Paul Kantner dead: Jefferson Airplane cofounder dies at 74 | EW.com
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Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane cofounder and guitarist, dies at 74

(George Napolitano/Getty Images)

Paul Kantner, one of the cofounders of Jefferson Airplane, has died. He was 74 years old.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports Kantner died Thursday in San Francisco due to multiple organ failure and septic shock. Jefferson Airplane was a staple of the ‘60s psychedelic rock movement and will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at next month’s Grammys.

“Paul Kantner was a folk/rock giant and integral part of the 1960s rock scene,” Recording Academy CEO/President Neil Portnow said in a statement. “A multifaceted singer, songwriter, guitarist, and performer, he was essential to the success of such classic Airplane songs as ‘Somebody To Love’ and ‘White Rabbit.’ The music community has lost a true icon, and we share our deepest condolences with Paul’s family and friends, and with those who had the privilege of collaborating with him.”

A San Francisco native, Kantner was born March 17, 1941. He attended Santa Clara University and San Jose State before dropping out to pursue music full time. Kantner — a rhythm guitarist — and singer Marty Balin were the group’s two earliest members, having met in the Bay Area music scene that included future Grateful Dead members and Janis Joplin. They recruited guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and played their first gig in August 1965.

The band broke out in 1967 with their second album Surrealistic Pillow, which featured two of Jefferson Airplane’s signature songs: “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

Speaking to EW in 2007, Kantner recalled Surrealistic Pillow as “a very naively beautiful, fresh album celebrating life.”

“I don’t think any of us thought the band would be a long-term project,” he said. “We thought we could change the world just by being good people, the dumb f–s that we were.”

In June of that year, the group traveled south and played at the Monterey International Pop Festival, widely regarded as a landmark moment in ’60s counterculture.

Jefferson Airplane released seven albums and played at Woodstock. In 1970, Kantner and Airplane singer Grace Slick recorded Blows Against the Empire under the name Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship. After Airplane broke up in 1972, Jefferson Starship became its own entity, featuring some Airplane band members. Kantner stayed with the group from 1974 until 1984. After his departure, the group became Starship, and went on to release 1985’s hit “We Built This City.”​ 

Jefferson Airplane reunited in 1989 to release a self-titled album. Kantner and various iterations of Jefferson Starship have toured since reuniting in 1992.​

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and will be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at next month’s Grammy Awards.

Kantner is survived by a daughter, China, and two sons, Gareth and Alexander.