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Registered: 07/26/04
Posts: 13,985
Spencer Dryden (Jefferson Airplane drummer) dead at 66 [news article]
    #3629946 - 01/15/05 03:28 AM (13 years, 5 months ago)

Spencer Dryden
Drummer who anchored the acid rock of Jefferson Airplane at the height of the psychedelic era
January 15, 2005
Times Online

SPENCER DRYDEN was the drummer with Jefferson Airplane, the most successful of the ?acid rock? bands to emerge from San Francisco in the psychedelic era of the late 1960s.

The group was one of the headline acts at Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont, the three legendary pop festivals of the decade.

Its biggest hit was White Rabbit, a song memorable for Grace Slick?s ice-queen vocals and the extraordinary bolero beat provided by Dryden?s snare drum, a rhythm previously unimagined in rock music.

Dryden was born in New York City in 1938 and moved to Los Angeles in childhood when his father went to work as an assistant director for his half-brother Charlie Chaplin (his middle name was also Spencer). Dryden grew up knowing such film stars as Abbott and Costello, Boris Karloff and Stan Laurel.

In Tramp, her biography of Chaplin, Joyce Milton describes the five-year-old Dryden reading The Night Before Christmas during a family party at his uncle?s house in 1943.

But music rather than movies was his passion, and he began drumming in a Dixieland jazz band at the age of 12. After military academy, he attended music school. By early 1966, when he was recommended to Jefferson Airplane by the session drummer Earl Palmer, he was already making a living teaching music and playing in jazz combos in clubs on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood as well as in a folk-rock band called the Ashes.

Along with such groups as the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Airplane were at the time in the vanguard of the new psychedelic sound ? often referred to as acid rock ? coming out of San Francisco?s nascent hippie scene, centred on the Haight-Ashbury district.

The group had formed in 1965 and swiftly became the first of the San Francisco groups to secure a record deal when they signed with RCA. When the original drummer, Skip Spence, left them in the lurch when he moved to Mexico in spring 1966, Dryden was invited to audition for his place. His technical ability and the cowboy gear he donned for the audition meant he passed with flying colours.

Leaving his young wife and child behind in LA, he moved to San Francisco, was introduced to the hallucinogenic visions of an LSD trip and made his live debut with the Airplane in June 1966. Ironically, given the group?s anti-establishment stance and opposition to the Vietnam War, they were playing at a private party for the Republican Alliance. Matthew Katz, the manager who booked them the gig, was sacked soon after.

Dryden stayed with the Airplane until 1970, a period that encompassed the band?s glory years and all their best recordings, playing on the albums Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing at Baxter?s, Bless its Pointed Little Head, Crown of Creation and Volunteers. He also played on their brace of American Top Ten singles during the ?summer of love?, 1967 ? Somebody To Love and White Rabbit.

Living the hippie lifestyle to the full, he moved into the communal house the band had bought on Fulton Street, opposite Golden Gate Park and had an affair with Slick.

In her autobiography, Somebody to Love? (1998), Slick admitted to having bedded four of the band?s five male members. To mark Dryden?s 30th birthday, she also wrote the song Lather about him. The track appeared on Crown of Creation (1968).

By the start of the new decade and after the bloody debacle of the Altamont festival in December 1969, now widely regarded as the symbolic end of the hippie dream, Jefferson Airplane had split into two factions.

One was led by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy, who had formed a blues offshoot called Hot Tuna, and the other by Slick and Paul Kantner, who made a series of sci-fi-oriented albums in a project that eventually evolved into Jefferson Starship.

Dryden fitted comfortably into neither camp, and when Kaukonen and Cassidy decided they wanted to replace him with Hot Tuna?s drummer, Joey Covington, his days were numbered. With hindsight, it was probably best for him that he got out while the band was still on a high. The Airplane limped on until 1973, but neither of the two studio albums the group recorded post-Dryden touched the heights of their earlier work.

In 1971 he joined the country-rock band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, an offshoot of the Grateful Dead, and stayed with them until 1978, recording nine albums. In the 1980s, he joined the Dinosaurs, a group of psychedelic rock veterans that included former members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Country Joe and the Fish, but delivered considerably less than the sum of its parts.

When the Airplane reconvened for a reunion album and tour in 1989, Dryden was not invited to join them. Even when he was inducted with the rest of the band into the Rock?n?Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, he did not participate in the Airplane?s performance of Volunteers, but watched from the side.

In recent years he had fallen on hard times. His San Francisco home and all his possessions were destroyed in a fire in 2003, and he underwent two hip replacement operations and heart surgery.

He was found to have stomach cancer in 2004 and made his last public appearance in November that year helping to promote a Jefferson Airplane retrospective DVD.

Spencer Dryden was married three times and is survived by three sons.

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