50 Years Ago: Signe Anderson Gives Her Last Performance With Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane‘s first chapter came to an end on Oct. 15, 1966, whensinger Signe Anderson, one of the band’s founding members, left.
Anderson had first considered her departure earlier that summer, after she had her first child. “I never wanted to leave,” she told Jeff Tamarkin in Got a Revolution. “But I had another priority: my husband and my child. People always think that sounds really corny and dumb. They say, ‘But you were finally making it.’ And I say, ‘If you’ve got nothing left when you’ve gotten there, then why bother to take the journey?'”
But there are conflicting accounts as to what really happened. “We asked Signe to leave,” recalled singer Marty Balin in the same book. “Her husband was an idiot. It was embarrassing us.” Band manager Bill Thompson added, “The band had me fire Signe after the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was political about it: The guys don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be in the band. It just doesn’t seem to be working out.”
Either way, Anderson’s last performance with Jefferson Airplane was at the Fillmore Auditorium on Oct. 15, 1966.
Bill Graham introduced the band as “candidates for the sexual freedom league,” before the Airplane tore into a hypnotic, nine-minute jam. “3/5 of a Mile,” which would show up on the band’s next album, Surrealistic Pillow, was performed, as was Donovan‘s “The Fat Angel,” which famously name-checked the group. The rest of the set consisted of material from their debut album, Takes Off, including “Runnin’ Round This World,” “Go to Her” and a blistering “Chauffeur Blues.”
From the stage that night, Anderson told her bandmates as well as fans, “I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and box balloons. I love you, thank you all and goodbye.”
“Grace Slick From the Great Society Replaces Signe Anderson With Jefferson Airplane,” read a headline in a San Francisco paper following Anderson’s finale. Slick made her debut with the band the very next night at the Fillmore. She would change the Airplane’s direction and fortune with songs like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” both of which took them to the top of the charts.
Anderson died on Jan. 28, 2016, from the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Coincidentally, another Jefferson Airplane co-founder, guitarist Paul Kantner, died on the same day. “Signe Anderson remains the answer to the rock trivia question: What was the name of Jefferson Airplane’s first female vocalist?” Tamakin noted. “Every so often, someone gets it right, and that’s enough for her.”
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