Watched an old Dick Cavett show from August 1969 and the Jefferson Airplane, fresh from Woodstock, were fierce. The discombobulation of going from a festival bigger than Buffalo and back to Manhattan by helicopter as they came off the acid was noticeable only for a few minutes and by the time Grace sang motherfucker on national television all was well again. David Crosby and Stephen Stills showed up mudspattered and David talked and talked (coming up on the crowd by helicopter, he said, was like viewing the Macedonian army, the acid in his brain turning the vast throng of hippies into invincible hoplites and horsemen of Alexander the Great….) Stills was mostly mute, as if still overwhelmed but when handed a guitar played brilliantly and I remembered it was he and not Mike Bloomfield on Super Session’s Season of The Witch (another of those free form FM standard long since purged from Classic Rock radio). Joni Mitchell, clean and windblown from the canyon and kicking herself for not going (her manager said go on Cavett instead….amazing how many idiot managers kept their bands off the bill, booking them elsewhere) sounded great but sang too many songs, but then I’ve never been a fan. (It’s a minority opinion, I know….) The Airplane hit the studio stage again with a very tough Somebody To Love, Jorma’s lead stinging and psychedelically hostile, followed by a hard jamming Other Side Of This Life, and as the studio audience began breaking out in frantically groovy dancing Cavett waved the camera off and the credits rolled and the Airplane just got fiercer and fiercer and who knows how long they played past the commercials.
Wow. Yet another spontaneous celebration last night. In lieu of live music we watched the 27 hours long Director’s orgy of Woodstock, followed by the concise Gimme Shelter. A whole night spent in the last months of the 1960s. Sure I’ve seen both a zillion times, but never as a sixty year old. Noticed: music was way loose back then. Way. Also, people were way thin back then. Way. And septuagenarians now were once beautiful hippies. Beautiful. And also: weed was less strong and people rolled enormous bombers. And also as well, fat naked people on LSD, though that was Gimme Shelter. (Note to self, avoid LSD, or least keep clothes on.) Thin gorgeous people on LSD in Woodstock, pulchritudinous even. (OK, you try spelling pulchritudinous on a hungover Sunday morning after a couple hours sleep.) And you can tell where all this paranoia came from, though people are infinitely more paranoid now than then. Still, the two dudes yelling about the government seeding the clouds, man, was perhaps the only part of either movie that seemed like today. Finally, the Jefferson Airplane were one awesome band in 1969. Seriously. The extended 98 hour cut of Woodstock gives them more songs than any other band, they were that good. Damn.
Off to loll about in the flowers. Acid, incense and balloons. Figuratively speaking. I can’t stand incense. Punk rockers, you know, we just don’t appreciate nothing.
Also, think I’ll stay away from red wine for a while.
If that cat don’t stop it man.
Here’s an obscure psychedelic classic by San Francisco’s Great Society. You used to hear this spooky take on Sally Go Round the Roses on the free form FM stations on occasion in the ancient daze when a DJ was hip to the band. Recorded in 1966, released in ’68 after the Airplane became superstars (Grace Slick began in this band), check out Darby Slick‘s guitar extended solo….way ahead of the curve, he soon went off it entirely, when he went to India to really get deep into the roots. (Check him out on Facebook). Also, dig Peter Van Gelder‘s soprano sax in the long vamp that leads into White Rabbit. If any other rock band was getting that far out (as they used to say) with the Trane inspired reed work in 1966 I’ve never heard ’em, and notice how naturally it folds into Darby Slick’s raga inspired solo that follows. Grace Slick’s vocals blended in perfectly. Brilliant and vastly underrated stuff by a band that even more than most at the time, didn’t seem especially concerned about being rock stars, let alone making top forty singles. I had an early vinyl version of these recordings–think it was a double LP–way back when, have no idea where it went. Somewhere stoned, no doubt. Feed your head.
I heard “If You Feel” on the radio tonite, in the car, as I sailed down the 101 freeway, windows open, volume jacked up all the way to eleven. It’s not a song you hear much, but I love it, love the way the drums drive the thing, carry it aloft, make it happen. When I got home I listened to the tune again, then remembered this obituary. It was the summer of 2005….
Spencer Dryden died the other day. Cancer and other things. He was 66. Spencer Dryden played drums in Jefferson Airplane. And he was my favorite rock drummer.
Dryden played jazz drums in a rock band…that’s what made it so special. Just listen:
On “If You Feel”, off of Crown of Creation, a stuttering shuffle kicks off the tune into an archetypal Airplane groove, and as the tune picks up he shifts into rapid polyrhythms, sticks never too loud rattling off the snare and back and forth across the toms and sliding around Jack Casady’s massive bass chords. He tried to play it at Altamont…you can see it in Gimme Shelter, but just as he gets going some biker clocks Marty Balin and that ended it. (Alas, that’s wrong. They’re doing “Other Side of This LIfe” when Marty gets walloped and falls back into the drum kit, knocking over the ride cymbal. Spencer, feeding off the violence, rises to his feet and keeps up the tune’s impulsive, swinging rhythm. I love that moment.) Continue reading
An old jazz piano playing buddy of mine was telling me yesterday how back in 1967 this hippie chick he was dating (ahem) took him to see Jefferson Airplane at the monthly love-in in Griffith Park. He really liked the Airplane–a lot of jazz cats did–but the hippie chick insisted on standing right in front of the stage. The PA was so huge and so ridiculously loud that he was deaf for two weeks. He was mad as hell at that hippie chick, but continued dating her. Ahem. But it turns out the real reason he did not leave the front of the stage was he could not take his eyes off of Grace Slick. She was so beautiful. He even remembered how short her mini-skirt was. Jazz piano players seem to remember those things, even fifty years later. One minute they’re talking about Ray Bryant, the next Grace Slick’s underwear.
(from an email to Greg Burk)
Yeah, After Bathing at Baxter’s has wound up my favorite rock album, at the top of the pile for years, as others have come and gone. In fact, only the Sex Pistols rate with the Airplane in being a transformative band in my adult life. I heard the Pistols when I was twenty, in ’77, and it was ’77 that I picked up Baxter’s, the oddly obscure (by then) Airplane album, the one you never heard on the radio. I had most of the others. Baxter’s blew my mind like Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica blew my mind, it was overwhelming, a mind fuck. Somehow it overtook Trout Mask in importance–helped along no doubt by Spencer Dryden‘s drumming–and I still listen to it with varying degrees of awe, depending on how stoned I am. I listen to it dozens of time annually, always have. It’s the only record I have that I listened to dozens of times annually since I bought it in some hippie used record store in Isla Vista. And over all these decades of being a rock fan, the only two essential–as in needing them to breathe essential–rock albums left for me are After Bathing at Baxter’s and Never Mind the Bullocks, bought both that same year, 1977, when I was twenty years old. And when I heard Paul Kantner died, my favorite Airplane, the genius of the bunch, with his amazing sense of harmony and rhythm, I felt the briefest twinge and got on with life, which is the way it should be, because otherwise you don’t get it, you don’t get it at all. Paul got down, not the first time, you know. Paul got down and got up to go. And he’s gone.