Paul Kantner, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane who stayed with the seminal San Francisco band through its transformation from 1960s hippies to 1970s hit-makers as the eventual leader of successor group Jefferson Starship, has died at age 74. Kantner, who drew upon his passion for politics and science fiction to help write such rock classics as "Wooden Ships" and "Volunteers," died on Thursday of organ failure and septic shock. He had been admitted to a San Francisco hospital after falling ill earlier in the week, his former girlfriend and publicist Cynthia Bowman, the mother of one of his three children, told the AP.
Kantner was born in 1941, the musical and nonconforming son of a traveling salesman. He dropped out of college to pursue a career in folk music and became the Airplane's only native San Franciscan and its most political and experimental thinker. Besides Kantner, who played rhythm guitar and added backing vocals, the Airplane's best-known lineup included singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin. "He was the first guy I picked for the band and he was the first guy who taught me how to roll a joint," Balin wrote of Kantner on his Facebook page. "And although I know he liked to play the devil's advocate, I am sure he has earned his wings now." Kantner and Slick reigned as one of rock's most prominent couples for much of the '70s. In 1971, Slick gave birth to their daughter, whom the couple originally wanted to call God but decided to name China, according to the AP. (Read more obituary stories.)