Paul Kantner, an innovative guitarist and songwriter instrumental in being at the forefront of the San Francisco sound of the late 1960s with Jefferson Airplane, died yesterday of multiple organ failure and septic shock. He was 74.
The news was confirmed by the late musician’s ex girlfriend and publicist, according to the BBC, which added that Kantner had suffered a heart attack several days earlier.
The San Francisco native co-founded the psychedelic rock outfit best remembered for classic songs like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” sung by the dynamic Grace Slick. Jefferson Airplane, with Kantner, frontwoman Slick, frontman Marty Balin, and masterful guitarist Yorma Kaukonen, was part of a musical brotherhood that also included bands like The Grateful Dead and others and had a musical swagger that spoke about sex, freedom, rebellion, and the anti-establishment. Airplane records like Surrealistic Pillow and Crown of Creation still stand as benchmarks in the genre of the times, classic records which perfectly capture the zeitgeist.
Kanter left the band for a spell when the 1970s began to dawn and returned around mid decade when the band was then known as Jefferson Starship.
The guitarist left again a few years later at which point the band was now called simply Starship after Kantner took legal action on preventing them from using the name Jefferson Starship after his departure and who, post-Kantner, had their most biggest hits to date — the ridiculously 1980s in every way anthems “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” During that time and for decades after, Kantner would tour using various versions of the Airplane and under different names.
Kantner and Jefferson Airplane are due to receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award later this year. The Recording Academy remembered Kantner as one of the true icons of the 20th century in a statement released after Kantner’s death.
Kantner leaves behind his daughter with Slick, China Wing Kantner, who is a semi-personality in her own right (and who was on MTV for a while); his sons Gareth and Alexander; and a legacy and body of work with the Airplane, much of which remains in the pantheon of American classics, and which have a body of sound, influence, curiosity, and creativity that thrives to this very day.
RIP Paul Kantner
March 17, 1941 – January 28, 2016
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Jefferson Airplane – Somebody To Love, American Bandstand, 1967