Considering its seismic impact on the band and music history, Grace Slick’s invitation to Jefferson Airplane on October 16, 1966 was surprisingly low-key.
“I was on the balcony of the Avalon Ballroom [in San Francisco] watching the crowd downstairs as they moved after a plane gig when Jack Casady, their bassist, came over to talk for a while, “Slick recalls in his 1998 memoir Someone to love? “Seemingly out of nowhere, Jack said, ‘What do you think about singing with Airplane?’
“My reaction to Jack was a calm (trying to be cool), ‘Yeah, that might work.'”
The Airplane was already at the top of San Francisco’s nascent rock scene, with a nationwide recording deal and debut album, Jefferson plane takes off, which came out in August 1966. But the addition of Slick was what really made it take off, almost immediately. (The band’s second album, Surreal pillow, released in February 1967, was a Top 5, certified platinum, driven by a pair of Top 10 hits written by Slick, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”)
Slick ruled with Janis Joplin as the queens of rock at this time, and the strength of her voice and personality made her a feminist counterculture icon and an inspiring role model for many to follow. “When they had Grace in the band, it was just beyond imaginable,” David Crosby recalled to Jefferson Airplane biographer Jeff Tamarkin. “She was gorgeous. She had a power and intensity on stage that Stevie Nicks should only dream of having.”
Slick was hardly an unknown talent at the time. Born in suburban Chicago and raised in Palo Alto, Calif., She was a department store model before forming a group, the Great Society, in 1965 with her husband, Jerry Slick, and brother Darby Slick. The band’s only album included early versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” but this one, along with the Slicks’ wedding, fell apart in the fall of 1966, around the same time the singer from Airplane, Signe Toly Anderson, decided to leave the group. to raise her newborn baby.
The timing of Casady’s invitation couldn’t have been better.
“What was I really thinking? Slick wrote. ” YOU ARE LIKED ! FINALLY, I WILL BE IN THE FUCKING VARSITY SQUAD FUNCTION! I didn’t say it out loud, but for me it was an initiation, an invitation to hold what I had always thought was a high position reserved only for models, movie stars and great physical beauties. nausea. That sarcastic sarcastic chest, frizzy brown hair was breaking another barrier in Barbie Land. “
The changing of the guard for the aircraft took place in mid-October 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium. Anderson made his last appearance with the group on October 15, while Slick debuted the following night, a two-set show that included five songs from Take off, previews of the tracks that would appear later on Surreal pillow (“3/5 of a mile in 10 seconds”), After the bath at Baxter (“Things are better in the East”) and Jefferson’s plane loves you (“Don’t Let Me Down”), as well as a selection of covers including “Tobacco Road” by JD Loudermilk and “The Other Side of This Life” by Fred Neil.
Slick admitted that she was “scared of shit” because of the local popularity of the plane and that she also felt under-repeated, as was the habit of the group. “I had imagined that my first performance with Airplane would be well rehearsed, that when I replaced Signe it would be a change of course,” Slick wrote. “But I was there, ready to start singing, with very little preparation and therefore no insurance. Despite that, I walked out on stage with a lot of attitude, calculated, looking relaxed.… I ‘ gave the audience a smile and a solemn look that said, ‘I know I’m new. I know you’re used to Signe, but I’m here now.’ “
Paul Kantner recalled that there was some resistance to change, including at RCA Records. “When Signe left, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh my God the plane is dead,’” he told Tamarkin. But thanks to regular performances, including nine more shows at the Fillmore until New Years Eve, Slick’s mark on the group has gradually taken hold.
“She was just like us: drugged, drinker, free, sassy and scandalous,” fellow singer Marty Balin told Tamarkin. “It fits in perfectly well.” Casady added that “Grace would lead us in different directions. I could play much more aggressive bass lines than I could on some of the things that Signe would do, which was a lot more folk oriented. It was something I could do. could sink your teeth into. “
Slick would become the face of the plane, then for two stints with the bands Jefferson Starship and Starship that followed. After dating with other members of the group, she and Kantner were together from 1969 to 1975 and had a child, China, who had her own career as a singer, actress and VJ MTV. Slick, who has recorded four solo albums, retired from music after attending the Airplane Reunion in 1989 and devoted himself to the visual arts, making rare public appearances, most notably when Jefferson Airplane received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
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