SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.
“Get them while they're young and bend their minds.”
Spencer Dryden, Drummer, Jefferson Airplane
This is one of my greatest musical love affairs, so why did I wait this long to feature it on the Sojourn? I’ve been asking myself that question and I’ve finally come up with an answer. There is just so much I could say here and they have played such a central part in my musical life, that I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to begin. A good example of this is when I went through the music and created the set, which I usually do before I write this piece, and placed all of the songs I wanted to include into one list. Normally, I would then prune the list down from like three hours (a couple of times closer to four) down to the two hours you hear each week. I looked at the list this time and I had to prune it down from 6 hours and 37 minutes!!! I had over six hours of the Airplane that I thought was the best and needed to be a part of the set. I had to make some hard choices.
They are not only one of my greatest musical love affairs, they are probably the oldest with the exception of the Beatles. My love affair with them started in 1966, before most people in the country had even heard of them. Before I can explain that, I need to tell you a bit about their beginnings and maybe my own. Like their drummer, Spencer Dryden, said in the quote above, they got me when I was young and they bent my mind early.
The band was formed in San Francisco in 1965 and there were several personnel changes very early on but they quickly settled into what would be their classic lineup. There were two exceptions; their first female vocalist was not Grace Slick but another woman, Signe Anderson. Skip Spence would be the drummer for the first album only before being replaced by Spencer Dryden. This early lineup (shown below), with Spence and Anderson, recorded their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in 1966.
|The Jefferson Airplane in 1966|
This album didn’t do all that well. The band never toured to support it and they made no TV appearances. Even though they were a sensation in the San Francisco Bay Area, they would remain relatively obscure until their second album in 1967.
In the fall of 1966, my older brother went off to attend a school in San Francisco where we had family living at the time. It was after he was settled and the school year had started that mom and dad took us out of school in early October and we went to visit my older brother in San Francisco and the rest of the family out there. My brother and I had always been close and we had shared our love of music with each other. It was in his room during this visit that he shared a new album he had and he couldn’t wait to play it for me. To repeat what Spencer Dryden said at the opening, they were about to get me young and bend my mind.
It was a few days later that we were walking down the street, I think to some restaurant we had a reservation at, that I saw something amid the city noises, pedestrians, cars with honking horns and corner Hare Krishna groups. It was a plywood wall cordoning off a construction site and on it were a bunch of posters including several similar to the one shown below. (This one is not quite the same and wass for a spring concert, not a fall one.) I wasn’t used to reading the psychedelic lettering but with some effort I read, “Jefferson Airplane.” It was also the first time I had ever heard of what was to become a very famous Bay Area concert venue, the Fillmore. This was my new favorite band and they were playing nearby. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them and I was probably a bit too young for a rock concert anyway.
I returned with my family, sans my brother, to Massachusetts and Jefferson Airplane had a couple of more personnel changes. Drummer Skip Spence was replaced by Spencer Dryden and Signe Anderson left the group to raise a family. I really wish I could recall the details of that Airplane handbill poster I saw. Signe Anderson played her last concert at the Fillmore on October 15, 1966. The poster I saw that day may very well have been for that show. At the show, the band gave her a public farewell and she said goodbye to all the fans with the following, "I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and bounce balloons. I love you all. Thank you and goodbye." I will play this “Farewell to Signe” on Sunday night.
They had already recruited a new singer from another band, Grace Slick of the Great Society. Grace was married to Great Society drummer, Jerry Slick and she had already written White Rabbit and was performing it with them. They recorded one single, written by Jerry’s brother, Darby Slick, Somebody to Love. When Grace came over to the Airplane, she brought both of these tunes with her and they would become big hits for her new band.
I was 3000 miles away back on the East Coast and unaware of any of this. I had gone through the next few months in withdrawal and craving my beloved Jefferson Airplane. It wasn’t until the following spring, in May 1967, that I got my next taste. I read in TV Guide (I think) that MY Jefferson Airplane was going to be on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I finally got a new taste of Airplane as I watched them on our TV, which was black and white so I didn’t originally see it in color as you can see it below. This is the same performance I saw exactly 50 years ago next month.
I hadn’t noticed that the woman singing had changed, at least for a while. Things “psychedelic” were just starting to appear and I think I had heard this song before on the radio, but didn’t know it was my Jefferson Airplane. Even in black and white, the psychedelic essence of the performance was not lost on me. Remember, they had gotten me early and they were continuing to bend my mind.
The album this new song was off of was Surrealistic Pillow and it was one of the first albums I ever bought and I couldn’t play it enough. I drove my parents nuts! The Airplane had hit the big time and I would never again find myself unable to get my fill of them. I would buy each of their albums as they were released and always made sure I caught their TV appearances.
They not only were on the radio now, they would play two of the most famous festivals of the 60’s, the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. They would record a total of seven studio albums and various live releases before breaking up in 1972. For those six years, they truly did bend my young mind. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy had already formed a new Band, Hot Tuna. In 1974, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin got together and formed Jefferson Starship as a next generation band.
In real life, DJ Sue is Grace Slick’s 7th cousin. We both go back to a common ancestor in Massachusetts during the 1700’s. We have never met but I learned this around the year 2000 when I read an article in a genealogical journal on her ancestry. No shit!!!
DJ Sue’s Vault…
I no longer have my first copy of Surrealistic Pillow but above is a 1970’s replacement in my collection currently. What I believe to be the oldest piece of vinyl in the vault that I bought myself is my copy of After Bathing at Baxters (1967), their third album shown below. You can see from the picture below that it is quite worn. I didn’t go back and pick up Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966), the album my brother had played for me, until I already had these two.
Each week when I open Sue’s Sunday Sojourn, I usually play a snippet of something as an intro to lead into my theme song. Sunday, I will use their introduction at the Monterey Pop Festival and you will hear Grace Slick laugh at that introduction as my theme cuts in. In closing my sets, I’ve been picking appropriate songs, sometimes combining them with a closing snippet. This week, I’ll close with one of their closing numbers at a concert at the Fillmore East in New York City. This venue was the east coast sister to the original Fillmore in San Francisco. As they go into their closing number they will describe the Grateful Dead’s run in with the State Police in New Jersey. Pay attention because before they start the song, Grace Slick refers to the Dead as, “…dirty dope addicts, they deserved it.”
I don’t know if any other band has had as much musical influence over me as the Jefferson Airplane had. They got me young and they so bent my mind. Why have I always been something of a hippie? Blame the Airplane. Blame them and start a revolution. Come to AWT Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT for Sue’s Sunday Sojourn as I relive some of my best musical memories and share them with you.
“Rock music is intended to broaden the generation gap, alienate parents from their children and prepare young people for revolution.”
Paul Kantner, The Jefferson Airplane