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Paul Kantner (1941 - 2016)

Getty/Wire Images / Tom Hill

Paul Kantner (1941 - 2016)

Paul Kantner, a founding member of the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and its successor, Jefferson Starship, has died at the age of 74, according to the San Francisco Gate.

His death was confirmed by longtime publicist and friend Cynthia Bowman, who said he died Jan. 28 of multiple organ failure and septic shock.

Jefferson Airplane released their debut album in 1966 and quickly began developing a sound that would profoundly influence the psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s. Their second album and first success, 1967's "Surrealistic Pillow," is one of the great classics of psychedelia. It included the two songs most often associated with the band: “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” Jefferson Airplane released their debut album in 1966 and are known best for their psychedelic-tinged songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love.” Kantner was a guitar player and vocalist with the group and also one of their songwriters.

Though neither of those two songs was written by Kantner, he did write or co-write many of their songs. He was also the band's rhythm guitarist, grounding the wilder sounds of Jorma Kaukonen's lead guitar. Kantner sang, though rarely as the lead – more often, he harmonized and provided backup for the more frequent lead vocalists, Grace Slick and Marty Balin. 

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He was with Jefferson Airplane when they performed at two iconic music festivals, 1967's Monterey Pop Festival and 1969's Woodstock, as well as at the notorious 1969 Altamont Free Concert. Kantner remembered Woodstock in  a 2012 interview with “It was all quite a good adventure for me.”

Kantner also offered San Francisco authenticity to the band – though they were strongly associated with the Bay Area music scene, Kantner was the only San Francisco native in Jefferson Starship. And he influenced the science-fiction content of some of the band's songs with his own love for the genre, developed when he was a boy in boarding school – left alone in a library, he discovered C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" and was instantly hooked.

He would bring sci-fi themes into the music he made with the band and as a solo artist, and his love for sci-fi would even inspire the name for the band that rose from the ashes of Jefferson Airplane's breakup.

By 1970, Jefferson Airplane was fragmenting – creative differences fueled "cliques" within the band, and the members decided to go their separate ways. But Kantner and Slick were, by then, in a romantic relationship, and they stayed together as bandmates, forming Jefferson Starship along with a revolving cast of former Airplane bandmates and other musicians. Releasing eight albums over 11 years, Jefferson Starship had hits including 1975's "Miracles" and 1978's "Count on Me."

In 1984, Kantner was the only remaining original member of Jefferson Airplane in the band. He eventually left, taking with him the "Jefferson" part of the band's name – he took legal action against the band upon leaving, finally settling out of court with the stipulation that they could use neither "Jefferson" nor Airplane" in their name. Continuing without him but with Airplane bandmate Slick, Jefferson Starship became Starship and had a number of pop hits.

In the years after Jefferson Starship, Kantner reunited with some other former bandmates, first forming the KBC Band with Jefferson Airplane members Balin and Jack Casady, then re-forming Jefferson Airplane with most of its original members. Later, he re-formed Jefferson Starship, touring and recording a studio album. He also recorded a handful of solo albums.

Born March 17, 1941, Kantner was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with his Jefferson Airplane bandmates. He is survived by three children: his daughter with Slick, China Kantner, who is a former MTV VJ; and his sons, Gareth and Alexander.

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