AIRPLANE FLIES! -- LEAVES MANAGER, BATTLES RCA
Group Follows Beatles Lead: Run Own Show
The Jefferson Airplane have "divorced" themselves from the personal management of Fillmore Auditorium manager Bill Graham on February 6, following the lead of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Each of these groups has taken its business affairs into its own hands on a strictly cooperative basis.
Bill Thompson, long the Airplane's road manager and now their spokesman (like Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin of the Dead, he is an integral part of the group and not an autonomous individual with his own, possibly conflicting, interests) was reticent about discussing the break with Graham but definite about the band's independence. "We might get other management," he said, "then again, the Earth might split open."
Like the other two San Francisco outfits, the first venture to interest Jefferson Airplane has been, naturally, a rock and roll show. The Great Northwest Tour undertaken by the Dead, Quicksilver, and Jerry Abram's Headlights - it was actually organized and promoted by Rifkin, Scully, Ron Rakow, and attorney Brian Rohan - was a huge success, not so much financially, although it did end up in the black, as in showing that an independent group-based operation could do everything the show business professionals could do, do it (musically) better, and have a good time doing it.
Even Rock Scully, who blithely remarked, "We knew along along we could do it...only before we were too busy scuffling and recording," was amazed at the way the tour, with the aid of a few well-placed posters and a phone call to the editor of a local and/or college newspaper, could create as much excitement in a Washington or Oregon college town as they would have caused by riding through its streets in the back of a circus wagon, plugged into a mobile generator and playing at full amplification.
"We walk into an empty hall," he said, "at 3:30 - the show's at 8 - by the time it starts we've transformed that place into a scene that would rival the Fillmore or the Avalon at their very best. They (the audience) were running into the place."
What struck everyone connected with the tour was the fact that the shows came off better - music, lights, communication between performers and audience - than similar productions with the identical musicians produced by outsiders. "There were 30 of us making a creative effort. After all, it was our thing," Rock said.
This is the atmosphere that Jefferson Airplane also hopes to capture in its future efforts. "The Airplane wants to change the concept of the rock and roll show," Thompson stated. "The San Francisco groups got into the business to have a good time and give a good show. But because of the conditions we ran into on our tour, we weren't able to give a lot of audiences the shows they should have been receiving."
The conditions he referred to are familiar to all traveling salesmen, professional athletes, high fashion models, and musicians, especially musicians: get off the plane, spend an hour or three in an uncomfortable motel room, go somewhere you've never seen before and do whatever it is you do for people who've never seen you before and get on the plane again to do it over again.
Jefferson Airplane is a big-time act (in fact it gets more money - up to $7500 a performance - than any other American band) and its members do not have to put up with the changes that many less successful performers do, but a grind is a grind, dull is dull, and tired is tired.
It was not specified whether the continuous live performances were a factor in the parting-of-the-ways with Graham, who not only arranged them, but expected the group to come up with fresh material on the road. However, the Airplane has resolved never again to undertake such a punishing schedule of appearances.
Among the new ideas the Airplane is considering is the possibility of traveling with the Doors, hardly unknowns themselves, with the bands exchanging material. This would give the audiences a chance to hear Jim Morrison soar into "Somebody to Love," followed by Marty Balin and Grace Slick singing "Light My Fire." The Airplane is also seriously considering a tour of Europe, accompanied by Headlights. If they make the trip they plan to set up some joint performances with the Grateful Dead, already booked for Continental appearances in April and May thanks to the efforts of the Dead's managers.
Setting its sights still further Eastward, Jefferson Airplane also hopes to become the first American band to play behind the Iron Curtain and is especially interested in performing in Russia. Thompson admits that he is still waiting to hear from Kosygin.
The Airplane's business ambitions do not stop at tours and concerts. They have set up a publishing company called Ice Bag Corp. Already in the works are two songbooks - for Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter's, the group's two latest albums - which are being compiled and produced by Gary Blackman, an Airplane associate and erstwhile publicity man.
Then there are what Bill Thompson calls "visuals." Conrad Rooks, the young movie producer-director, held a private, Airplane-only screening of his Chappaqua, then met with the group and found them quite interested in his plans for a feature-length film featuring them. (He didn't mention that when he first announced plans for a rock-and-roll-oriented movie it was supposed to have starred the Beatles and been shot in Nepal.) John Urea, a Los Angeles film maker who has already produced several shorts on musical subjects, has also broached plans for a film, and no decision has been reached on which (or both or neither) project the Airplane will engage in. But some sort of film definitely is in the works.
In another, more familiar medium, recorded music, the band finds itself anxious to record some new songs but is at loggerheads with its label, RCA Victor. The issue is again freedom and the hassle is centered in two areas: promotion and the actual conditions of cutting tapes.
After Bathing at Baxter's was terribly mishandled and underpromoted by RCA, according to Thompson, who suggests that the apparent incompetence may have been purposive on the part of the company, which wanted another Surrealistic Pillow and was further put out by the Ron Cobb cover design which the Airplane insisted on using., "Every record cover, every advertisement is going to be associated with the Jefferson Airplane and we have a right to the final say" is the group's position on the matter. They also want the record company to guarantee that a definite amount of money will be spent for promoting each album and single - said money to be turned over to the Airplane and its public relations firm to be used as they think most effective. RCA, it hardly need be said, is not rushing forward with wheelbarrows full of greenback dollar bills to meet this demand, but insists that the records are its products to be sold as it sees fit.
As for the actual recording, the Airplane musicians, especially Jorma Kaukonen, are notoriously unhappy with the RCA Los Angeles studios. They want to be able to name their own engineers and production people, choose their own studios to record in - in San Francisco, if they like, which, according to Thompson, RCA now forbids - and even start their own studios.
In essence, the Airplane wants to present the label with the finished tapes for a record and say, "Here." Thompson says that several members of the group refuse to set foot in a studio until these conditions are met. The group's contract is in fact being renegotiated following the departure of Graham, but if RCA gives away promotion money or allows the total control the Airplane wants, it will be a first in the history of the relationships between recording companies and artists.
A rock group going into business for itself may not be as simple as it seems. However, on the local scene, Ron Polte and the Quicksilver Messenger Service have just finished presenting a series of shows at the New Committee Theater in North Beach that featured performers as diverse as Charles Lloyd and the Ace of Cups, an all-lady rock band. The Grateful Dead/Country Joe and the Fish St. Valentine's Dance at the Carousel Ballroom on Market Street (which will be broadcast live by KMPX-FM just like Symphony Sid used to broadcast live from Birdland twenty years ago - "that was in another city") was immensely successful, as was the dance they held a month earlier at the same location.
While the Dead have no use for the "rock Establishment" here - such Establishment as it may be - and say, "The promoters have just been putting out pap. That's why we haven't played the (Avalon and Fillmore) ballrooms in the last 8 months," the Airplane thinks it will appear at the Fillmore again, perhaps soon, and Bill Graham, playing to the hilt the amicable ex-husband of his own metaphor, agrees. "Unless," he adds, "they become too big - like the Beatles."
And the Beatles, it will be remembered, formed their own cooperative business agency, Apple Ltd., soon after the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, and so started, like so many other things, all this.
(from Rolling Stone, 9 March 1968)
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/02/march-1968-europe-tour-planned.html (from the same issue)
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2013/07/january-30-1968-emu-ballroom-university.html (some Rohan/Scully publicity for the Great Northwest Tour)
http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2011/08/some-airplane-comments.html (Airplane interview excerpts)