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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane Dies at 74


Paul Kantner, one of the giants of the San Francisco music scene, died Thursday of multiple organ failure. Mr. Kantner, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane, was 74 and had suffered a heart attack this week.

His death was confirmed by longtime publicist and friend, Cynthia Bowman, who said he died of multiple organ failure and septic shock. Mr. Kantner suffered from a string of health problems in recent years, including a heart attack in March 2015.

With Jefferson Airplane, Mr. Kantner pioneered what became known as the San Francisco sound in the mid-1960s, with such hits as “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

The Airplane was renowned for thrilling vocal gymnastics by singers Marty Balin, Grace Slick and Mr. Kantner, the psychedelic blues-rock sound developed by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady and the LSD-spiked, ‘60s-era revolutionary fervor of its lyrics.

The band was formed in a Union Street bar called the Drinking Gourd, when Balin met Mr. Kantner and expressed his interest in forming a “folk-rock” band. It didn’t take long for the Airplane to attract a sizable local following, enough so that when fledgling promoter Bill Graham opened his legendary Fillmore Auditorium, the Jefferson Airplane served as the first headliner.



The Airplane was the first of the so-called “San Francisco sound” bands to sign a recording contract with a major label, and in August of 1966, its debut album, “The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” was released. Slick joined the band a year later and songs like “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” became national hits as the love children came streaming into San Francisco.

The group quickly became an integral part of the ’60s rock scene, from the Matrix club to Golden Gate Park’s “Human Be-In” to Monterey Pop. The Airplane’s high point may have been its sterling early-morning performance at Woodstock, while its nadir may have come only months later, at the violence-plagued Altamont concert, when Balin was knocked unconscious by the rampaging Hells Angels.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sun Studio

Sun Studio in Memphis, TN
Photo Credit: Lance Vaughn

The Sun Sound began when Sam Phillips launched his record company in February of 1952. He named it Sun Records as a sign of his perpetual optimism: a new day and a new beginning. Sam rented a small space at 706 Union Avenue for his own all-purpose studio. The label was launched amid a growing number of independent labels. In a short while Sun gained the reputation throughout Memphis as a label that treated local artists with respect and honesty. Sam provided a non-critical, spontaneous environment that invited creativity and vision.

As a businessman, Phillips was patient and willing to listen to almost anyone who came in off the street to record. Memphis was a happy home to a diverse musical scene: gospel, blues, hillbilly, country, boogie, and western swing. Taking advantage of this range of talent, there were no style limitations at the label. In one form or another Sun recorded them all.
Then in 1954 Sam found Elvis Presley, an artist who could perform with the excitement, unpredictability and energy of a blues artist but could reach across regional, musical and racial barriers.

 Sam Phillips

He helped form the beginnings of the Sun Sound by infusing Country music with R&B. Elvis’s bright star attracted even more ground-breaking talent to the Sun galaxy. Listed among his contemporaries and lab mates were Johnny Cash, the inimitable Jerry Lee Lewis, and the “Rockin’ Guitar Man”, Carl Perkins. These four soon became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Right behind them came Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, Harold Jenkins (a.k.a. Conway Twitty) and other equally memorable musical talents. All eventually sold on Pop, R&B and Country charts and grew to international fame.

Rockabilly became the major evolution in the Sun Sound. Lyrically it was bold; musically it was sparse; but it moved. In the 1950’s Country music rarely used drums that were so vital to jazz, blues, and jump bands. In fact, drums were prohibited on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. However, Rockabilly drums played an essential role in driving teens across the nation to become enamored with the Rockabilly movement and the revolutionary Sun Sound. Once again, Sun was able to break new ground recording music of unparalleled diversity in an incubator of creativity.


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