News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Paul Kantner, Co-Founder Of Jefferson Airplane, Dies At 74


We're going to travel up the California coast now to remember one of the architects of the San Francisco Sound of the '60s.


JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies, don't you want somebody to love?

CORNISH: Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner died yesterday. The guitarist and singer was 74 years old. He had suffered a heart attack earlier in the week. NPR's Tom Cole has this appreciation.

TOM COLE, BYLINE: Paul Kantner played a crucial role in Jefferson Airplane, says Joel Selvin. He's been writing about San Francisco's music and culture for more than 40 years and says, even though the songwriter and rhythm guitarist was often overshadowed by the other members...

JOEL SELVIN: He was at the center of it. He was the soul of it. He was the sort of contrarian that kept everything off balance, and being off balance was an important part of being the Jefferson Airplane.


JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) It's a wild time. I see people all around me changing faces.

COLE: It was a wild time in San Francisco when Jefferson Airplane took off, as Kantner himself told NPR in 1994.


PAUL KANTNER: It was a total loosening all reins and demanding them, going out and grabbing them and, curiously enough, getting away with it.

COLE: Paul Lorin Kantner was born in San Francisco in 1941. His mother died when he was eight, and his father sent him off to military boarding school. He hated it and escaped through science fiction. And that, too, played out in his music over the years, as in "Wooden Ships," co-written with David Crosby and Stephen Stills.


JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) Silver people on the shoreline, leave us be - very free and easy. Sail away where the morning sun goes high.

COLE: Jefferson Airplane broke up in 1973, and Kantner formed Jefferson Starship, which he led on and off for the rest of his life. Joel Selvin says, whatever Kantner played, his music was rooted in his character.

SELVIN: There was a tremendous political strain. There was a real resistance to authority and convention. Yet, at the same time, he also had that kind of hope and vision of a utopian future that was so much a part of that hippie movement. He never gave it up, you know? He never bought the Mercedes and moved to the suburbs.

COLE: Paul Kantner stayed in the city whose soul he helped define. Tom Cole, NPR news.


JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) Very free and gone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Cole is a senior editor on NPR's Arts Desk. He develops, edits, produces, and reports on stories about art, culture, music, film, and theater for NPR's news magazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered. Cole has held these responsibilities since February 1990.