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Jorma Kaukonen Calls Paul Kantner the ‘Catalyst’ for Jefferson Airplane

Brian Killian / Mario Tama, Getty Images
Brian Killian / Mario Tama, Getty Images

Jorma Kaukonen, whose lead guitar propelled some of Jefferson Airplane‘s biggest hits, has issued a statement about Paul Kantner, who passed away on Jan. 28. In it, he praised his former band mate and disclosed that they had rekindled their friendship last year.

On his website, Kaukonen wrote that they first met in 1962, a few years before the Airplane were formed. “Our commonality was always the music and whatever it took to make it happen […] When Paul enticed me into joining what would become Jefferson Airplane, we rehearsed relentlessly. When we went on the road in the beginning we couch surfed together. No one could afford hotels. We shared food … we shared cars … we had one heart.”

But, he noted, “[t]he Airplane was an amazing aggregate of personalities and talent. That we could all coexist in the same room was amazing. That we could function together and make the lasting art that we did was nothing short of a miracle. In my opinion Paul was the catalyst that made the alchemy happen. He held our feet to the flame. He could be argumentative and contentious … he could be loving and kind … his dedication to the Airplane’s destiny as he saw it was undeniable. Over the years he and I occasionally butted heads over things that seem trivial today.”

By the early ’70s, those arguments cause Jefferson Airplane to split apart into two factions, with Kantner, Grace Slick and (later) Marty Balin creating Jefferson Airplane, while Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady concentrated on their side project, Hot Tuna. But they reunited for a new album and tour in 1989, and they were together when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Kaukonen said that they met up again for dinner in San Francisco in 2015, and that the issues that divided them were, by this point, water under the bridge. “Friends are always good,” he concluded. “You can’t have too many of them. That said, the old ones share that wondrous gift of knowing you when you were young. You can’t buy that. I will miss your presence on this plane … Ride free to the end of the earth my old friend… I will not forget you!”

See Jefferson Airplane and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’60s

Next: Top 10 Jefferson Airplane Songs

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