Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint is taking off with Jefferson Airplane to reissue three classic albums, all remastered from the original, first-generation master tapes. Esoteric has paired the Airplane’s final 1970s releases, Long John Silver and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, on one 2-CD release. It’s joined by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg’s Baron von Tollbooth and The Chrome Nun on which those three artists built the bridge that would connect Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. Both releases have been licensed from the current rights holder of the Grunt Records catalogue, Warner Music Group.
Jefferson Airplane’s seventh album, Long John Silver, is arguably better-remembered today for its original packaging than for the music within its grooves. Released in July 1972, LP was housed in a giant, cigar-paneled fold-out stash box (actual herb not included). The record was the product of a group in flux. Drummer Joey Covington was replaced midway by The Turtles’ John Barbata, and Hot Tuna compatriot Sammy Piazza played drums on one track. The group was dividing into then-partners Grace Slick and Paul Kantner on one side and Hot Tuna’s Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen on the other; in the new liner notes, Kaukonen recalls how the group members were recording separately and later overdubbing each other’s tracks. Still, Long John Silver wasn’t a bad way for Jefferson Airplane to go out (it would be their final studio album for seventeen years). The two factions teamed for the pirate-themed title track (penned by Slick and Casady) and the heavy, acerbic “Eat Starch Mom” (Slick and Kaukonen). “Milk Train,” co-written by and featuring Papa John Creach, showcased some of the album’s finest playing and tightest grooves. Kantner’s “The Son of Jesus,” beginning with the lyric “Jesus had a son by Mary Magdalene…” as well as Slick’s scathing “Easter?” both proved that the Airplane could still successfully court controversy. Kaukonen’s “Trial by Fire” struck a personal note, inspired by his relationship with his ex-wife.
The band took to the road to support Long John Silver, and four of the concerts were excerpted for the May 1973 release of Thirty Seconds Over Winterland. While three of its tracks (“Have You Seen the Saucers?,” “Feel So Good,” and “Twilight Double Leader”) were indeed recorded at that famed San Francisco venue on September 21-22, 1972, the remaining cuts (“Crown of Creation,” “When the Earth Moves Again,” “Milk Train,” and “Trial by Fire”) were actually recorded on August 24-25 at the Chicago Auditorium.
Thirty Seconds Over Winterland was the group’s second live album following 1969’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head, and it didn’t repeat any cuts from that LP. The three Long John Silver tracks were joined by two cuts from the recent Bark, the then-unheard “Have You Seen the Saucers?” (originally intended for Bark in its studio version), and one oldie, 1968’s “Crown of Creation.” The live setting allowed the group’s jamming to successfully transform songs like Bark‘s “Feel So Good” to epic length. While previous CD iterations have included bonus tracks from the concerts, this edition maintains the original track listing only.
Paul Kantner first indulged his love of science-fiction on a full-length album with 1970’s Blows Against the Empire, credited to “Paul Kantner-Jefferson Starship.” The very next year, Kantner and Slick would release the duo album Sunfighter. The Airplane hadn’t taken its last flight yet; that would come (for the decade, at least) with July 1972’s Long John Silver. Following the tour supporting LJS, in November-December 1972, Kantner and Slick teamed with keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist David Freiberg (late of Quicksilver Messenger Service) at San Francisco’s Wally Heider Studios to begin recording the album that would be titled after David Crosby’s nicknames for Kantner and Slick. The sci-fi influence was less overt, but the musicianship was every bit as celestial.
Baron von Tollbooth and The Chrome Nun welcomed an all-star cast of musicians including Crosby, the Airplane’s Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen and Papa John Creach. Johnny Barbata, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Chris Ethridge, Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, The Pointer Sisters, and Steelwind’s Jack Traylor and Craig Chaquico. The freewheeling, open-door environment yielded one of the most memorable snapshots of the Bay Area’s fertile music scene of the period.
Slick sang on every song, and wrote or co-wrote six of the ten tracks. Freiberg and Kantner also contributed to the songwriting in various permutations, with Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter adding words to Freiberg’s “Harp Tree Lament” melody and Jack Traylor writing music and lyrics for “Flowers of the Night.” The LP’s forty minutes or so touched on country, soul, and the Airplane’s trademark psychedelic rock style while also anticipating the slicker, more commercial radio-friendly sound that would soon be associated with Jefferson Starship. The trippy “Your Mind Has Left Your Body,” the closing track on the original Side One, proved to be a coda to the Airplane years; it would be the final track on which Kantner, Slick, Casady, and Kaukonen played until the band’s short-lived 1989 reunion.
In September 1974, Jefferson Starship would release their debut album, Dragon Fly. Kantner, Slick, Freiberg, Barbata, Chaquico, Creach, and Pete Sears were joined by Airplane alumnus Marty Balin to form the original iteration of the band that would go on (with various personnel shifts) to score mightily with soft rock hits like “Miracles,” “With Your Love,” “Count on Me,” “Runaway,” and “Jane.”
Esoteric’s reissues have all been newly remastered by Ben Wiseman from the original Grunt master tapes. Long John Silver/Thirty Seconds Over Winterland is housed in a digipak containing a 20-page booklet boasting Mike Mettler’s new liner notes (featuring quotes from Jorma Kaukonen) and lyrics to the Long John Silver tracks. Baron Von Tollbooth‘s digipak has a 16-page booklet with Mettler’s new essay (featuring quotes from Kaukonen and Craig Chaquico) as well as full lyrics for all ten songs.
Long John Silver/Thirty Seconds Over Winterland is out now in the U.K. and tomorrow in North America, while Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun is released tomorrow in the U.K. and on April 10 in North America. You’ll find order links and the track listings below!
CD 1: Long John Silver (Grunt FTR-1007, 1972)
- Long John Silver
- Aerie (Gang of Eagles)
- Twilight Double Leader
- Milk Train
- The Son of Jesus
- Trial by Fire
- Alexander the Medium
- Eat Starch Mom
CD 2: Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (Grunt BFL1-0147, 1973)
- Have You Seen the Saucers?
- Feel So Good
- Crown of Creation
- When the Earth Moves Again
- Milk Train
- Trial by Fire
- Twilight Double Leader
Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg, Baron von Tollbooth and The Chrome Nun (Grunt BFL1-0148, 1973 – reissued Cherry Red/Esoteric QECLEC2713, 2020) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Ballad of the Chrome Nun
- Flowers of the Night
- Your Mind Has Left Your Body
- Across the Board
- Harp Tree Lament
- White Boy
- Sketches of China