Signe Toly Anderson, the original 'girl singer' (see below) from the Jefferson Airplane, died Thursday, the same day as her bandmate Paul Kantner, though inevitably her death received less attention. Anderson (Toly was her maiden name) sang on the Airplane's first record Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, which is a remarkably good album. It's not quite the same sound as Surrealistic Pillow, which followed with Grace Slick on vocals. Slick's lead vocals were a big part of what made the Airplane, and especially 'Somebody To Love', so much of a hit, but with Anderson the band did more intricate harmonies and her voice blended in beautifully with Marty Balin's and Kantner's and Skip Spence's (in the early days). Although there was more blues and folk in that album, it was as much a foundation of the San Francisco sound as the record which followed; less psychedelic but I loved it when it first came out, and it's worth a listen now. If you find the version with extra songs not included, and a couple of 'uncut' versions, you'll hear more and better Signe.
Anderson left the band because she had a young daughter, and wanted to quit the road. She tells a great story about a trip to Chicago with the Airplane, you can link to that interview here, it's a great listen. The airplane were the house band at the Matrix, where he husband was the bartender, and the first night they played word of mouth reached Ralph Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle. Gleason came the very next night, wrote about them, and the rest was history. Gleason would go on to the same thing nationwide in his Rolling Stone column for many musicians. It's a shame that era of cross-generational fertilization via newspapers doesn't really exist any more.
Anderson arranged her leaving with time enough for the Airplane to hire Slick, and for Bill Graham, who was also their manager, to make arrangements; they did their last concert with her on October 15, 1966 at the
Fillmore; Slick took over the very next night. Apparently a tape of that
concert surfaced and became a CD in 2010, it includes Balin announcing
that 'the girl singer' was leaving the band. I found her signature song 'Chauffeur Blues' from that concert on You Tube, you can link to that here. The sound's not great, but her voice rises above that, and you can hear Jorma and Jack clearly around that voice.
She survived cancer in the 1970s, but it had returned well before the time she did the interview. I was still listening as wrote this, and she's incredibly positive. You can see why her bandmates loved her so much. She ends by telling the interviewer 'Hey, just be happy. Remember...everything you say there's someone listening. Make sure it's nice...it's gentle. And love the people you love because, you know, it might just be the blink of an eye'. The blink of a very teary eye now.