Thursday, November 22, 2018

Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin

Got a Revolution!Here's a trivia question for you: Who was Jefferson Airplane's first female singer?

So I was reading the recently published (August 2018) autobiography Been So Long: My Life and Music by Jorma Kaukonen, founding member and lead guitarist of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna -- and the book was fairly boring, focusing more on Jorma's drug abuse and marriage problems than I would have preferred. So I sought what I hoped would be a much better read and found it in Got a Revolution! by journalist and music critic Jeff Tamarkin (Atria Books, 2003, 408 pages). The subtitle, "The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane," truly sums up the career of this band: in-fighting, relationships, drugs, arrests, etc. -- but unlike the Kaukonen book, the music was always the focus.

To answer the trivia question above: Signe (pronounced "Sig-nee") Anderson was the first female singer in Jefferson Airplane. She appears on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Takes Off, released in 1966 by RCA Victor (catalog number LPM 3584 (mono) and LSP 3584 (stereo)). However, her husband was having ongoing conflicts with other members of the band, so when Signe became pregnant, she decided to leave the band to raise her family.

The band The Great Society had opened for Jefferson Airplane during many of their concert appearances. The band members included Grace Slick, her husband Jerry Slick, and Jerry's brother Darby Slick. Marty Balin, one of the founding members of the Airplane, was intrigued by Grace's singing and stage presence, so when Signe left the band, Marty asked Grace to join -- and she said yes immediately. (Note: Two of the Great Society's band members had recently left for India to study Indian music, so the band was essentially defunct anyhow.)

Grace brought with her two songs: "Somebody to Love" (written by Darby Slick and originally titled "Someone to Love") and "White Rabbit," written by Grace herself. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff Tamarkin, on the band's recording of their breakout album, Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Victor, LPM-3766/LSP-3766, 1967):
...The next session that day was for the other song Grace imported from the Great Society, "Somebody to Love." With that group, Darby Slick's composition was played almost as a midtempo shuffle. The first change the Airplane made was to virtually double the tempo, cranking it out at a breakneck pace that remains nearly static from verse to chorus. The Airplane version is tightly reined, placing Grace front and center and leaving no slack...
The second change was lyrical, a reference to "in bed" being softened to the more radio-friendly "in your head."
All told, it's a tour de force performance and, upon its release in early 1967, it would become, along with "White Rabbit," one of the defining recordings of the era.
Surrealistic Pillow was a tight, in-your-face, commercial endeavor, which may be difficult to comprehend considering this was the Jefferson Airplane, one of the premier psychedelic San Francisco bands. The average song length on the album was approximately 3 minutes, with only one song tracking in at just over 5 minutes. Where the band stood out, however, was during their live performances, when Jorma, Jack Cassidy (electric bass), and Spencer Dryden (drums) would get into a groove that could last for 10 or more minutes. This Jefferson Airplane can be heard on their first (and best) live album entitled Bless Its Pointed Little Head (RCA Victor, LSP-4133, 1969).

But getting back to the song "White Rabbit" the book, Jeff Tamarkin details how Grace Slick wrote the song:
Inspired, Grace sat down to write a new song of her own. Drawing on her love of all things Spanish, she fashioned a snaky bolero rhythm. Then, thinking back on her childhood fantasies, she suggested a correlation between the mystical worlds of those timeless tales and the quests that she and her fellow seekers were undertaking as young adults:

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that Mother gives you don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall.

There had never been another song like "White Rabbit." Originally called "White Rabbit Blues," it was Lewis Carroll meets Ravel meets Sketches of Spain [Miles Davis]. Electric guitars and snare drums piled atop one another, blatant drug allusions crossed paths with bedtime stories, all climaxing in a smashing crescendo, a bellowing Grace inventing a catch phrase for her generation, "Feed your head! Feed your head!"

Throughout the book, Tamarkin also covers the side projects -- solo albums, bands, book projects, etc. -- of each of the Airplane members: the original members as well as the band members that followed in each of the band's later incarnations, including Jefferson Starship, Starship, and Hot Tuna. For example, in 1987, Paul Kantner spent time with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in support of their revolution. He self-published his experiences in Paul Kantner's Nicaragua Diary (Little Dragon Press, 1987, 113 pages). His other band members had refused to journey with him to Nicaragua at the time because they felt it was too dangerous.

And, drummer Spencer Dryden eventually joined up, in 1982, with bassist Peter Albin (Big Brother & The Holding Company), guitarist John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service), guitarist Barry Melton (Country Joe and the Fish), and keboard player Merl Saunders (Jerry Garcia) to form the band Dinosaurs. Their first self-titled album was released on the Relix Records label (RRLP 2031) in 1988.

"Go ride the music...."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Recap of Charles Stross's Laundry Files Series

The Labyrinth IndexFor those who have been with me on More Red Ink over the long haul, you know that I have been involved in all nine volumes of the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross: acquiring the first two volumes for Golden Gryphon Press, then working on volumes three through seven for Ace Books, volume eight for Macmillan UK, and the current volume, The Labyrinth Index, for Tor/St. Martin's Press. [1]

In preparation for the release of this latest volume, author Charles Stross presented, on, a "five-minute orientation briefing before Human Resources take over for your induction paperwork. Please try to pay attention: there won’t be an exam, but your life may depend on it."

So if you are getting ready to read The Labyrinth Index and looking for a recap of what's gone on previously in the series, then look no further than

Speaking of which, when you read the "five-minute orientation" and you come upon the name " X-Division of the Special Operations Executive," just pretend it actually reads "Q-Division. (We won't remind Charlie that it's always been a "Q"....)
Q-Division (formerly Q Department in earlier volumes) – the Laundry’s official name; originally part of SOE during WWII.
The Labyrinth Index was officially released on October 30 and is available from Amazon, or your bookseller of choice.


[1] You can read about my work on The Labyrinth Index in my blog post on April 8, 2018.