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Jefferson Airplane Set to Take Off Again

POPEYE

March 05, 1989|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Twenty-two years after the Summer of Love, the Jefferson Airplane is revving up its rusty propellers and eyeing the pop skies again.

The seminal San Francisco psychedelic band, which hadn't released an album under its original name since 1973 (the group partially re-formed in 1974 as the Starship), is going into the studio in a matter of weeks to begin recording a new album.

"If you'd told me we were going to do this two years ago, I'd have said you were crazy," said Grace Slick, phoning from Marin County where she was nursing the flu. "(Co-founder) Paul Kantner and I were still at each other's throats, and everyone else was pursuing other interests. . . . But time heals all wounds."

Slick said Airplane members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, who perform as Hot Tuna, recently played some dates with Kantner, who in turn invited Slick to a show in San Francisco. She sat in, singing a few songs, including an acoustic version of "White Rabbit."

"It was very casual, but we all enjoyed it--and better still, the audience seemed to enjoy it," she said. "So we took that as a promising sign." (The only original member still holding out is Marty Balin, who "might" become involved as the project unfolds.) Slick said the band has a new manager--HK Management's Trudy Green--and is about to sign a one-shot record deal, with RCA Records (the group's original label) as a possible contender.

If the Airplane was the \o7 enfant terrible \f7 of '60s rock outfits, then Slick was the psychedelic era's most colorful media quote machine. Even in middle age (she turns 50 in October!) she still displays an appealingly irreverent attitude toward careerdom.

"Honey, getting this band back together is a mind-boggling procedure," she said. "For the last four months, we've been making phone calls for three hours a day, talking to managers and lawyers and accountants and more lawyers, either trying to infiltrate or extricate ourselves from all sorts of crazy contracts.

"Everyone has all these old ties. Even me. I have to detach myself from the Starship because we owe RCA one more album." She laughed. "And I own 51% of the stock in the group so I just can't walk away from it."

In recent years, the Starship had largely relied on outside songwriters whose material brought the band three No. 1 hits, but little respect. "I'm sure it was very gratifying for those hotshot L.A. songwriters, but I missed being involved something terrible," Slick said. "When I started writing again last summer, I realized how much songwriting meant to me."

Still, it's hard to imagine the Airplane recapturing much of its former glory. In recent years, a wide variety of oldster bands--from the Doobie Brothers to CSN&Y--have re-formed, with depressing results. "As far as I'm concerned, we're going for the music," said Slick. "We're not trying to recapture the '60s--that would be pretty nauseating. We're not trying to tear down the walls anymore."

But is Slick comfortable hanging onto her rock identity at 50? "I'm not comfortable with anything. When I was 25, I made a lot of pronouncements. I read some quotes I'd made recently and I thought, 'Oh, you fool!' But that's the beauty of rock. It's still so young as an art form that there aren't a lot of specific rules--and you can always break the ones that are there. I don't feel old at 50. I'd just like another 100 years or so!"

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