a shame
To break up such a grand success and tear apart a name

Third Week in The Chelsea (Jorma Kaukonen), Jefferson Airplane, from Bark (1971)

But they did. They called it a day right after Long John Silver. I’m going to fast-forward seventeen years to the classic ill-advised reunion album Jefferson Airplane. I’d been looking forward to it, and tried hard to get into it at a period when I was doing two hour drives each way several times a week. It got a few return journeys on replay, and was visited from time to time, but I hadn’t heard it for a good while.

See: GRUNT under Artist Labels (LINKED) for a detailed history of Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna and other Grunt releases between Bark and the end of the label.

There’s a lot of it. CD length at just under 55 minutes. This is not a positive. It’s also all digital DDD recording, so CD is the default version. There is no analogue mystery to be lost. It was not designed as “side one” and “side two.” They must have decided it was CD and conceived it as such, which was a little early for 1989 when analogue was still selling. On the other hand, it could be that politics dictated leaving no one’s songs out.

Kantner said each group member will probably have three songs on the new album. ″Mine will be poetical-political statements like ’Falling in Love with Nicaragua.‴ 
Associated Press, 3 March 1989

So there was an aspect of fair shares on credits that made it too long. Note: Paul – 2, Marty- 2, Paul + Marty – 1, Jorma -3, Grace- 4. She put it together after all.

I never bought an LP copy and am not seeking one. At twenty-eight and a half minutes for side one, you’re into ultra-budget quality … K-Tel, Ronco, Warwick. Any album of that length will be low volume for music. I’ll put the LP images in as decoration.

Life is change
How it differs from the rocks 

Crown of Creation (Paul Kantner), Jefferson Airplane from ‘Crown of Creation’

Life is change, indeed. What a long, strange trip it had been. Kantner and Slick went one way into Blows Against The Empire, Baron Tolbooth & The Chrome Nun and Sunfighter, then Jefferson Starship mutated into Starship and radio-friendly AOR success.

Kaukonen and Casady formed Hot Tuna even before JA folded, and the early albums, Hot Tuna and Burgers would be my most-liked and most played post-Airplane albums. I’m less sure as the group became rockier.

In 1986, Kantner, Balin and Casady toured as the KBC Band and released an album, while Jorma Kaukonen was working solo, as well as continuing with Casady as Hot Tuna. Then Grace Slick retired from Starship in 1987 (No Protection being her last work with them).

In 1988, Grace Slick joined Hot Tuna on stage for a couple of songs at the Filmore. They met, and decided to reform the original band (minus Spencer Dryden) for an album and a tour. Paul Kantner said Grace needed a lot of persuading, and sent Jack Casady to persuade her.

They convened to discuss the reunion. Spencer Dryden was alleged to be too ill to be invited to join.

Marty Balin was in serious doubt. He suffered from Brian Jones Syndrome, which happens to guys who believe they founded a band, only to find their leadership has been usurped. Brian Jones came to realize Jagger / Richards were the songwriters and leaders. In Balin’s case, it was Kantner / Slick who were the “usurpers.” Compare Levon Helm / Robbie Robertson, David Crosby / Roger McGuinn.

The reunion was announced with just the four of them. They had not decided on Marty yet, and he wasn’t one of the four legal owners of the Jefferson Airplane name … it belonged to Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Marty had sold his share in the band and his rights in the name to others in 1971 for a mess of potage, or rather $30,000 (that’s $192,000 in 2021 values). Then he’d quit. He later joined Jefferson Starship, but left after a 1978 disastrous German tour.

Paul Kantner: With the record finished and on the market by midsummer, we hope to go on tour, and we hope, along the way, that Marty will rejoin us. Marty has been involved in his own thing for quite a while and we don’t know, now, how he feels about joining the born-again Airplane. He’s very much his own man, you know.
Associated Press, 3 March 1989

Paul Kantner: Grace insisted that Marty be part of it, to her credit. Marty was difficult at the end of KBC – he is difficult at the ends. He’s sort of a pain in the ass, the way we are all to each other at those times. To do a project with me, Jack, Grace and Jorma is not at all out of the question, and it could have made for a very good project. But we wouldn’t have called it Jefferson Airplane. We’d have called it Airplane Parts or something.
Quoted in Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Marty Balin (March 1989): Grace has been writing me all these letters, saying that she wanted me in. But Paul and Jack didn’t want me in. I just got a call from management asking me to be at a meeting on March 17. I think they want to use some of my songs. I really don’t know what’ll happen. There is obviously a demand for a reunion and if people want it, they should have it. If I’m not involved, I’ll go surfing. It’s less work for me, but I don’t know who’ll be singing for them … Let’s face it, every time I read about them, they’re always suing each other.’
Interview by Deborah Wilkin, Fort Lauderdale Sun & Sentinel, 16 March 1989

The reason it was Paul and Jack who were reluctant would date to the KBC Band tour a year earlier … Kantner, Balin, Casady.

Crawdaddy, January 1977

It’s surprising that Grace was for Marty Balin joining them … in various interviews he had spewed vitriol about her. The most famous one, quoted for years was in Crawdaddy, January 1977, where he claimed Grace was continually trying to get into his hotel rooms. He’d also claimed he was ‘too big for the Starship’ which had pissed off Paul. In a 2010 interview, he said it was in response to the interviewer begging Marty to set him up with Grace, and it was a joking response:

Marty Balin:  I never slept with Grace, I casually threw that (line) off. “I wouldn’t let her blow me”, and that became the big thing. [laughs] I didn’t mix business with pleasure. We sang on stage and everybody thought we were married, and I would burn her down, drive her crazy. Off stage, I couldn’t be bothered.
Interview 16 December 2010

Grace was forgiving then, or it becomes clear that she was the one with the clearest vision, or rather the one with her eyes on the prize. She knew what the classic Jefferson Airplane was … the three voices at the front. But check out her expression in the cover photo as Marty acts out theatrical passion,’Get off me!’ There’s subtlety though. She chose to let the photo go on the front as it was. Study it … Jorma and Jack on one side, Grace and Paul on the other. Marty in the middle trying to climb all over Grace. Jorma has his back turned on Marty, Grace and Paul. Look at the back cover … same line up, Jorma and Jack whispering … share a little joke? Marty with his arm patronisingly on Jack’s shoulder. Paul looks exhausted.

So, the old groupings remained within the band, as Marty Balin later explained:

Craig Fenton: Why did Jorma have any bitterness at the beginning of the tour?
Marty Balin: I wish I knew. He was angry. Maybe he wanted to be a purist and play his thing, the Reverend Gary Davis music. It was always Jack and Jorma, and then Paul and Grace, and I’m running around between them.
Craig Fenton Take Me To The Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual

What about Spencer Dryden? When he was interviewed in 1993, he gave the impression he had declined to join:

Pat Thomas: What were your feelings a couple of years ago when there was an Airplane revival you weren’t involved in?
Spencer Dryden: My name for it was The Paper Plane because there were so many managers, agents and accountants involved. I thought I might do it if it was a real band, but it wasn’t a real band in my eyes … there was an attitude lacking and there was not a single desire in focus … From early reports that I got, some people were already arguing and not talking to each other – which wasn’t that different to the old days
Pat Thomas: Marty said that even making the album, a lot of the time there were just studio musicians.
Spencer Dryden: Yeah, see that’s the whole thing, man. No ringers. That’s not the way it was done. For them to allow that, it took the wind out of my sails … Paul (Kantner) once asked me why I didn’t show up in LA … but I just won’t kiss anyone’s ass. Not for a hundred thousand bucks.
Ptolemaic Terrascope #14, Summer 1993. Now online

Jeff Tamarkin’s book reveals that Spencer Dryden was not actually too ill to play with them (as other members had said) nor had he declined to play with them:

Spencer Dryden was still playing with The Dinosaurs in 1989 when he heard that Jefferson Airplane was going to reunite. Assuming they were assembling the entire band from the 1966-1970 lineup, he waited for the call, but it never came. Exasperated he took matters into his own hands, phoning Brian Rohan, the band’s lawyer. Rohan didn’t call him back, but Paul Kantner did. ‘Very honestly, man. It’s that thing about Graham,” Paul explained. Kantner was still holding a grudge against the drummer for his part in having Bill Graham fired as manager, more than 20years earlier. Besides, added Paul, they needed a younger, more energetic drummer for this reunion tour, and the others felt he wouldn’t be able to cut it.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Bill Graham’s autobiography makes it clear that it was both Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden who were unhappy with his management. Grace Slick had had a lengthy relationship with Spencer Dryden, and mentions his drumming:

Grace Slick: Spencer did interesting fills, and had a good sense of timing, but he wasn’t a power drummer. He played the way his mind worked, always aware of what was going on, but more comfortable in the spaces where imagination could flourish.

In Bill Graham Presents, Jerry Garcia thought Spencer Dryden failed to fit (and Garcia was talking about 1967) in that he was from Los Angeles, not San Francisco. Grace continued:

Grace Slick: The rest of the band seemed to just tolerate him, out of some vague automatic distaste for the LA sensibility, or what they perceived to be LA’s lack of sensibility.
Grace Slick, Somebody To Love, 1998

See elsewhere, but like The Grateful Dead, to me the bass guitar of Casady led the rhythm in Airplane with comparatively light touch drummers following him.

They chose Kenny Aronoff instead, who had been playing with John Mellencamp. Aronoff was unquestionably a more powerful drummer. In my opinion, Paul Kantner had a valid point. They had had four drummers: Skip Spence, Spencer Dryden, Joey Covington and John Barbata. It was the least exclusive seat in the band.

The producer, Ron Nevison, was straight from Starship, but he had also produced Grace Slick as a solo performer. As an engineer he had produced The Who’s Quadrophenia and Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin.

Many roads led to the reunion band.

The deals

Paul Kantner had left Jefferson Starship in 1984 and took legal action to enforce them to drop “Jefferson” from the name. That was settled in 1985 with Grace Slick (51%) and manager Bill Thompson (49%) taking ownership of the name, Jefferson Starship. It was agreed that as Starship, they could continue, and they did until Grace Slick left in early 1988.

The owners of the Grunt record label (Starship, Hot Tuna) were Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Bill Thompson. It was an RCA subsidiary. Grace Slick described it as RCA pandering to their wish to have their own label. For some reason, Grace Slick later solo releases were plain RCA then the final Starship releases were RCA. Grunt had gone.

Grace Slick with Andrea Cogan, 1998

In the reunion, Grace Slick called the shots in going with a major Los Angeles management company, HK Management.

Fantastic, I thought. This time Airplane will be assisted by one of those professional managment teams in LA (as opposed to well-meaning hippies from San Francisco) who really know how to put a rock ‘n’ roll package together. Now that we’re old enough to prefer seamless negotiations, it’ll be a snap.
Sure, Grace and polar bears use toilets.
The old Grace and Paul v Jack and Jorma game resumed immediately.

Grace Slick, Somebody To Love, 1998

The old Grace and Paul (Jefferson Starship) v Jack and Jorma (Hot Tuna) game. But it was more complex than that, because Marty Balin regarded Paul and Jack as the ones who didn’t want him in. He was in neither camp. It’s a set thing in bands – two leaders, they fight. Mick v Keith, Paul v John, Robbie v Levon. With Airplane it was done in pairs. Paul / Grace v Jorma / Jack. It went back a long way.

Why can’t we go on as three?

‘Triad’ by David Crosby, on crown of Creation, by Jefferson Airplane

The thing about Airplane is they had the three soaring singers who were also writers, but weren’t virtuoso musicians. Then they had a world class lead guitarist and bass player, both virtuoso musicians … I always thought their drummers weren’t great. Jorma didn’t get to write or sing much with Airplane. Jack Casady didn’t pick up writing credits nor sing. It was an inbuilt balancing act … except that Jack and Jorma had had nearly two decades of reasonable success on their own now. Ron Nevison ran up against them right away. They were the least inclined to go with his ideas. Jorma readily admitted he had a heroin problem at the time. Casady had a booze problem.

Grace’s move for an LA firm was not unopposed:

But Jack and Jorma wanted to have a fan / friend / lawyer type call the shots. The man was already managing their blues band (my emphasis, her mild put-down), Hot Tuna, and he was afraid that if the West Coast (e.g. Trudy Green from HK Management) ran things, his two meal tickets would split for summer pastures. He didn’t know Jack and Jorma well enough; they’d always chosen the more intimate club scene, and that wasn’t about to change. The Airplane tour would only magnify their visibility, and when they returned to their smaller, more down-home jobs, which they actually preferred, they’d have benefitted from the high-profile management coming out of Trudy’s officethe unfamiliar high-profile LA business scene probably made Jack and Jorma nervous.
Grace Slick, Somebody To Love, 1998

There’s the starting point then. In Grace’s mind, they still seemed to be the backing guys.

Jack Casady: It was like getting in a room with five former wives, and then having to create. But it worked. All the elements of our style are represented in what we’re doing now.
Los Angeles Times, 22 June 1989

Their lives were at odds. Jorma Kaukonen in particular was living in Woodstock, part of a totally different musical scene. He’d been playing duo sets with Rick Danko, and hanging out with The Band. He did opening sets for the 80s Band. The Danko / Kaukonen sets have been circulated as ‘collector tapes’ (swapped rather than bootlegged), and one is 23rd September 1987 at Hunts Tavern, Burlington, Vermont. They mixed Band songs, Danko solo songs and Hot Tuna songs, They also had shared substance abuse problems, which Kaukonen has been totally open about, and which are obvious on the tapes. Both Danko and Kaukonen were at similar career arcs. The reunion came as a surprise.

Jorma Kaukonen: “When you sell your soul to the Devil, it’s very expensive to buy back.” It seemed like a good career move considering I really didn’t have much of a career at the time. We were promised a lot of money and that made sense. After all, we had been big stars twenty year prior.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

The Los Angeles Times summed it up:

Even today it would be hard to get five more different people together–from Slick, conservatively dressed in a stylish black pants suit and driving a rented red Jaguar, to scruffy, tattooed Kaukonen, who arrived on his Harley.
The Airplane Flies Again, Los Angeles Times, 22 June 1989

The chosen major label was Epic. Sony (Columbia in the USA, CBS elsewhere) divided its releases between Columbia / CBS and Epic. Columbia / CBS artists were Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Billy Joel and Leonard Cohen. Epic were ABBA, Michael Jackson, REO Speedwagon, Wham! George Michael, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam and Cyndi Lauper. So having signed to Sony, Jefferson Airplane came out on Epic. It’s significant that that is where Sony saw them, and where they saw themselves.

However, Grace had a point about doors opening. After the tour, Jack and Jorma signed Hot Tuna to Epic and released Pair A Dice Found.

Jorma Kaukonen: At the very least, the Airplane deal made us all visible again, and Hot Tuna was able to pick up some of the pieces. The Airplane album was on Epic, which picked up Hot Tuna for a one-record deal.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

The recording

The session musicians are Los Angeles guys, rather than San Francisco. No farting around with old hippy pals like David Crosby and Jerry Garcia, but instead the ace professional members of Toto, plus top session musicians like Michael Landau and Nicky Hopkins. Backing vocals from ex-Turtles and Zappa Flo and Eddie.

Marty Balin: Live, it was Grace and I at the front, and the band followed us. In the studio we didn’t necessarily make it fly the way we did live. In the studio, we (Grace and I) had to follow the band.
Craig Fenton, Take Me To The Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual

‘The band’ being Jack, Jorma and whichever drummer. I’d place Paul Kantner (on rhythm guitar) with the singers. However, Marty Balin has suggested that some material on this album was all the session guys on backing. Listening to the album definitely bears this out.

Jorma Kaukonen: Been So Long: My Life and Music 2018
It comes with an excellent live CD enclosed

Jorma Kaukonen had the most to say about the process, which was alien to him. As he notes on the Too Hot To Handle CD, everything he did then was recorded live in two sessions.

Jorma Kaukonen: With the advent of new digital technology and automation, “bricklaying tunes” was the order of the day. Instead of the band playing ensemble, the music was built in layers, part by part. I had never really worked in the new environment before. Ron Nevison’s vision was his own and I didn’t fit well in that scenario. I am not a session player. Sometimes I am invited to play on other people’s projects and I always caution them about my shortcomings. I’m a slow learner, and at the time I really knew little about bricklaying a song. Overdubs were one thing – we learned about that back in the sixties. But crafting a tune in parts was alien to me. I admit that over the years I have created more than one Frankensolo. It seems to be the adult way to do things these days, but it’s just not as much fun.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

Elsewhere I have said as much on spoken voice audio. We used to do a scripted dialogue several times, and the actors would shift interpretation and play with the lines. We’d always do the whole thing. It got better. By around 1989 we’d switched from open reel to DAT (always twin DAT as a backup). Instead of doing it until it was right, then doing it again till it got better, the engineer would clip in a word or sound onto the first base take. It was not the same. I see Jorma’s point.

He also discussed the extra musicians:

Jorma Kaukonen: In the old days we would have pals on a project, but the core of the Airplane did the heavy lifting themselves. (he then lists and praises the musicians on the session) Why in the world did we need this massive melange of talent to make an album? Looking back, I totally get that a lot of it had to do with Ron Nevison having a crew that he was comfortable with. The Airplane itself hadn’t been an active entity for over a decade and a half. We no longer had the unified vision that we had in the sixties. We also no longer had the youth. We could no longer count on the magic finding us. We had to seek it out and this was proving to be difficult.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

Jack Casady had a similar opinion on the addition of so many extra musicians:

Jack Casady: That was difficult for us to swallow because that didn’t seem to be using the talents that were there. And of course the talents that were there were’t really ready to work hand-in-hand with Ron Nevison and that attitude, which was ‘Make ’em get a pop song so we can sell some records.” Ron would leave the studio and leave it to the second engineer whenever Jorma would do a solo, he had such a low opinion of him. Then they had a keyboard player play what he thought was a modern ’89 bass part for me. Everybody would go off in their own corner – I’d go off in my own little alcohol corner. Jorma goes off in his corner …
Quoted by Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

The session guys opinion is more pro-Nevison:

Kenny Aronoff: I think what Nevison was saying was “Let’s get this fucking record done. I want a good record.”
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Producers will often prefer regular session men they have worked with before. It’s faster and easier. In his early years, John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia), did many bass guitar sessions, including sessions for George Martin. He explained the difference between those who did sessions and those who didn’t. He said you could name any well-known tune, say Tie A Yellow Ribbon. The true session regulars would all be able to just start playing it, even though they’d never tried before. Some of the most famed and brilliant musicians wouldn’t be able to do that. It might only take a minute or two, but they’d have to think and work it out. That’s why producers with an eye on the ticking clock, prefer the known quantity.

Note Ron Nevison’s attitude and opinion:

Ron Nevison: I expected the band to just get back together naively, and just be the old band. So we brought in other people. We probably should have just stayed with it, as bad as it was, because, technically, the Airplane was never a great band. I think if I had paid more attention to it, it could have been better.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

The more I spoke to friends about the album, the more I realized we’d mainly gone from Airplane to Hot Tuna (rather than Jefferson Starship) and then Jorma Kaukonen solo. I guess, like Keith Richards and Levon Helm, Jorma had the rock cred, and won the moral and critical high ground with fans when discussing the album. It’s perplexing how heroin addiction in all three cases added to their rock cred.

What the band said later

Grace Slick: The idea that we’re cashing in is ridiculous. We’re not the Who or the Rolling Stones -we’ve never made $60 million on anything, although people think we’re rolling around in money because they know our name. With this tour, we’re hoping that we break even and maybe make a little. The audiences are very receptive, but it’s not Yankee Stadium.
New York Times, 29 August 1989

Jack Casady: It was done for shallow reasons. Money. And to see what would happen. It wasn’t based on anything real.
Jefferson Airplane: Album by Album. Uncut, Take 202, March 2014

Grace Slick: The quality of life enjoyed by members of the 1989 Jefferson Airplane was far tighter than the 1969 version. We were treated to higher tech equipment, better venues, relatively sober audiences, good management, no incidents with law enforcement, egos tempered by age, and a tour’s worth of relatively successful concerts.
Grace Slick, Somebody To Love, 1998

Jorma Kaukonen: It seemed a good idea at the time. We got involved – and this is so strange for a band that started out the way Airplane did – with these big-name management companies, and expectations of big labels were going to come back. Tiananmen Square was happening and Paul really got on the oppressive Chinese, but our relevance had passed, we weren’t adult enough to realize, “Look, we gotta make some songs here.” There were extraneous studio players. I remember thinking, “I’m not sure this is going to work.”
Jefferson Airplane: Album by Album. Uncut, Take 202, March 2014

Jorma Kaukonen: It was great to have Marty and Grace back as friends. As far as “Putting the band back together again,” I don’t think that happened. I found Paul difficult to deal with at the time, he was very autocratic. But I don’t blame him, as I didn’t have any better ideas. That magic the Airplane once had wasn’t there. It wasn’t that time anymore
Jefferson Airplane: Album by Album. Uncut, Take 202, March 2014.

Jack Casady: We couldn’t break down our personality barriers. But let’s face it, in the time that it mattered, we were relevant as a band. Jefferson Airplane was really a creative high point.
Jefferson Airplane: Album by Album. Uncut, Take 202, March 2014

Jorma Kaukonen: None of my expectations involving the Airplane reunion were realistic … The Airplane had few recognizable hits other than White Rabbit and Somebody To Love. We never had the powerful identity that comes with a string of hits. We needed a healthy splash of creativity, and in that LA world where we found ourselves we needed to be team players. I could have said no, but I didn’t. I said yes for all the wrong reasons.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

Marty Balin: I thought that we were so strong and so good that we were able to pull everybody in. It seemed by the third concert Jack was with us and by the fourth Jorma too. We could put on a good concert. I thought we were great. Then at the end they all walked away again.
Interview by Craig Fenton, Take Me To The Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual

Paul Kantner: I don’t think we’ve ever thought of a beginning or an end. As long as we’re still alive, I foster hopes of playing with Jack and Jorma and Marty again.
Jefferson Airplane: Album by Album. Uncut, Take 202, March 2014

Jack Casady: To me the magic of Jefferson Airplane, outside of great songs, was the exciting interplay between the people and what was going on at the time. Even if Grace were still singing, I don’t think we could ever recreate that. We tried [at the Airplane reunion] in ’89, and it didn’t work.
Forbes magazine, 1 February 2016

Grace Slick: Album sales? I don’t know the figures but nobody went out and bought a Lear Jet. Maybe some of us paid for tuition for offspring or Jorma got another goat for his farm – simple acquisitions for a greying crowd of musical gypsies … the tour was not a financial gold mine, but it was a good thing.
Grace Slick, Somebody To Love, 1998

Jorma Kaukonen: The tour ended before all the advance monies were recouped, and there was a lot of money that needed to be paid back. Today, the whole thing smacks of smoke, mirrors and ill-conceived decisions.
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

What The Critics Said

Somehow this collection of oddballs seemed far less compelling than they had in the late 60s and Ron Nevison’s slick production, which may have been intended to update the sound and give it coherence, was just an annoyance. Thus Jefferson Airplane, despite some characteristically good and interesting material, failed to make a good and interesting reunion record, and that was that.
William Ruhlmann, All Music, ** 1/2

Have you ever watched one of your favourite ballplayers trying to play long past his prime and felt embarrassed for him? Fans of the Jefferson Airplane will feel the same when they hear the seminal San Francisco band’s reunion album after a seventeen year hiatus.
Jimmy Guterman, Rolling Stone 19 October 1989

The most unwelcome come back of the year.
Rolling Stone’s retrospective on 1989

The Airplane came together in 1989 or a reunion album, but the synergy could not be recovered.
** 1/2
Rolling Stone Album Guide 1992 & exactly the same in the “completely revised” 2004 New Album Guide

The album

The list of guest musicians includes lots of guitarists and a bass player. As Jack Casady only played bass, and is one of the most innovative and recognizable bass players, why would they need extra bass? Or extra lead guitar? I would assume that “not everybody played on everything” in the studio nor attended every session.

Too Hot To Handle: Jorma Kaukonen, Relix CD 1986

Two of Jorma Kaukonen’s songs date from 1985’s Too Hot To Handle, a solo acoustic album. They were written in Germany in 1982 and recorded in 1984. Discogs says 1985 , my CD copy says 1986.

He said:

Jorma Kaukonen: Paul, Marty and Grace brought along songs. I have no idea if they were written for the album or already existed.

Paul Kantner’s Planes existed and had been done live by the KBC Band.

According to SessionDays.com at least two songs were written but rejected for the album: Balin’s Let’s Go and Slick’s Harbor in Hong Kong. Balin released Let’s Go right afterwards on his solo album Better Generation, then later as a single with The Producers.

Harbor in Hong Kong may have been recorded … Grace Slick mentioned it as being a track on the forthcoming album in a Los Angeles Times interview on 22 June 1989 … not long before the release of the album.

I’ll be quoting more from Jeff Tamarkin’s fine Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (2005) in this section, because it’s one of the few books that comment song by song.

LP side one

UK LP Epic 1989

Planes

By Paul Kantner

Fly Jefferson Airplane … Gets You there On Time.

1960s slogan

Planes was a pre-existing song, which the KBC Band had played live, but had not recorded. It was the single, and the concert closer on the tour. It has a stadium anthem sound.

The dense rather murky production is wrong for the album but typical of the times – Jorma is so completely overpowered by the other guitarists that one wonders why he’s there at all.
Jeff Tamarkin Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

They get in a lot about planes. Comments on YouTube suggest the accompanying video is ‘unintentionally funny.’ That underestimates them. Just read the mock newspaper on the sleeve of Volunteers. I’ve been calling Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry by the names Bud Dolan and Buck Cherry ever since I read it. And ‘What’s your favourite stripe on the flag?’ was a great question. Maybe it was not Jorma Kaukonen’s thing, but he participates in the video, at one point using his guitar as a paddle to paddle past the plane image.

Yes, there is an obvious take on their name from Jefferson Airplane Takes Off through After Bathing At Baxter’s sleeve, which Grace Slick poses in front of.

Planes: MTV video. Spruce Goose

The video centres around a little boy … I always loved planes myself and it was only this month that my older sister told me she used to take me in my pushchair and spend hours watching the planes at Hurn Airport. It switches between colour and black and white and they all get a look in. In the end we see that the man putting the boy to bed, as the Spruce Goose flies by is H. Hughes … Howard Hughes.

Planes: Jefferson Airplane, European 45, 1989

Freedom

By Grace Slick

Grace Slick played piano and sang on tour. Here’s the thing about Grace Slick’s voice. it could well freeze the blood and intimidate a young lad … I’m thinking of Eskimo Blue Day, Hey Frederick (Either go away, or go all the way in ) , Lather (written for Spencer Dryden, she says) and Triad. It’s why no one else can replace her parts.

This isn’t up to that mark though. The guitar sound is incredibly almost pastiche 80s which makes me wonder who’s playing the power chords and who’s playing the lead part. I just listened to Eskimo Blue Day … classic Jack and Jorma. This doesn’t sound like them. There are just too much of the drums and the bass (which is not Jack’s normal inventive exploration either). I was enjoying it on my MM1 computer speakers, and took the CD out in the car with a really loud system with lots of bass and it sounded much worse, the drums and bass overwhelming each other in the mix. Back to my MM1s and it sounds better.

No one will always win, good losers hide the pain
They say everything’s fine
No one will hear them complain
But behind those smiles, so much purple rain

Purple Rain? (Prince, 1984)

Solidarity

From Bertolt Brecht, translated M. Cummings. Music by Marty Balin.

Piano intro again.

Black or white or brown or yellow
Leave your old disputes behind
Once you start talking to your fellow men
You’ll soon be of one mind

I was about to say the lyrics are banal, but they’re translated from Bertolt Brecht (Ouch!), and put to music by Marty Balin. Oh! Re-read. Yes, they are well-meaning, political … but banal. Still the Polish democratic trades union movement in the 80s used the same title.

Madeleine Street

By Paul Kantner and Marty Balin

The third song in a row which sounds piano led, though the lovely crunchy bass sound helps. The piano playing is terrific, and I’d bet anything it’s Nicky Hopkins. It rocks really well. It’s a tad basic R&B, but a total natural for the live tour … where they didn’t play it.

It’s also the same huge stadium anthem sound as Solidarity.

The lyric?

Sweet sweet Madeleine Street, I love to be there
For all of us who like to stay out late at the cafe

So Airplane has gone from ‘Remember what the dormouse said, feed your head’ to the excitement of staying out late at a café. I hope “late” means before 11 p.m. It reminded me of Robbie Robertson’s comment on the reformed 90s Band, ‘I hope they don’t stay out too late.’

Ice Age

By Jorma Kaukonen. Previously recorded.

It was on Too Hot Too Handle, Jorma’s 1985 solo album. He brought along two songs from those sessions.

Jorma gets the spotlight for Ice Age, a song he’d been playing with Hot Tuna. Written from the perspective of a dying man, what might have been a potentially gnashing tune onstage with Hot Tuna is drained of most of its life here, covered up with gloss and rendered largely powerless.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

I disagree. It makes a change to start on obviously Jorma guitar and Casady bass. It’s also a change not to be shouted at full belt by a mass row of powerful singers. Also it’s by no means ‘a gnashing tune’ on Too Hot To Handle.

Summer of Love

Marty’s Summer of Love took a critical drubbing when the album was released. A sentimental, wistful ballad, it is admittedly naked in its naivete; its lyrics so simplistic, some must have wondered if it was a put on.
Jeff Tamarkin: Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

This is listed as a charting single, and was #15 Adult Contemporary. But Discogs hasn’t a copy listed nor an image. Was it an early virtual (radio only) release?

Marty Balin’s song. This is what we all thought the album would be about.

A gorgeous melody and heaps and heaps of nostalgia … and nostalgia is never what it used to be. Anyway Paul Kantner is supposed to have been the first to say ‘If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there.’ Well, they’re remembering it all here.

Summer Of Love was something special
We were so young and so free
The Summer Of Love that I was a part of
We had so many dreams
And even a few of them came true it seems
I still believe in all the music, and it’s still playing
I still believe in all the words, ya I’m still saying
I still believe in all the people, they were really great
And I get to thinking back to where we all once were
The Summer Of Love had special people
Everybody was together so it seemed

The phrase ‘they were really great’ clunks out like a sore thumb. Never mind. Cliché follows cliché but to be honest I don’t care at all. I love it. It takes me back into a taxi in Haight Ashbury where the driver was an old hippy with grey hair straggling far over his shoulders. I paid the fare, then we sat and chatted for fifteen minutes about Airplane, The Dead, Janis. Later, we walked up to Whole Foods by the park and my son was accosted by three or four people trying to sell dope. No one accosted me at all except the spare changers.

Summer of Love had first been performed on the KBC live tour, before the reunion and the recording.

Marty Balin: Summer of Love should have been a video. The song fit on the album well, and the theme was perfect. It was easily understood. It was a summer tour, and I had helped mix the song on the album. Originally, I had gotten a phone call for the 20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love. I was in one of those phases that I didn’t feel like talking about the past. I grabbed a guitar, started to write and it took five minutes.
Craig Fenton: Take Me To The Circus Tent: A Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual

Marty Balin: I went down to the office and they had the head of the record company, Ron Nevison and a few other people.They said, “Wow, that’s a great song.”
I said, “Paul and Grace really liked that one too. We ought to do that one as a single.”
And they’d say, “That’s a hit song, but it’s not an Airplane song.”
I got really mad, and I said, “What the hell are you telling me what an Airplane song is? If I write it, and we sing it, it’s an Airplane song, you jerks.”

Quoted in Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

This is the best song on the album. Soft rock rather than Airplane, but lovely. OK, it doesn’t sound like Airplane, but nor did Wooden Ships or Third Week In The Chelsea. I would have gone with it.

Marty Balin continued to play it. He put it on his 1991 solo album Better Generation.

There’s a YouTube of a 2013 performance. (LINKED). It sounds really good in a less elaborate setting. And here’s another, without drums, labelled 2015, but that may be when it was posted.

LP side two

UK LP Epic 1989

The Wheel
By Paul Kantner. Additional lyric from the poem For The Good of All by Otto-René Castillo

We can be together!
Sorry, that was Volunteers. Misheard. This is:
We can be one world !

And the mountain feeds the people and the wheel keeps on turnin’ … Revolution!
Though next time it’s:
Some climb aboard and roll into the future evolution!

It really sounds like vintage Airplane though. Kenny Aronoff even muffles his drums (or rather they’re mixed back) to sound less like the massive 80s widescreen stereo big drummer and more like Spencer Dryden or Joey Covington. It’s classic Kantner. The guitar sound is Bless Its Little Pointed Head, so I hope it’s Jorma.

Paul Kantner had visited Nicaragua. It plays well.

Common Market Madrigal
by Grace Slick

Well, it’s about Europe, a madrigal is an Elizabethan song, but I can’t help remembering that the leading character in Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco stories in Mrs Madrigal.

It’s piano led as her songs are. It’s a tour of Europe. It reminds me of her autobiography where she says she knew she’d made love to Jim Morrison of The Doors in Europe, but had no recall of which European city it was in, so she’d contacted a Doors biographer to get a list of cities where the two bands played together.

Grace’s Common Market Madrigal is beautifully sung, but its tender true-love lyrics are of the kind that would have made the Grace Slick of 20 years earlier gag.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

I see Jeff Tamarkin’s point, but as with Summer of Love, this isn’t 1969 anymore. Not only had Airplane aged and changed, but most of their fans had too. As I say in the Grunt Records article, I enjoyed the irony of driving a sedate car along with Volunteers blasting out in 1989, but I wasn’t about to mount the barricades. They’re entitled to write as they saw it in 1989.

To me the sound is incredibly Disney soundtrack (as is Now Is The Time). I don’t dislike Disney soundtrack, I just didn’t expect to find it here. The lyric would fit a ride, perhaps flying over models of European cities, four in each balloon-car. A bit like the Peter Pan ride then.

True Love
By Steve Porcaro and David Paitch from Toto. What does it sound like? You’ve guessed. Exactly like Toto.

The third virtual single. This had a music video too, then an MTV requisite. Marty Balin on lead vocals.

Marty Balin*

Think the Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.A dwarf, clowns, jugglers, children. Marty Balin as ringmaster.

Grace Slick

Grace Slick as a nun, just how we always thought of her. Until we read Somebody to Love. That was the Paul and Grace nickname that became an album title … Baron von Tollbooth and The Chrome Nun.

Paul Kantner
Jack Casady
Jorma Kaukonen

Upfront Blues is in its own way the purest piece on the record, finally giving Jorma, Jack and Aronoff an opportunity to show what they’re capable of when left alone.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

They were all there. Two of them dressed up. Kantner interacted with the show. Jack Casady at least looked enthused. Jorma shut up and played his guitar and looked grumpy.

Upfront Blues
By Jorma Kaukonen

I also crafted a jam tune, ‘Upfront Blues’ which was basically an excuse for me to play lap steel. Fun, but not the stuff of hits!
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long, 2018

A refreshing interval. Lovely playing. Nothing to do with Airplane. A good Hot Tuna track.

Now Is The Time
by Grace Slick

Is it the piano and synth strings at the start? It sounds to me like one of the songs in a Disney World stage show (performed five times a day). The second song to do so. Or maybe it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber.

A similar uplifting message. Lots of band then cut to just tinkling piano. Boom! Back in with the band. She could have made money from this sort of thing. It has a strong tune.

Life is a dance
Right or wrong
We’ll all take a chance!

I can see the dancers as Belle / Aladdin / Princess Jasmine belts it out. The guitar solo is exactly as expected. Surely NOT Jorma.

Too Many Years
Jorma Kaukonen. Previously recorded. The second song brought along from Jorma’s album, Too Hot To Handle in 1985. Exquisite guitar, the vocal sounds surprisingly Lou Reed in style.

It also works very well in the earlier, more intimate version with almost whispered vocal.

Jorma’s Too Many Years is another highlight, a candid commentary on the failure of his marriage, placed in a warm acoustic guitar setting that belies the hostile feeling generated by so much of the rest of the album.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Panda
By Grace Slick

Grace Slick was involved with the World Wild Life Fund. Trouble with Giant Pandas is they only eat one kind of bamboo, which is why they’re in extinction danger. I told my son that when he used to demand French Fries at every meal (25 years on, he still does). Omnivores Rule, OK?

Like Marty’s Summer of Love, the song was criticized as being mawkish, but there is no denying the sincere affection behind it.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Now his body lies on the mountain’s Western side
He was sold to a man whose money has no pride
Shining fur traded for gold, but the price is too high
His kind is almost gone, he wants to survive

The tune is predictable, you know where it’s going. That’s not a bad thing in a theatrical context. Paul Kantner may have been worried about Tianamen Square … Grace is more concerned about bamboo forests. Again, listening to the backing, my mind goes Toto plus Michael Landau. I may be wrong.

The tour

The touring band to support the album added Kenny Aronoff (drums), Tim Gorman (keyboards), Peter Kaukonen (guitar), Randy Jackson (guitar). Tim Gorman had also played with the KBC Band.

Tour poster: Filmore, San Francisco 26-28 September 1989
San Francisco always id better posters

The album and tour were inextricably linked in the original deal. Jorma Kaukonen was again perplexed at the extra musicians:

Jorma Kaukonen: They were all very fine musicians, but in retrospect, I really can’t imagine why they were all there. You might ask, “How many guitarists do you need?” I have no answer for that.
Jorma Kaukonen Been So Long, 2018

Tour poster: Greek Theatre, Los Angeles 19-20 September 1989

It was the new way for ageing musicians. When I saw Fleetwood Mac in the early 2000s, everyone except John McVie had a “shadow” player taking some of the workload. Kaukonen was used to performing on his own with a guitar.

The tour set lists covered their whole careers, as Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship (just the one), KBC Band, and as Hot Tuna. Jorma Kaukonen’s solo repertoire revisits Hot Tuna songs. Critics who had disliked the album generally agreed that the concerts were better, with the Hot Tuna set being the best part.

The set list was set in stone, with the same songs in the same order every night. The only variation came in the separate Hot Tuna segment in the middle. Jorma declined to play on Jefferson Starship’s Miracles, choosing to go off stage in a huff and let his brother Peter Kaukonen take over. He said he had never anticipated being asked (or told) to play Miracles.

On the other hand, Marty Balin believed Grace Slick was upstaging him. He claims in Tamarkin’s book that they were deliberately turning his mic down and hers up … how all these rock tales end up in similar ways … see Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and tales of turning off Robbie’s mic at The Last Waltz. You might have to explain to Marty, as with stage lighting, Grace Slick was always the most attractive focal point in the band. Then as Tamarkin points out, the Boston Globe said that Marty’s mic volume was too high compared to Grace’s.

Jack Casady: Marty is no more a victim than the rest of us. The others may perceive that because Jorma and I know each other that therefore we’re off cackling in a corner together, when actually we’re as miserable as everybody else.
Jeff Tamarkin, Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, 2005

Setlist.com has an “average setlist for the 1989 tour.” Material from the 1989 album is in bold.

I’m ignoring other JA live albums apart from the original Bless Its Pointed Little Head.

songoriginal band album
She Has Funny CarsJefferson AirplaneSurrealistic Pillow
Somebody To LoveThe Great Society /
Jefferson Airplane
Conspicuous Only In Its Absence
Surrealistic Pillow
Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Plastic Fantastic LoverJefferson AirplaneSurrealistic Pillow
Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Won’t You Try / Saturday AfternoonJefferson AirplaneAfter Bathing at Baxters
TodayJefferson AirplaneSurrealistic Pillow
Good ShepherdJefferson AirplaneVolunteers
LatherJefferson AirplaneCrown of Creation
SolidarityJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
Wooden ShipsJefferson AirplaneVolunteers
The WheelJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
AmericaKBC BandKBC Band
FreedomJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
Let Us Get Together Right Down HereHot TunaBurgers
Walkin’ BluesHot Tuna
Jorma Kaukonen
America’s Choice
Too Hot To Handle
Mann’s FateHot TunaHot Tuna (1970)
San Francisco Bay BluesHot TunaTour, then on
Pair A Dice Found (1990)
Third Week In The ChelseaJefferson AirplaneBark
PandaJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
MiraclesJefferson StarshipRed Octopus
Ice AgeJefferson Airplane /
Jorma Kaukonen
Jefferson Airplane (1989)
Too Hot To Handle
Summer of LoveJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
True LoveJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
Crown of CreationJefferson AirplaneCrown of Creation
White RabbitThe Great Society /
Jefferson Airplane
Conspicuous Only In Its Absence
Surrealistic Pillow
VolunteersJefferson AirplaneVolunteers
ENCORES:
It’s No Secret
Jefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane Takes Off
Bless Its Pointed Little Head
PlanesJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane (1989)
setlist.com: 1989 Tour “Average setlist”

Overall

It’s Jefferson Starship with Jorma and Jack hoisted or press-ganged on board. Maybe with their names press-ganged on board. The more I listen, the more I see that Marty, Jorma and Jack were correct in suggesting that the “band” did not all play together on everything. The sound is too slick, the mood of several songs is too similar.

Highlights? Summer of Love. Too Many Years. The Wheel (which does sound like the old Airplane). All of Grace’s singing is good.

I’ve spent a week playing it a lot. It’s better than I remembered. As far as I can tell, it’s never been remastered. If there are those two abandoned recordings (Let it Go, Harbor in Hong Kong) they’ve never shown up as bonus tracks. No, it’s not as interesting as “real” Jefferson Airplane, but I prefer it to most Jefferson Starship.

THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …

Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
Wild Life – Wings
Sometime in New York City – John and Yoko / Elephant’s Memory
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane (1989)

And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:

Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison

This list will grow steadily

2 thoughts on “Jefferson Airplane (1989)

  1. A grocer’s comma entered the paragraph “The tour set lists covered their whole careers, as Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship (just the one), KBC Band, and as Hot Tuna. Jorma Kaukonen’s solo repertoire revisits Hot Tuna songs. *Critic’s* who had disliked the album generally agreed that the concerts were better, with the Hot Tuna set being the best part.

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