Sunday, February 13, 2011

Jefferson Airplane - "30 Seconds Over Winterland" - by Pat Thomas

As a producer, Pat Thomas was involved in revamping the catalogs of 1970's cult-legend Judee Sill, 1960's acid-folk pioneers Tom Rapp & Pearls Before Swine, and 1960's singer/songwriter Ruthann Friedman - Other artists Pat worked closely with include Terry Reid, Holy Modal Rounders, Patty Waters, Les McCann, Gene McDaniels, Tom Verlaine, John Lydon, John Sinclair (Mc5) and the estate of Allen Ginsberg. As a journalist Pat has interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Lou Reed, John Cale, Paul Williams (founder of Crawdaddy magazine), Marty Balin and Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane amongst others. As a drummer/producer/musician, Pat has performed and/or recorded with Krautrock legends Faust, Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine, Daevid Allen of Gong, Pete Brown (lyricist for Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton on the Cream albums), singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate and others.

I’ve always felt that some classic rock bands got better when the drugs and bitterness set in, for example, I’ll take “Let It Be” over “Meet the Beatles”, I’ll take “Let It Bleed” over “Between the Buttons.” In the case of the Jefferson Airplane, I love what everyone else considers their worst period – those last couple of years when the band was coming apart at the seams.

Several years ago, RCA re-mastered and expanded pretty much every Airplane album except one. When I spoke to their reissue producer, he asked me – what should I do next? I replied “30 Seconds Over Winterland - It’s a 38 minute live album, there’s got to be bonus tracks” Well, they finally made a move – the album opens with Kantner’s sci-fi nonsense “have you seen the saucers?” before jumping into a 12 minute vamp on Jorma Kaukonen’s sexy blues “Feel So Good” – this is Hot Tuna in all but name including one Papa John on fiddle. Besides being one of the most under-rated (white) electric blues players around, just his name “Jorma” is cool as fuck. Unlike most of the other Airplane live albums (and there’s a lot of them out there now), this one (being later period) doesn’t repeat the same old mid-period classic songs (“3/5ths of a mile” anyone?), instead we get “when the earth moves again” and “twilight double leader”.

But it’s really the bonus material that gets me excited – there’s a version of “long john silver” and “lawman” – “lawman” originally appeared on the BARK album and for anyone paying attention in the early 90’s – the ultra, oh so cool junkie hipsters Royal Trux covered the song, bringing it a whole new generation of jaded fucks. For me, the very best late period Airplane albums weren’t really Airplane records at all, but “Sunfighter” released as Kantner/Slick right after BARK came out. (and “Baron Von Tollbooth”) The “Sunfighter” album included a song about those over privileged white middle class kids called the Weathermen, who I admire on their “kicking against the pricks” principle if nothing else. The song "Diana" was written in response to the death of Diana Oughton. (Google her if you must). Here we get treated to a live version of “Diana” that flows appropriately enough into “Volunteers” – the Airplane’s 1969 soundtrack to the revolution that never was.

“30 Seconds Over Winterland” works because of Kantner and Slick’s pretentious political nature coupled with the intense blues overdrive of Kaukonen and Papa John. And hey, the drummer is one Johnny Barbata – who drums on my favorite CSN&Y album that everyone seems to hate; “4 Way Street” – another live album of a band coming apart at the seams, fueled by coke and ego. Artistic implosion never sounded so sweet – play both of these albums back to back, then ask yourself, do I need some Lady Gaga and Katy Perry or not?

- Pat Thomas

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