“That really is actually a magic record. It’s one of those things that you look at it on the turntable and I keep expecting it to drift away, to disappear, it’s so beautiful.” (Peel after playing "White Rabbit" on the final Perfumed Garden, 14 August 1967)
Trips to Los Angeles to see Capt. Beefheart and range of other trendy bands. Met Jefferson Airplane. Didn't like them (John Peel writing in 1992 about his life in California in 1966 - part of the notes for a planned autobiography, eventually published in Margrave of the Marshes, p. 400)
Jefferson Airplane were the best-known and most commercially successful of the groups to come out of the San Francisco hippy movement of the late 1960s. They formed in 1965 as a folk-rock group, with some band members (notably singer Marty Balin and singer-guitarist Paul Kantner) having backgrounds in the Bay Area folk scene. They performed regularly around San Francisco, signed with RCA Records and in 1966 released their first LP,Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, which sold well. In 1967 they achieved large-scale success, with a new lead singer, Grace Slick, whose looks (she had worked as a model), powerful voice and strong stage presence added to their appeal as a live act. Their music developed into a more electric and "psychedelic" style, captured on the 1967 LP Surrealistic Pillow, which sold a million copies, remaining in the US album chart for a full year. Two singles taken from the LP, "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit", also made the US charts and the Airplane's appearances on TV and at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival made them pop stars.
Yet there were no more hit singles; the band saw themselves as part of the hippy movement and their music reflected this, moving away from conventional songs towards longer and more complex pieces with unusual vocal harmonies and instrumental passages on the albums After Bathing At Baxters and Crown of Creation (both 1968). A live LP, Bless Its Pointed Little Head, captured their style at this period, as did film of their performances at Woodstock and the disastrous Altamont Festival in the same year. Volunteers (1969) saw them endorsing the idea of a hedonistic "revolution", then in vogue among some US students and hippies, but after this the Airplane began to fragment, with line-up changes and solo projects exacerbating tensions in what had always been a band of strong personalities.
The folk-blues duo Hot Tuna, formed by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, issued a successful LP and continued gigging during Grace Slick's pregnancy, eventually becoming a full-time band in its own right. Founder member Marty Balin left; Slick's relationship with Paul Kantner became close professionally as well as personally, with them collaborating on the LP Blows Against The Empire, a concept album with a science-fiction theme, accompanied by "friends", including members of the Grateful Dead and the Airplane itself. Further Jefferson Airplane albums followed - Bark (1971), Long John Silver (1972) - but these were sometimes overshadowed by band members' solo projects, and the Airplane, although still popular with US audiences, split up in 1973. They were succeeded by Jefferson Starship (the name originally used by Paul Kantner on Blows Against The Empire), a more mainstream rock band which had little countercultural appeal but enjoyed great commercial success in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. A full account of the Airplane's career can be found at Wikipedia.
Paul Kantner died in San Francisco at the age of 74 on January 28, 2016, due to multiple organ failure and septic shock after he suffered a heart attack days earlier. Marty Balin died aged 76 on 27 September 2018.
Links to Peel
John Peel first encountered the Jefferson Airplane during his time at the radio station KMEN in San Bernardino, California. He attended some of the recording sessions for the LP Surrealistic Pillow, although the exact date of his presence is not known; the sessions ran from 31 October to 22 November 1966 at RCA's studios in Hollywood. He was later to recall that he did not warm to the group (see quote at top of article) but it did not prevent him developing a strong liking for their music and playing it often on his Radio London Perfumed Garden programmes. He regarded them as one of the most important groups of 1967 and expressed his frustration that RCA in the UK had not released the Surrealistic Pillow LP. At this time, British record companies were nervous about issuing "psychedelic" LPs, fearing that this would be seen as encouraging drug use; the LP was issued later in the year but differed from the US release, being a mixture of tracks from the original LP and Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. The single "White Rabbit" had a particular fascination for him, as he nicknamed his first wife Shirley "the White Rabbit" - although this, like the Airplane's song, might equally have come from Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, a favourite book of the hippy era. He also referred to it on air as a "magical" record, in one of the more psychedelic-sounding links from the final Perfumed Garden.
Peel continued to play records by the Airplane and their spin-off projects throughout the Top Gear era, and chose "The Other Side Of This Life" from their Bless Its Pointed Little Head LP to play to Radio 3's Hans Keller, a guest on Night Ride in early 1969; Keller dismissed it as "primitive". Peel also compered at least two of their major appearances in the UK; at the first Isle of Wight Festival in 1968, and at the Roundhouse in November of that year, when they shared the bill with The Doors. He did not pay much attention to the post-1974 Jefferson Starship, however, and later in his career seldom revisited the early Airplane LPs, apart from occasional plays of "White Rabbit" and "Somebody To Love".
Festive Fifty Entries
- 1976 Festive Fifty: White Rabbit #24
- None. See Sessions That Never Happened.
Other Shows Played
- 12 July 1967: White Rabbit (single) RCA 9248 (US release) (JP: "It's called White Rabbit and it's for a white rabbit too, actually" - his first wife Shirley, whom he nicknamed the White Rabbit when he dedicated records to her)
- 18 July 1967: Somebody to Love (JP: “I wonder when the RCA Victor company are going to get around to releasing Surrealistic Pillow and not just giving us singles from it, because it’s maddening, it is. Because the whole LP is very important.”)
- 06 August 1967: Plastic Fantastic Lover (single - b-side of White Rabbit) RCA
- 14 August 1967: (JP: “Here is a record for the “White Rabbit,” who has had to put up with an awful lot in the past four or five months.”)
White Rabbit (single) RCA (US release)
(JP: “That really is actually a magic record. It’s one of those things that you look at it on the turntable and I keep expecting it to drift away, to disappear, it’s so beautiful.”)
- 01 October 1967: (JP: "Actually, before MI5 transferred me from California, I attended the recording session at which this was made, and it’s very beautiful too. I’d like to dedicate it to a very special person this afternoon – the bailiff who sits in the sitting room of Peel Acres 24 hours a day.")
White Rabbit (single) RCA
- 19 November 1967: Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil (7") RCA Victor
- 22 September 1968: If You Feel Like China Breaking (single) RCA
- 27 October 1968: Crown of Creation (LP - Crown of Creation) RCA
- 12 February 1969: Other Side of This Life (LP: Bless Its Pointed Little Head (Live)) RCA LSP 4133 (US release)
- 09 March 1969: Somebody To Love (LP - Bless Its Pointed Little Head, recorded live at the Fillmore) RCA
- 11 May 1969: It's No Secret (LP - Bless Its Pointed Little Head (Live)) RCA LSP 4133 (US release)
- 02 July 1969: White Rabbit (LP - Surrealistic Pillow) RCA Victor
- 15 November 1969: Good Shepherd (LP – Volunteers) RCA LSP 4238 (US release)
- 06 December 1969: We Can Be Together (LP - Volunteers) RCA
- 17 January 1970: Wooden Ships (LP - Volunteers) RCA
- 21 March 1970: Volunteers (LP - Volunteers) RCA
- 27 June 1970: Volunteers (3xLP - Woodstock OST) Atlantic
- 12 September 1970: Have You Seen The Saucers (single) RCA
- 04 August 1972: Long John Silver (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 08 August 1972: Son Of Jesus (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 11 August 1972: Twilight Double Leader (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 15 August 1972: Aerie (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 18 August 1972: Long John Silver (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 25 August 1972: Milk Train (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 01 September 1972: Trial By Fire (LP - Long John Silver) Grunt
- 29 December 1976: White Rabbit (7") (RCA) FF#24 (JP: “one of the few records from the Summer Of Love of 1967 that made it into the Festive Fifty.”)
- 23 June 1980: Volunteers (LP - Volunteers) RCA (Paul Gambaccini sits in)
- 15 August 2001: Somebody To Love (LP - Bless Its Little Pointed Head) RCA (Played after ‘I Want To Be Your Jefferson Airplane’ by Swimmies.)
- 29 January 2002: White Rabbit' (RCA-Victor) Final Perfumed Garden Revisited (JP: “Very nice to hear that again.”)
- (Hot Tuna)
- 28 April 1972: Ode For Billy Dean (LP – Burgers) Grunt
- 12 May 1972: Sea Child (LP - Burgers) Grunt
- Radio Luxembourg Tracklistings 4: 99 Year Blues (LP - Burgers) Grunt
- 22 May 1975: Invitation (LP - America's Choice) Grunt (released 1975)
- 09 June 1975: Walkin' Blues (LP - America's Choice) Grunt (released 1975)
- D025: (19 June 1975 or 23 June 1975 Serpent Of Dreams (LP - America's Choice) Grunt
- (Grace Slick & Paul Kantner)
- 07 January 1972: When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves (LP – Sunfighter) Grunt
- (Paul Kantner, Grace Slick & David Freiberg)
- 14 June 1973: Sketches Of China (LP: Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) Grunt
- 26 June 1973: Flowers Of The Night (LP: Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) Grunt