Paul Kantner, the co-founder and guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane and, later, Jefferson Starship, has died after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. His publicist has added that his death was from septic shock and organ failure. He was 74.
Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, said:
Paul Kantner was a folk/rock giant and integral part of the 1960s rock scene. A founding member of Jefferson Airplane, who are receiving our Lifetime Achievement Award this year, Paul was a key architect in the development of what became known as the San Francisco Sound. A multifaceted singer, songwriter, guitarist, and performer, he was essential to the success of such classic Airplane songs as “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” The music community has lost a true icon, and we share our deepest condolences with Paul’s family and friends, and with those who had the privilege of collaborating with him.Born in San Francisco on March 17, 1941, Kantner was sent to a military boarding school at the age of 8 after his mother passed away. It was there that he became enamored by both science fiction books and music and, by the time he was a teen, rebelled against society and authority, eventually dropping out of school to become a musician.
Kantner initially became a folksinger in the Bay area where he became friends with Marty Balin, forming the band Jefferson Airplane. The pair recruited singer Signe Toly Andersen and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen to fill out the ranks of the band.
They built their reputation around the San Francisco Bay area but their sound didn't fully form until October 1966 when Anderson left after the birth of a baby and Grace Slick took over as lead singer. Their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, included their breakout hits Somebody to Love (1967 / #5) and White Rabbit (1967 / #8) which established them as one of the premier groups to come out of San Francisco.
The Jefferson Airplane went on to record a total of seven studio albums before internal strife broke them up in 1972 but, during the period when Airplane was falling apart, Kantner recorded the album Blows Against the Universe as Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship which was actually a near supergroup of artists with Slick, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Joey Covington, Jack Casady, Graham Nash and others.
Kantner and Slick became romantically involved towards the end of the Airplane and released two albums which led to the official forming of Jefferson Starship. From a sales standpoint, the new group rivaled the original with a number of big albums and a number of significant hits including Miracles (1975 / #3), With Your Love (1976 / #12) and Count On Me (1978 / #8), but they also had some internal upheaval that, in 1978, saw Slick take a leave of absence and Balin quit.
In October 1980, Kantner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage from which he took almost a year to recover. He remained a member of Jefferson Starship, now with Mickey Thomas on lead but, in 1984, he left the band claiming they had become too commercial. Paul also didn't want the "Jefferson" legacy ruined so he sued the band to stop them from continuing to use the name, forcing them to change their name to simply Starship.
In 1985, Kantner joined Marty Balin and Jack Casady to form the KBC Band, releasing one album and, in 1987, the three along with Slick reformed Jefferson Airplane to release a self-titled album. He followed with reforming Jefferson Starship in 1991, recording two studio albums (1998's Windows of Heaven and 2008's Jefferson's Tree of Liberty) and touring on a regular basis.
On March 25, 2015, Kantner suffered a heart attack which led to his declining health but he managed to return to the band late in the year to celebrate the Airplane's 50th anniversary.
Kantner and the Jefferson Airplane were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996