Paul Lorin Kantner (born March 17, 1941) is an American rock musician, known for co-founding the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and its spin-off band Jefferson Starship.
Although the band was originally formed by Marty Balin, Kantner eventually became the main man of Jefferson Airplane and captained the group through various successor incarnations of Jefferson Starship. Kantner has the longest continuous membership with the band; at times he was its only member. A political anarchist, Kantner once advocated the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD for mind expansion and spiritual growth, and is a prominent advocate of the legalization of marijuana. In a 1986 interview, Kantner shared his thoughts about cocaine and alcohol, saying, "Cocaine, particularly, is a bummer. It's a noxious drug that turns people into jerks. And alcohol is probably the worst drug of all. As you get older and accomplish more things in life in general, you realize that drugs don't help, particularly if you abuse them." When Kantner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1980, his attending physician at Cedars-Sinai, Stephen Levy, was quick to point out it was not a drug-related issue, saying: "There is zero relationship between Paul's illness and drugs. He doesn't use drugs." Kantner's primary instrument is the rhythm guitar, and he also sings lead or backup vocals. Kantner has three children, sons Gareth and Alexander, and daughter China.
The son of Paul and Cora Lee (Fortier) Kantner, Paul had two much older half-siblings: a half-brother and a half-sister. His mother died when he was eight years old, and Kantner remembers not being able to attend her funeral, having been sent to the circus instead. His father, a traveling salesman, sent young Kantner off to Jesuit military school after his mother's death. It was in the school's library at age eight or nine where he read his first science fiction book, finding an escape by immersing himself in science fiction novels and music at an early age. When he became a teenager he went into total revolt against all forms of authority, and became determined to become a protest folk singer in the manner of his musical hero Pete Seeger. He entered University of Santa Clara and San Jose State College, completing a total of three years before he dropped out to enter the music scene.
During the summer of 1965 singer Marty Balin saw Kantner perform at the Drinking Gourd, a San Francisco folk club, and recruited him as part of the original Jefferson Airplane. When the group needed a guitarist, Kantner recommended Jorma Kaukonen, whom he knew from his San Jose days. Kantner would be the only member to appear on all Jefferson Airplane/Starship albums bearing the Jefferson prefix. Kantner's songwriting often featured whimsical or political lyrics with a science-fiction or fantasy theme, usually set to music that had a hard rock, almost martial sound. Kantner and Jefferson Airplane were among those who played at Woodstock. Forty years later, Kantner recalled: “We were due to be on stage at 10pm on the Saturday night but we didn’t actually get on until 7.30am the following day.” Later in the year, the group also played at Altamont, where Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by a Hell's Angel member originally hired as security for the concert.
Despite its commercial success, the Airplane was plagued by intra-group fighting, causing the band to begin splintering at the height of its success. Part of the problem was manager Bill Graham, who wanted the group to do more touring and more recording. During the transitional period of the early 1970s, as the Airplane started to disintegrate. Kantner recorded Blows Against The Empire, a concept album featuring an ad-hoc group of musicians whom he dubbed Jefferson Starship. This earliest edition of Jefferson Starship included members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (David Crosby and Graham Nash) and members of the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart), as well as some of the other members of Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick, Joey Covington, and Jack Casady).
In Blows Against the Empire, Kantner (and Slick) sang about a group of people escaping earth in a hijacked starship.The album was nominated in 1971 for the science fiction Hugo Award. A sequel, The Empire Blows Back, was released in 1983 and included most of the same musicians, performing this time under the name The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.
Kanter had been in love with Grace Slick for some time, but she was involved in a relationship with the band's drummer, Spencer Dryden. After their two year affair ended, he finally had a chance with Grace. In 1969, Kantner and Grace Slick began living together publicly as a couple. Rolling Stone magazine called them "the psychedelic John and Yoko." Slick became pregnant, and a song about their love child's impending birth "A Child Is Coming" appeared on Blows Against the Empire. Kantner and Slick's daughter China Kantner was born in 1971. Slick would later leave Kantner to marry Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship roadie. Despite the split, Slick remained with the band.
Kantner and Slick released two follow-up albums. Sunfighter was an environmentalism-tinged album released in 1971 to celebrate China's birth. He and Grace made news again in 1972, when they were accused of assaulting a policeman after their Akron, Ohio concert. 1973's Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun was titled after the nicknames David Crosby had given to the couple. Through a songwriter friend Kantner discovered teen-aged guitarist Craig Chaquico during this time, who first appeared on Sunfighter and would play with all of the incarnations of the Starship name through 1991.
After Kaukonen and Casady left the Airplane in 1973 to devote their full attention to Hot Tuna, the musicians on Baron von Tollbooth formed the core of a new Airplane lineup that was formally reborn as "Jefferson Starship" in 1974. Kantner, Slick, and David Freiberg were charter members along with late-Airplane holdovers drummer John Barbata, and fiddler Papa John Creach, along with Pete Sears (who, like Freiberg, played bass and keyboards), and Chaquico. Marty Balin also joined Jefferson Starship while their first album, Dragonfly, was still in the works, co-writing with Kantner the album's biggest hit "Caroline."
After the 1978 release of the album Earth - to which Kantner contributed just one song - Jefferson Starship endured major personnel changes. Slick took a leave of absence, and Balin quit the group to pursue a solo career. No attempt was made to replace Slick, but Balin was replaced by Mickey Thomas, who was previously successful as a member of the Elvin Bishop Group. An album dominated by Kantner compositions called Freedom at Point Zero was released to commercial success. Grace Slick returned for the follow-up album Modern Time which was another record featuring Kantner's science fiction themes.
In October 1980, Kantner was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in serious condition from a cerebral hemorrhage. Kantner had been working in Los Angeles on an album when he became ill. He was 39 years old at the time and beat considerable odds with a full recovery without surgery. A year later, Kantner talked about the experience, saying, "If there was a Big Guy up there willing to talk to me, I was willing to listen. But nothing happened. It was all just like a small vacation." It was his second brush with serious illness or injury, having suffered a serious motorcycle accident in the early 1960s: ""I hit a tree at 40 miles an hour head first and nearly shattered my skull. I had a plate in there for a while." The injury from the motorcycle accident was credited with saving Kantner from serious complications from the cerebral hemorrhage; the hole left by the accident relieved the accompanying cranial pressure.
In 1984, Kantner (the last founding member of Jefferson Airplane remaining) left the group, complaining that the band had become too commercial and strayed too far from its counterculture roots. Kanter made his decision to leave while Jefferson Starship was in the middle of a tour. Upon quitting Kantner took legal action against his former bandmates over the Jefferson name (the rest of the band wanted to continue as Jefferson Starship). Kantner won his suit, and the group name was reduced to simply "Starship." Under the terms of the settlement, no group can call itself Jefferson Starship without Paul Kantner as a member, and no group can call itself Jefferson Airplane unless Grace Slick is onboard. The legal battle had personal repercussions as well, permanently damaging Kantner's friendships with Mickey Thomas and Craig Chiquico. In a 2007 interview, Kantner related that the legal battles did not put an end to the name issue: "Right now she's (Grace Slick) suing me for some unknown reason, but generally we get along really well. Twenty years ago, feeling tired of the music business, she signed over her interest in Jefferson Starship to me, and now she's suing me for using the name. I actually had to go and dig up the piece of paper she signed, and I showed it to her, and she said, "I don't remember that."" The legal issues came to an end in 2008, with Slick and former group manager Bill Thompson being declared the rightful owners of the name, but granting Kantner the right to use it for his band for a fee which was not disclosed.
In 1985, following his departure from Jefferson Starship, Paul Kantner rejoined with Balin and Jack Casady to form the KBC Band, releasing their only album, KBC Band (which included Kantner's hit, "America"), in 1987 on Arista Records. There was a video made for "America" as well as a national KBC tour. In 1986, Kantner headed for court with Slick and her then husband, Skip Johnson, over the taping of some telephone conversations.
With Kantner reunited with Balin and Casady, the KBC Band opened the door to a full-blown Jefferson Airplane reunion. In 1988, during a San Francisco Hot Tuna gig where Kantner was performing, they found themselves joined by Grace Slick. This led to a formal reunion of the original Jefferson Airplane (featuring nearly all the main members, including founder Marty Balin, but without Spencer Dryden, who left in 1970. A self-titled album was released by Columbia Records. The accompanying tour was a success, but their revival was short-lived, although the band never formally disbanded. According to Grace Slick, the reunion began as a joke: "We hadn't even talked for a year, and we were battling legally - in fact, there are still some standing lawsuits between me and Paul, something to do with the Airplane. Anyway, the idea was that I'd just sneak in, stand at the side of the stage and come out and sing 'White Rabbit' and see what Paul did. Paul never got the joke, but he liked it, the audience liked it, and that's how it started.
Kantner and his Jefferson Airplane bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The performance at the induction ceremony was the first time original members Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden and Kantner had played together since 1970. Grace Slick had to miss the ceremonies because of a serious leg infection, but sent a message which was delivered by Kantner, "Grace sends her love."
In 1991 Kantner and Balin reformed Jefferson Starship and Kantner continues to tour and record with the band as of 2010. Today Jefferson Starship is primarily a Paul Kantner solo band, with various former Airplane and Starship members dropping in for tours or specific shows. With their latest female vocalist Cathy Richardson and Kantner's son Alexander Kantner on bass, Jefferson Starship released their first studio album in a decade, titled Jefferson's Tree of Liberty in September 2008. The album was a return to Kantner's musical roots featuring covers of 1950's and 1960s protest songs.
In late 2010 Kantner started to compile collections of "sonic art" performed by him and various artists, including a mix of cover songs, sound effects, and spoken word, releasing multiple volumes under the title "Paul Kantner Windowpane Collective".