Monday, 19 October 2015

Jefferson Airplane: The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1974




Jefferson Airplane were one of the first AAA bands to release their own 'outtakes' set with the vault-clearing 'Early Flight' in 1974. They've also been a band who have been more than a little generous with their previously unreleased CD bonus tracks and box set fillers, so it seems odd in some respects that this list of unreleased recordings is quite as long as it is. Then again it isn't: Jefferson Airplane weren't quite as hard worked as some other AAA bands and with six highly creative members at any one time (eight in the early Starship days) it is perhaps inevitable that something would get left behind. Also its worth pointing out that unlike some of our other bands whose creative fires were only really stoked on the road (the Grateful Dead) or in the studio (The Rolling Stones) the Jeffersoners seemed equally at home throwing out ideas at both. As a result this list is a real mix - of studio demos for songs that either became firm friends or never made it at all, of life performances of songs that are either receiving their first very different musical breaths to the ones we've overplayed for half a century or were similarly abandoned after one try or session extracts that reveal how a song was put together. It would make a great two-disc compilation someday - although that said this list only scratches the surface of what's really out there (with a five disc bootleg 'Hal's Death' that's famous in bootleg circles for being one of the most comprehensive - we've borrowed bits from it here, particularly from the early years, although there are many other sources around too). Things sadly go a little bit quiet for the Jefferson Starship years (who were less popular with bootleggers simply because their live shows didn't change as much) but there's still much to enjoy. As with all these 'unreleased' articles, sadly none of these recordings are currently available, but we bring you this list as a taster of what's out there (Youtube is a good place to start) if you want to dig a little further or are interested in a titbit of how one of your favourite songs sounded as a 'baby'. Our usual caveat too that while we've heard about a few other juicy stories down the years we've restricted this list to just what we've heard with our very own ears and so can thus 100% confirm to exist (well as of right this minute of writing anyway - who knows what will appear in the future?) Usually at this point we add what a shame that these outtakes will probably never see the light of day, but you never know - while not the taper's best friends that the Grateful Dead were the Airplane had a similarly loose and forgiving attitude towards bootleggers and might yet be able to reap the rewards from a lifetime of taping with perhaps a second volume of 'Early Flight' (perhaps retitled 'Early and Middle Flight' just to be on the safe side?!)

1) Baby What You Want Me To Do? (Live 1966)

A surprisingly large amount of early Jefferson Airplane gigs exist, with a lot more from the Signe Andersen days than I ever expected, although sadly none of them have yet been released as part of the Airplane's official series (to be fair they are in pretty ropey quality). One gig from Vancouver in January 16th 1966 - seven full months before debut record 'Takes Off!' - is particularly interesting with the Airplane much closer to blues and folk than psychedelia and featuring a couple of unusual cover songs the band never return to again. Marty sounds strangely 'right' slurring his words like an old time blues singer while Jorma and Jack seem to be auditioning for Hot Tuna right now.

2) Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Live 1966)

The Airplane often talked about The Byrds as being an early influence, but it's not one you can hear in many of their records. However it's here in spades in this one and only Jefferson cover of a Bob Dylan song with a very studious sounding Paul on lead. The result is actually more like The Byrds than The Byrds' version (from second album 'Turn! Turn! Turn!') with a folkier yet Beatley arrangement, more harmonies and Jorma playing what sounds like a Rickenbacker.

3) I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better (Live 1966)

Talking of The Byrds they even cover one of Mr Tambourine Man Gene Clark's originals for the band. This version is less convincing somehow, with Paul on a reluctant lead with Marty and Signe singing together on the powerful punchy chorus-closers. Skip Spence's drumming is even more wayward than The Byrds' Michael Clarke however and Jorma doesn't quite get the solo right in the space he's given. Nice try, though, with Signe especially sounding comfortable with what she's doing.

4) The Other Side Of This Life (Live 1966) 

Opening with the taped roar of a jet areoplane taking off (the tape of which was later cut up for use as a starship in 'Blows Against The Empire'), this is the new look Jefferson Airplane from a show on October 16th 1966 - Grace Slick's debut with the band. Unsure of how their new singer will fit into the act, for now she's just given Signe's usual songs to sing (such as 'Tobacco Road') and doesn't get that much to do at all. However the opening song that night, the first time audiences could hear the Grace-Paul-Marty trio working their magic, was on an especially terrific version of Freddy Neil's 'The Other Side Of This Life', a concert favourite throughout the Airplane's career. This version is a lot slower than the usual version (it's about half the speed of the blistering pace on 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head' three years later) and with an epic instrumental opening that lasts for some four minutes. Grace hasn't quite launched into those famous aggressive notes yet and the band still sound very folk, but they also sound very very good, with a very different feel to perhaps the greatest cover song the band ever played.

5) Fat Angel (First Live Performance 1966)

Again not released on record for three years and 'Bless It's Little Pointed Head', the original version of the closest Donovan ever came to writing a listenable song is very very different. While other later versions can be slow and meandering, this debut performance sounds like an overheard tuning up session at times, with Jorma and Paul at times playing very different songs. Like many of the best Airplane songs though it suddenly snaps into shape without you quite working out at which point the band suddenly got their groove together. It's a nice version in the end, with Paul sounding more like Donovan than the original!

6) Somebody To Love (First Live Performance 1966)

Another key moment of musical history which we're so lucky has survived down the years unscathed, as the Airplane as in November 1966, a month after making her debut, Grace finally convinces the band to have a go at a song that used to go down a storm with audiences of her former band The Great Society. 'Somebody To Love' will become the song most identified with the band and easily their biggest hit although what we get at first is a very different beast, much more like the Great Society version. Slick is introduced as 'The Amazing Grace' and she is, cooing much more softly than her more strident tones on the single. She clearly knows this song a lot better than everyone else in the room, who are struggling to get it up to tempo and rock to be honest, but the chemistry between her, Marty and Paul (whose much louder than on the record) is already very much there. Fascinating.

7) Jorma's Blues (Live 1967)

Moving on to March 1967, this is one of the prolific guitarist Jorma's earliest tunes. An early version of 'Come Back Baby' it's much more in line with what Hot Tuna will go on to play but is played much quicker and features Marty and Grace playing all sorts of percussion desperately trying to keep up with the fierce pace. Despite the muddy sound the song already sounds better than the 'finished' version abandoned in the studio during the making of 'Surrealistic Pillow', with much more life about it.

8) In The Midnight Hour (Live 1967)

Jefferson Airplane had a lot of blues and soul in their early style but this cover of a famous Otis Redding song (which amazingly never came out on record in his lifetime) is perhaps the most out-there soul of the lot. You wonder why the band didn't more to be honest - whilst Jack and Spencer are struggling on the rhythm section and Jorma messes up the guitar solo, Paul is having great fun on short stabbing acoustic guitar and Marty has rarely been better, pleading cajoling and screaming his way through the passionate lyric. Very different to the band's usual style but still played with their typical fire and commitment.

9) Young Girl Sunday Blues (Early Backing Track 1967)

One of the highlights of third album 'After Bathing In Baxters' when the album is finished and recorded late on in the sessions in October 1967, the tale of suicide 'Young Girl Sunday Blues' sounded rather different in its earliest days. Marty is singing the words as if this just any other pretty pop song, changing the scansion of the words around ('Couldnotmakeyoustay-ay!' 'I walk beside you laughingandtouchingyouyeah!') The backing too sticks with the song's opening bouncy groove instead of heading to the valley of despair and there's altogether far less tension and mood about this song than the 'Baxters' one. This version of the track clearly isn't working yet but its nevertheless terrific to hear.

10) Won't You Try? (Rehearsal Fillmore West 1967)

Before the Airplane set out on their third major tour, they took over the Filmore West for a few loose rehearsals of their new songs. These tended to be much longer and more 'out there' than anything that made the records or the live recordings - it is for instance where the 'long' live version of 'The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil' intended for Baxters (but eventually substituted for with a studio version) comes from. Paul's new song is in a very early stage, beginning with an uptempo rock jam that sounds more like 'The Other Side Of This Life' and which lasts a full eight minutes until the band sing just the first verse. There is no 'Saturday Afternoon' section yet, the band just folding down on the 'try-y-y-y-y-' ending of the first half. Elsewhere the only thing that's close to this song is the 'deedoodeedoodeedoo' guitar riff.

11) Spare Chaynge (Alternate Take 1967)
Not many Jefferson Airplane studio reels have been 'leaked; to bootleggers and almost all the ones that have were for the 'Bark' sessions in 1971. This is the exception, a reel containing two different passes at Baxter's extended instrumental, the first a full nine minute pass similar to the finished version, a second that lasts an epic twenty-four minutes (from which 'our' nine minute version seems to have been extracted) and another listed as 'take three' that gets aborted after four. While other sessions from Baxters with actual 'songs' would have been much more fun, this is still highly revealing, with a slow clumsy intro that sizzles from nothing into the first few threatening bars of that chilling guitar riff. The middle longer version is perhaps the most interesting with an oddball 'second section' consisting of Jack's picked bass lines overpowering Jorma's delicate finger picking for several minutes.

12) Drifting (Unreleased 1969)

Only ever performed once during a concert at the Winterland in 1969, 'Drifting' is a funky little Marty Balin number that was perhaps felt to be a bit too retro pop for the period (it would have fitted onto 'Takes Off' nicely but not really 'Volunteers'). Marty's narrator has been drifting, searching everywhere for the love of his life, whilst Spencer tries his best to make it sound as if she's been whalloped on the head. Marty will re-record this song in slightly more fragile form for his spin-off band 'Bodacious DF' in 1973, when this sort of thing is back in vogue again thanks to glam.

13) Hey Frederick (Backing Track 1969)

If you thought the finished version on 'Volunteers' was incredible - and it is - then that's still nothing on hearing this take-no-prisoners Slick rocker stripped of vocals. All we get for seven minutes are Grace's creepy piano block chords, military Dryden drumming and a Jorma guitar part that's so abrasive I swear it just punctured holes in my laptop's speakers. A welcome chance to hear just how incredible the musicianship in the Airplane was, how firstly the band kept this epic song together without falling apart and secondly why this mix wasn't released on the 'Volunteers' CD I'll never know!

14) Good Shepherd (Grace on lead 1969)

This Christian parable, a favourite of Jorma's, went through several variations before the band came to the version they used on 'Volunteers'. At first Jorma gave the song over to Grace to sing, which certainly makes for unusual reading (see the Airplane alum 'Long John Silver' for just how much of a committed atheist Grace was!) She attacks the song from all corners, joined in the chorus by Paul and Marty, which is all very different to the finished album version which features a quiet bluesy vocal from Jorma (although even he's in on the act here with a blistering guitar solo that's just shredded my wallpaper; hmm I shall have to send the Jeffersons a re-decorating bill if this keeps up...) In later live versions when the band know the song a little better they mess around with the lyrics and the rolecall of martyrs ('One for Paul - and one for Marty!')

15) Turn My Life Down (Demo 1969)

A pretty demo of Jorma's Balin-sung ballad, I actually prefer this original rough version to the one that made the album. The finished version is muddily mixed and leaves everything much 'lower' in tone than an annoying organ part which isn't here. By contrast this version is pure Airplane: it's spiky and relentless, changing the tempo and key without a second's notice. Marty, so subdued on the album, sounds great here without the other vocalists getting in his way and the song ends on a classic bass-guitar battle instead of the cheesy 'woah ho ho yeah' music hall patter of the finished product. Another track that badly deserved to be on the CD re-issue of the album. Oh and a false ending which catches me out every time I hear it.

16) The Man (Bludgeon Of A Bluecoat) (Unreleased 1970)

While the Airplane gave us no end of cover songs and alternate versions of well known favourites, this is a rare case of a completely unreleased group original, performed only once during a live gig in 1970. Actually this is more like Hot Tuna, a blues song with new drummer Joey Covington on lead vocals - and while I'll go against many Jefferson fans by praising his studio singing even I can't defend his live singing (to be fair he is playing the drums at the same time!) With weird lyrics about being locked up in prison for apparently beating up a man ('I've become a pig!'; whose side are we meant to be taking?) this is perhaps a bit too weird even for the Airplane but worth preserving for another vintage Jorma solo alone.

17) Stony Brook Jam (Live 1970) 

'Somebody cut the wires. Can you hear me?' 'No!' 'Well how can you say that if you can't hear me?' 'Take a break' 'What Jack says - and he doesn't say very much on stage friends, that's the only time I've heard him come over and say anything so by God we're going to take a break and ooh - that whistles a lot!' With the microphones out of order and the audience getting restless the gig at Stony Brook in 1970 is going very wrong very fast. While Grace tries to sort the situation out the rest of the band do the only thing they know how to do which is jam until the sorry mess is fixed. Only, alas, they take forever ('I didn't mean cut out the light show, love!' is Grace's exasperated comment mid-jam to a hapless roadie) - 22 minutes to be exact  which results in one of the longest jams in the Airplane's history. It's almost 'Come Back Baby'; but never quite makes it to the main song and instead gets stuck on the opening before Jorma's bluesy blistering solos takes it somewhere else, eventually slowing down midway through before speeding up to a raucous climax. Even after all that they still haven't sorted out everything as the band try to launch into 'Have You Seen The Saucers?' ('Sorry Paul the 'highs' are off!'; 'Well what do you mean - get them back on!') To be truthful the vocals still sound pretty awful when the band finally sorts things out - suggesting their monitors are at fault given that we've been able to hear them talk all this time - but an unhappy experience turned into the happy accident of one of the band's greatest on-stage improvised moments.

18) Whatever The Old Man Wants (1970)

Another Joey Covington original that once more sounds more like Hot Tuna, Jorma and Jack are naturally at home but Joey's off key singing is a little hard to take. The anti-elders lyrics are much more Airplane-like but to be honest are if anything a little harsher than the Airplane traditionally are (yep even in this period!)

19) Mountain Song (Demo 1970)

Meanwhile, back in the studio, Paul Kantner is trying to record his epic concept suite 'Blows Against The Empire' with a list of San Francisco luminaries as long as Mr Tickle's arm. One of the key players who was sadly rather ousted on record was the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, who co-wrote with Paul the charming if slightly unfinished folk song 'Mountain Song'. I've never quite understood where this song was due to come in the concept suite: it's clearly set on Earth, but equally is a happy and hopeful song unlike any on the rather harrowing first side (for those who don't know capitalist America is building a starship set to colonise other planets but after a revolution at the end of side one the hippies steal it and set off for a new existence based on freedom and harmony; its 'Wooden Ships' writ large this glorious album, just in space). Perhaps the confusion is why the song wasn't used, but original folkies Paul and Jerry sound great on this song about communing with nature 'a land where my children can run free...like Woody Guthrie once sang I am free I am free!' Like much of the finished album this track works so well because of the pure joy in the studio when it was being made and Paul liked the song enough to return to it for Blows' sequel 'The Empire Strikes Back' in 1983 (where a rather sanitised but still strong version of this song is the clear favourite).

20) Pretty As You Feel (Early Full Length Version 1971)

The five minute 'Bark' edit of this song already felt pretty epic but one take from the leaked studio sessions for 'Bark' runs for a full thirteen! Perhaps Joey's greatest contribution to the band, this version is ever so slightly slower but reaches an angsty peak much quicker, with Jorma attacking from the second verse instead of nearer the end. Though this is clearly a different take - with Jorma playing some very different lines - the song is largely the same until the point where the album cut fades on the words 'pretty pretty pretty'. Most of the extended running time comes from an extended double-tracked Papa John Creach solo that goes on and on while Jorma nags away at the central riff like a rottweiler.

21) Feel So Good (Early Full Length Version 1971)

Similarly Jorma's epic from 'Bark' originally ran for much longer, with this studio version taking up a full ten minutes. This version is much closer to what will make the album but is a tad slower and feature s apuzzling sudden swell of echoed voices joining in with Kaukanen at the end of every line ('Feel so...GOOO_OOOD!') The backing voices are tending towards more of a complex counterpart  Beach Boys style part rather than the simple version heard on the album and even feature a few 'doobedoos' in there somewhere too. Once again, though, most of the 'new' bits come from an extended jam session which this time takes place in the middle rather than the end.

22) Silver Spoon (Demo 1971)

A blistering demo of the tribal opening track from Paul and Grace's album 'Sunfighter', this heaviest song in the Jefferson canon about cannibalism or sex (or both) is ever so nearly as good as the finished thing despite missing out on the sheer intensity and power of Jack Casady's overdubbed feedbacking guitar. This piano-only version is a much more 'normal' song, but still pretty extraordinary if you know what I mean, with Grace on a really intense trip for a full six minutes. The lack of anything else gives the listener a real chance to hear her unique block chord playing piano style and the grotesque yet compelling lyrics are much easier to hear in this version too ('Sharpen your teeth for the family east, let all the hungry drool run down your chin, hide the human and bring out the beast, let all the animal games begin!') Grace even covers messing up the final slamming chord quite well, retracing her steps and noodling round a bit before breaking off.

23) Blind John The Guitar Player (Live 1973) 

As well as the Dead guesting on Airplane records, occasionally the Jefferson family tree cropped up on the Dead's records too. 'Blind John The Guitar Player' is virtually a Paul and Grace duet despite appearing on Dead drummer Mickey Hart's first record 'Rolling Thunder', a nice gospel-flavoured traditional folk tune that sounds like a cross between 'Good Shepherd' and the band's covers of friend Jack Traylor's work. I prefer the period live performances in the Airplane's set, though, which feature Marty on terrific vocals alongside the other two and which tended to feature elongated guitar solos that once again go on for hours. A pretty song much suited to the Jefferson sound, with a classic a capella-and-drums finale that brings the house down. The band's own Papa John the fiddle player adds his own touch to the live recordings too.

24) Sketches Of China (Demo 1973)

This demo from the 'Baron Von Tollbooth' sessions for Paul and Grace is pretty similar to the finished product, but with slightly less going on (just a guitar, drums and a mellotron instead of half of San Francisco) it's much easier to tell what's going on. Grace's spoken word opening lasts for much longer, while Paul's diction on his lyrics are much clearer. 'That's nice!' says an impressed Paul after the first verse and he's right - this is a very pretty version of a very pretty song, still so early that Paul hasn't quite finished off the chorus yet (he's missing the line 'it ain't what you want but what you need') and he 'dee dee dee dees' to fill in instead.

25) Walking The Tou Tou (Live 1973)

We're in the very final Jefferson days now, with Jorma Jack and Papa John preparing their next band Hot Tuna, who will duly feature this oddball swampy blues instrumental in their early setlists too. This version still officially credited to the Airplane for now though and sounds a little like 'Wild Turkey', the cacophonous jam from 'Bark'.

26) John's Other (Live 1973)

Ditto this piece, billed as 'John's Other' because it's the 'other' Papa John jam that used to crop up in the Airplane's final tour. Sounding not unlike the Stephane Grapelli-Yoko Ono Jam from the Rolling Stones Circus TV special of 1968 (dubbed tongue in cheek 'A Whole Lotta Yoko' for release thirty years later), its again much closer in feel to Hot Tuna than the Airplane.

27) New York Radio City Music Hall Jam (Live 1974)

There is however one last turn of the page in the 1970s, with Jefferson Starship performing an early gig in New York and surprising many by opening with a half hour jam based around much of the second side of the 'Blows Against The Empire' album. A rare and wobbly but heartfelt 'Sunrise' sets the scene before a hard-hitting 'Hi*Jack' that loses all of its complexity and twinkly bits in favour of heavy rock and via a tape loop of the squeaky space noises of 'X*&%T*((M' ends up in a singalong finale of 'Starship'. By the end of an intense half hour without a pause both band and audience sound exhausted, Jefferson Starship having been given a real baptism of fire with new guitarist Craig Chaquico particularly on fire. At first this review was iridescent. Then it became transparent. Finally this review was absent...

Bonus Entry) Speech - Ronald Reagan getting cross on campus 

Apart from this final novelty: Ronald Reagan in 1970, back when he was the Governor of California, getting on his high horse about goings on at the gym in California University where the Jefferson Airplane played a gig. He's clearly outraged: 'So contrary to the standards of human behaviour that I couldn't possibly recite them to you here from this platform in detail, but there is clear evidence that there were things that shouldn't be permitted at a university campus...Three rock and roll bands were playing simultaneously while two movies were being shown at opposite ends consisting of shots of men and women's naked torsos on occasion'. Loosen up Ronnie, it's a wild thyme - most of the students who attended are probably high up businessmen by now anyway...
And that's that. Join us for more Jefferson Airplane next week when we'll be studying their surviving TV clips!

2 comments:

  1. hiya. . .
    nearly two yrs after this post. . .
    and iYaM Thee FuRST to comment??
    oh my, has bLoGGiNG become that 'PaSSe', so 2005-2008??
    and also. . .
    sadly, yr xlnt werk / research. . .
    was weirdly 'prescient'. . .
    as only 3 months later. . .
    kantner & signe pass'd. . .
    ANy-WeZ. . . this looks 'SWeeT'. . .
    imma gonna try & recreate it ( if it can be dun! )
    btw. . . i got 'here' looking for a pic of. . .
    an unreleased JA ALb from '68. . .
    it was apparently jest a 'mock-up'. . .
    only th' art-werk was done. . .
    'legendary' rekkid dealer Paul Major had it. . .
    in one of his catalogs about 2 decaydes ago. . .
    he said he had the cvr. . .
    also came /w/ a 2foot x 3 foot. .
    pstr of said cvr. . .
    described as 'fantastic lavender / chartreuse /w/ acid lettering & pic of band'. . .
    evr heard of this?? mebbe paul was jest doing a lester bangs. . .
    count five - carburetor dung 'joke'. . .
    well. . . lmk. . . lemme kno. . .
    if u can. . .

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ynot! You are probably the first to comment on most of these articles! Yes I was a bit spooked by losing Paul and Signe. I think it was the week after an extended run of Jefferson articles on this site that went on for weeks. Maybe they were hanging on to see what I would write (or maybe not!!!) Good luck re-creating this list! They are all about somewhere on various bootlegs, I have a 'playlist' of these on my mp3 player. I hope they're all still around. The 'Hal's Death' boot is particularly good if you can find it? I think a lot is on YouTube still. I did hear something about a 'lost' Jefferson album but I think it only got as far as the artwork. Not sure why it was made - I think maybe RCA's art department were trying to avoid the problems they had with the 'Baxters' sleeve maybe?! Gosh I didn't know about the poster. I wonder too if its where the weird 'Creation' outtakes came from like 'Would You LIke A Snack?' and 'Ribabump' as they really don't sound like the (comparatively) tighter song that made the record. Sorry I can't help you more my friend. Keep rocking! 8>)

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