Captain Kantner will steer the Jefferson Starship to Park City
Back in 1965, guitarist Paul Kantner and vocalist Marty Balin formed Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco.
The group’s contemporaries included the Grateful Dead, Santana and the Janis Joplin-led Big Brother & the Holding Company.
The Airplane, which also featured vocalist Grace Slick, hit the Top 40 with the psychedelic hits "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," was one of the headliners of the original Woodstock festival in 1969.
Three years later, the band crashed and burned.
However, Kantner and his Airplane cohorts Balin and Slick regrouped as Jefferson Starship in 1974.
Since then, the band has seen its fair share of peaks, valleys and lineup changes, but it has continued making music thanks to Kantner, the captain who has kept the band’s name alive.
Park City will get a chance to see Jefferson Starship when the band plays two nights — Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at the Egyptian Theatre.
While it’s true the band wouldn’t have survived without Kantner, he said during a telephone interview with The Park Record on Tuesday, the music is the thing that keeps him going.
"When we’re on stage, it’s one of those sweeps that takes us to that great place that is beyond comprehension, really," he said, calling from his North Beach home in San Francisco. "I’ve never figured out why music affects us the way it does or much more why it affects the audience.
"I mean why that combination of elements that include notes and melodies that goes into the brain and creates this emotional response has eluded me to this day, which is probably one of the reasons why I still want to play," Kantner gleefully said. "I get swept away and I’m swept away, generally, by everything we do musically."
Still, the emotions the guitarist feels when he plays music is nothing new.
"Music swept me away early in my life when I was turned onto a band called the Weavers, which was Pete Seeger’s band," he said. "After I first heard them, I thought, ‘Gee, can I do that?’"
Kantner was moved so much by the music that he learned to play the banjo, and later, the guitar.
"I listened to them all the time and I still do," he said. "Their music continues to this day to teach me things, because every time I hear them, I still get swept away, so I guess it worked out really well for me, apparently."
The present Jefferson Starship lineup includes Kantner, bassist David Freiberg, vocalist Cathy Richardson, drummer Donny Baldwin, keyboardist Chris Smith and guitarist Jude Gold.
"We have a really great band, and it’s been a pleasure playing with them," he said. "Cathy has been with us for five years and Jude, our guitarist, joined us this year."
Kantner said he hasn’t had any problems recruiting people to play the Jefferson Starship songs throughout the years.
"They find me more often than not," he said. "I’ll run into them during some event and when something comes up and I need them, I’ll give them a ring and see what they’re doing and ask if they want to come on for a while."
the nature of its roster, the band hasn’t been able to sit down and make long-term goals, but that’s another thing that isn’t new to Kantner.
"We never think about that sort of stuff," he said. "We just do what we do, because in the past, we have made plans, but things usually go crazy and we’ve always had to change or fidget them."
So, Kantner said, he feels more comfortable venturing into uncharted territory.
"It’s an adventure in its own way," he said. "That’s what makes this enjoyable. I like the unpredictability of it all.
"All the whys and wherefores of how this thing comes about and what makes it occur is another reason why I still play music," Kantner said. "I feel like Mickey Mouse in the movie ‘Fantasia’ when he comes upon the sorcerer’s notebooks. (I look around) and see all this (stuff) is happening and I have no idea why, but I’m participating in it and actually partially creating it."
Even a few minutes before the The Park Record interview, Kantner was working on some new material.
"I’m writing a song about Mary Magdalene right now," he said. "It’s about her leaving the Holy Land and going to Carthage and then onto France.
"I don’t know if you know the story about Mary Magdalene, but she’s my kind of girl," he said with a laugh. "The couple of women I’ve fallen in love with over the years are sort of like her in various ways — intellectually and emotionally."
Kantner is also writing a science fiction work about going to Mars.
"It’s called ‘Pooneil Goes to Mars,’" he said. "As some of our listeners know, Pooneil is one of these characters we write about."
With those songs in the works and the band going on tour, Kantner said it is obvious that he isn’t planning on stopping any time soon.
"My way of thinking about life is to go until you don’t," he giggled. "It seems to be working so far and I imagine I’ll carry on until I don’t, I guess.
"Anyway, those are the things that drive me, personally, and I would think they drive our band in some way," Kantner said. "I paraphrase Somerset Maugham and say, ‘There are three rules to rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.’ He said that about writing and it applies to my world in music and the whole thing we do."
On that note, Kantner paid tribute to his friend, the late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who passed away on Monday.
"He was a marvelous fellow," Kantner said. "He was a very eclectic fellow and had an interest in a lot of ponds. He did most of what he did really well."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Jefferson Starship on Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $60 and are available at http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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