When it comes to rock and roll legends, Grace Slick is up there with the best of them. As the frontwoman of Jefferson Airplane, she was huge in the 1960s and ’70s. But despite all Slick’s success, she eventually walked away from the spotlight in 1989 — and for a very surprising reason.
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick Left The Spotlight Behind For A Confounding Change
Quite the career
This move marked the end of an extremely memorable career, since Slick had been responsible for bringing many classic rock tracks to life. She was the perfect fit for Jefferson Airplane. And in addition to her wonderful voice, we can’t forget to mention the singer’s excellent writing skills.
Writing a classic
Yep, Slick penned the iconic track “White Rabbit” — arguably Jefferson Airplane’s most famous song. Anyway, that made her retirement all the more difficult to take. Why was the talented star leaving the world of music behind? And what did she plan on doing instead? Well, the answers to both those questions are sure to catch you off guard.
Jefferson Airplane’s formation
Here’s another potential surprise for you — it’s easy to forget that Slick wasn’t one of the original members of Jefferson Airplane. The band came together in 1965 with singer Marty Balin leading the charge. He went on to encourage five other artists to join him, including female vocalist Signe Toly Anderson.
Balin wanted to capture the “folky rock” blend that was proving to be a big success during that period. But that’s not all. He also aimed to start up a new bar, which in turn would give the band a platform to perform. You can’t say the singer wasn’t ambitious!
In the end, Balin got what he wanted. Backed by a trio of entrepreneurs, he opened up a place out of an old pizzeria in San Francisco, California. It was big enough to house roughly 100 chairs across the floor space. Pretty cool, right? As for the name, it’s sure to sound quite familiar.
Yes, the bar was named The Matrix. We wonder if all the patrons were donned in leather jackets and sunglasses? Anyway, Jefferson Airplane came together for their first performance as a group there in August 1965. They got noticed fairly quickly, as a record label picked them up just three months later.
From there, the group started to work on their first album, which eventually hit the shelves in August 1966. It was titled Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Mind you, sales didn’t exactly soar — the record couldn’t rise above 128th in the Billboard charts. Ouch. Plus, things weren’t looking too great behind-the-scenes, either.
A huge change
Just three months before the record dropped, Anderson welcomed a baby girl into the world. She was now a mom, and she found it increasingly difficult to balance that job with her life as a singer. So, the vocalist made a big decision after Jefferson Airplane Takes Off came out. Yep, she left the band.
Talk about a body-blow! Balin and company refused to panic, though. Instead, Jefferson Airplane kept their eyes open for someone else to fill the gap. Luckily for them, the process didn’t take that long. A different female vocalist emerged as the front-runner and nabbed the spot. Her name? Grace Slick.
Slick’s early life
Following her birth in the fall of 1939, Slick spent the first three years of her life in Chicago, Illinois. Then, she and her clan packed their bags for Los Angeles, California, before moving again to San Francisco. On the academic side of things, the youngster was a big fan of English and art.
But on the whole, Slick wasn’t all that dedicated to her education, despite spending time at two different colleges. She was more interested in enjoying herself outside of the work. That mindset prompted her to dump her studies in the end, as the young lady circled back to San Francisco.
Looking for direction
After that, Slick spent the next few years searching for a new calling. She did show aspirations of becoming a vocalist, yet those hopes appeared to be dashed following a few disappointments. Still, that didn’t dampen the San Francisco resident’s interest in music, as she penned some pieces a little while later.
The Great Society
Everything changed in 1965, though. That year, Slick attended a Jefferson Airplane gig in the city. Such was their performance that she then wanted to form a band herself. And she pulled it off — The Great Society was subsequently born. Finally, it looked like something would stick! But it proved to be short-lived.
When one door closes…
Even though The Great Society established themselves as an exciting up-and-coming group in San Francisco, they disbanded in 1966. What a bummer. Yet there was a silver lining here. Just as Slick found herself alone again, her new pals in Jefferson Airplane had a big vacancy they needed to fill…
Without beating around the bush, it was a match made in heaven. Slick’s voice perfectly aligned with Jefferson Airplane’s music, as they became one of the defining bands of the ’60s era. Surrealistic Pillow’s release no doubt played a big role in that — it was their first record with the new singer in place.
A pair of classics
Both “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” were included on that LP. What most musicians would give for at least one classic track to their name — Jefferson Airplane produced two for the same record! As we noted before, Slick wrote the latter, delving into her fascination with the Alice in Wonderland story.
Slick went into a bit more detail about that while speaking to The Press Democrat newspaper in October 2010. She said, “The story of Alice in Wonderland is very similar to mine in that she came out of a very straight era, which was Victorian England. I came out of a straight era, which was ’50s United States.”
“And then you fall down this hole,” Slick continued. “For me, it was a rock and roll band. Going from the ’50s to the ’60s was very much like going through a tunnel into a whole different land.” In addition to that, the vocalist revealed that she had an unusual connection to rabbits as well.
“Born in the year of the rabbit”
Slick informed the newspaper, “I was born in the year of the rabbit. One of the things that came through a fire I had at my house in Northern California was a rabbit. Growing up, I lived next door to a guy who had about 40 white rabbits.” Good luck getting that image out of your head when you next hear the song!
Anyway, Surrealistic Pillow dropped in the early part of 1967 and was a much bigger hit than Jefferson Airplane’s debut. The record went gold by that summer. From there, the rock band and their leading lady went from strength to strength, appearing at iconic events such as Woodstock as the decade concluded.
An interesting spell
The group went on to release five more studio albums and a couple of live records over the next few years, ahead of an interesting period. At the start of the 1970s, Slick was trying out some stuff away from Jefferson Airplane, recording two solo efforts. Her bandmates were also focused on different works, too.
Birth of a new band
As a result of those divided interests, Jefferson Airplane folded. But in 1974 a new group rose from the ashes. Yep, with Slick and guitar player Paul Kantner at the helm, Jefferson Starship was born. Still with us? Great! They went on to release three records between 1975 and 1978.
Just when you thought she was out…
But there was another twist in store. As Jefferson Starship continued to gather momentum, Slick left the band following several performances in Germany in 1978. After taking some time away, though, the vocalist was eventually welcomed back in the early ’80s, ahead of cranking out a couple more classics. Talk about a roller-coaster!
Calling it a day
Yep, Slick and her bandmates dropped tracks such as “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” and “We Built This City.” Mind you, they had to do it under a different name. Once Kanter left them, the band simply became Starship. But by 1989 the singer was ready to hang up her mic for good.
“Ten years too old”
So, that brings us back to our earlier question. Why did Slick decide to retire more than 30 years ago? Well, the vocalist provided an answer during her interview with The Press Democrat. And she didn’t hold back. She said, “I don’t like old people on a rock stage. I was about ten years too old at the time anyway.”
Slick continued, “I feel embarrassed for [rock stars] who are old. I saw Fleetwood Mac on television and I saw Mick Jagger on TV and some people can get away with it. Sting is one of them. Eric Clapton is another one.” What was her issue, then? Why did it bother her so much?
Slick got right to the point. She told the newspaper, “My biggest problem is what they’re singing. You’re singing, ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ Okay, you’re 65 years old, you’ve got about eight billion dollars. What do you mean you can’t get no satisfaction? What are you talking about? You’re singing stuff that’s appropriate when you’re 25, not 65.”
That’s quite a jab to level at some very famous names. We wonder what older rockers thought of her comments? Slick reiterated those words in a different interview, too, offering up a few additional thoughts. She spoke to the Classic Rock website in October 2017 to mark her 78th birthday.
After doubling down on the age criticisms, Slick said, “If you’re comfortable with [performing], go ahead. I’m easily embarrassed for people. ‘Oh my God, honey, get off the stage. Become a producer or something.’” With that in mind, we’ve got to ask — what did the iconic vocalist do after calling it a day?
What came next
Well, Slick turned her attention to art once music was off the table. Considering that was one of her favorite school subjects, we shouldn’t be too surprised! The former Jefferson Airplane singer is particularly fond of painting, with her official website stating that she’s “always been talented” in that area.
As for Slick’s post-rock routine, she shed a bit more light on that while chatting to The Press Democrat. She said, “I wake up at about 4 a.m. It’s just natural for me. I feel wide awake. I get up and paint, draw, read, watch television, clean up the house.”
“Two days for the price of one”
Slick went on, “I take a nap in the middle of the day around noon. So I get two days for the price of one. I try to [paint everyday], or sometimes I’m drawing a set-up or wrapping a painting to send to my agent.” Something tells us her days with Jefferson Airplane and Starship weren’t so laid back!
What’s the draw?
Going back to Slick’s love of art, though, we’re curious — what draws her towards it? And how does this form of creativity compare to life in a rock band? She shared her thoughts on that front to the newspaper, suggesting that freedom is perhaps the biggest pull. But there’s a catch.
“Don’t have to give in”
Slick said, “Art is solitary. You don’t have to give in to anybody else. In other words, during the ’80s I had to give in to everybody. I had to say okay. I was trying to be a good girl. ‘Okay, I’m not drinking. Okay, you wanna do that song? Okay.’”
“Do what you want to do”
“With art, you don’t have to give in to anybody,” Slick added. “You do what you want to do. Well, partially what sells. My agent said, ‘Why don’t you do a cartoon series on the lyrics of ‘White Rabbit’?’ and I thought, ‘Oh Christ.’ But he’s right. The stuff does sell.”
Anyway, even though Slick appears to be pretty happy in her retirement from music, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. For instance, the rock legend has been forced to deal with a painful medical condition that affects her mobility. This ailment is known as erythromelalgia, and unfortunately it’s really nasty.
A painful condition
Erythromelalgia is a neurovascular disease that causes great pain in your feet and hands. It’s a very uncommon disorder. As for the kind of discomfort you feel, it’s said to be a burning sensation. Slick has to constantly keep fans near her tootsies to cool them down. Plus, she can only stand up in short spells.
Like we said, it’s a horrible condition! Yet Slick continues to manage it. Maybe the painting helps to take her mind off it as well? And speaking of her artwork, that brings us to our final question. After 30-plus years out of the music industry, does the former Jefferson Airplane star need to rely on the money she gets for her pieces?
“Royalty cheques are great”
Slick told Classic Rock, “I don’t live off my art. If I did, I’d be starving. Royalty cheques are great. I always knew once the Airplane became famous that it would be around until I drop dead.” She also informed The Guardian newspaper, “‘White Rabbit’ has been bringing in royalties for over 50 years. I still get to pay my bills off that one song.” You can’t say she hasn’t earned it!
Lisa is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mamas Uncut. She’s a Hispanic female executive whose been in digital media for over 15 years. Prior to building a career in media she was a technology M&A banker. Before starting Mamas Uncut, Lisa was the CEO of RockYou, Inc for 8 years. RockYou was a social gaming and digital media company focused on the mom demographic. TheRockYou properties included 25 game franchises as well as cafemom.com, mamaslatinas.com, mom.me and littlethings.com
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