Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir on Paul Kantner: ‘His Guitar Was the Glue’ That Held Jefferson Airplane Together
Soon after hearing that Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner had died, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sat down and composed a statement about his fellow rhythm guitarist.
“Paul lived at the heart of the music, where the chords, the melody and the rhythm join together with the lyrics to form the story. His guitar was the glue that held all that together. His voice was the foundation of the choral vocals. Paul lived at the heart of the song. He was there for the Muse – when she needed a human voice or instrument, she channeled it through him.”
Weir speaks further about his relationship with Kantner:
You wrote a nice statement about Paul, saying that he “lived at the heart of the music, where the chords, the melody and the rhythm join together with the lyrics to form the station,” and that “his guitar was the glue that held all that together.” What inspired you to write that?
Paul was a friend of mine. Musically, we kind of grew up together. He and I occupied sort of the same chair in our orchestras; we were both rhythm guitarists. But early on, he played a lot of 12-string, and I didn’t do that, so we didn’t compete. We were on different paths with looking at how we could provide that punch in a band. But I would listen to what he was up to.
When did you first meet?
Probably the first time was when we played together, maybe at the Fillmore Auditorium. The Airplane were always a little bigger than we were; they were a step or two ahead of the Grateful Dead in terms of acceptance. But there was no rivalry; there was a sense of camaraderie more than anything. It was a sense of, we were in it together. He and I never collaborated on a song. I would love to have done that. But on the numerous occasions when we’d jam, onstage, we’d work together and off of each other, so it wouldn’t be a big mess. I learned a lot from him.
In the Airplane, the spotlight was on Grace and Marty, and, musically, on Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady on bass. What about Paul?
Paul’s work was the mud from which those two lotuses grew. He made it possible for Jorma and Jack to be more adventurous with their lines, because they had a harmonic context, and a rhythmic context, to work off of.
And he wrote songs that were among the first out of the San Francisco scene to address social and political issues, like “Crown of Creation,” “Volunteers,” with the line, “Up against the wall, motherfuckers,” and “Wooden Ships.”
That was something we shared. He and I were pretty much pathologically anti-authority. I never found it to be something I wanted to write about, but he did.
When you heard the news that he had died, what was your response? We knew he’d had health problems the last few years.
I’ve never been one to kick furniture when people check out. There’s nothing you can do about it. So any problems I have with his passing, I consider to be my own and not his. And so I just let him go and wish him the best. When somebody you’re part of, and of that kind of import, dies, it’s a good time to take stock of what he offered, and see what they can make of it, and what they can take from it.