The Beginning

Thoughts and memories from longtime Jefferson Airplane Manager Bill Thompson

The Beginning

Postby bill-thompson on Mon Sep 15, 2008 4:36 pm

It was 1964 and I was living at the "Swiss American" hotel on
Broadway near Columbus in an area of San Francisco called
North Beach. There were a lot of Italians living there and also
Chinese making Chinatown the biggest district outside of
China. All of the Jazz stars and other performers stayed there
when they came to San Francisco. I saw Miles Davis walk
through the halls; Dizzy stayed there and the great comic
"Lenny Bruce" fell out of a window and broke his wrist one
night.

One day I was walking through the hotel and there was
a man playing the most beautiful saxophone. He had his door open
and I waited outside his room and listened for 15 or 20 minutes.
It was so beautiful. It was the great "John Coltrane" known by
many today as Saint John.

I got a call in my room one day from the front desk telling me that
someone wanted to see me. I went downstairs and it was Marty
Balin, a friend. He told me that his girlfriend had moved out of
their apartment at 16th & Clement st. in the Richmond District &
would I move in with him and share the rent? I thought about 10
seconds and said "Yes."

Marty had been a child star & been in off Broadway productions
as an actor and singer in "Westside Story" "Brigadoon" & many
others. He had also sang 4 songs for "Challenge" records around
1963. His manager changed his name from Marty Buchwald to
Marty Balin. When I moved in he had just finished performing in
a Folk group called "The Town Criers." There was 3 men and a female
named Jan. Marty had an idea of having a band with 5 guys and a female
and they would have electric instruments. I jumped onto Marty's
dream and we would sit in the apartment and talk about the dream.
I would be involved in the business and do PR for the band. Everything
we talked about came true and more.

Marty started going to clubs
and started trying musicians out. This was late 1964 and early 1965.
One night he was at a club called "The Drinking Gourd" and a young
man walked in carrying a banjo and a 12 string guitar. Marty heard
him play and sing some songs. He walked up to Paul and said my name
is Marty & I have a band. Do you want to join? Paul said yes!
Paul had a friend named "Jorma Kaukonen" who was a great
guitar player and he invited him to try out for the band. By that
time Marty & I had moved to the Haight/Ashbury district and
lived in a "flat" on Belvedere & Haight sts. Jorma came in and began
to play. He had long hair and a wife from Sweden named Marguerita.
Marty & I had never heard anyone play guitar like Jorma. Marty asked
him to join and he agreed. The band that had no name kept trying
musicians out. They had a standup bass player named Bob Harvey
& a drummer named Skip Spence who later played in a band named
"Moby Grape." & a female singer "Signe Anderson. I worked at the "San
Francisco Chronicle" newspaper & I knew the leading critic of music
in the bay area : Ralph Gleason.

Marty had talked 3 lawyers into
putting up some money for a club: "The Matrix" on Fillmore street
in the Marina. The club opened up on Aug 13th, 1965. I was a copy
boy for The Chronicle & I became the first press agent for the Matrix
making $50 a month. I kept inviting Ralph to come to a show. He came
and wrote a great review in sept 1965. The next day 8 record companies
came to see Jefferson Airplane. They were off and running towards
stardom!
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Re: The Beginning

Postby bill-thompson on Wed Sep 17, 2008 9:43 am

Dear Destiny-

No need to apologize I love it when people comment on my random thoughts, unless of course it has to do with the name of Jimi Hendrix songs =)
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Re: The Beginning

Postby rbersoul90 on Wed Sep 17, 2008 2:24 pm

Wow great story, I learned some new details i hadn't read out of "Got A Revolution" I think it's really neat that someone who was there first hand is able to tell their memorys to everyone else about that great time.

On the Mention of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, both men are amazing. Which speaking of Miles Davis I thought i heard from somewhere that Grace Slick got part of her inspiration to write "White Rabbit" from the "Sketches of Spain" album. Is that true?
Last edited by rbersoul90 on Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Beginning

Postby DonRico1967 on Wed Sep 17, 2008 7:29 pm

Thank you very much, Mr. Bill!
We LOOOOOOOOVE to hear such fantastic stories told FIRST-HAND!!!
Keep them coming PLEASE!!!

P.S.: I must say that your "Jimi Hendrix song" comment escapes me-- Would that possibly be a reference to his instrumental track "Beginnings" ???
UP AGAINST THE WALL, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!
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Re: The Beginning

Postby rbersoul90 on Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:57 pm

Yes I love how the Great Society added that spanish sound to their music. It makes it real unique and different.
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Re: The Beginning

Postby FirstBassman on Fri Oct 17, 2008 3:22 pm

bill-thompson wrote: The band that had no name kept trying
musicians out. They had a standup bass player named Bob Harvey
& a drummer named Skip Spence who later played in a band named
"Moby Grape." & a female singer "Signe Anderson.



Actually Bill, you forget, the original drummer was Jerry Peloquin.
Skip came later.
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Re: The Beginning

Postby plasticfantastic on Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:31 pm

Wow. What an amazing time!

I wish it was that simple to start a band now. If it were, I would have one!
Trouble in mind, lord I'm blue
But I won't be blue always
The sun's gonna shine in my door,
Shine in my back door someday
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Location: Sunny California, not San Francisco though. If only...


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