Founding member of Jefferson Airplane Paul Kantner is being sued by Jefferson Airplane Inc., the band’s corporate name of which Kantner is a shareholder. The suit, filed Thursday in San Francisco, alleges that Kantner has been performing under the band’s name without permission.
At issue is an agreement Kantner signed in 1985 as a provision of his leaving the group stating that he would not use the words “Jefferson” or “Airplane” for commercial ventures unless the other shareholders, including Jack Cassidy, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen and manager Bill Thompson, of Jefferson Airplane Inc. gave permission. However, Kantner, along with Marty Balin, also a founding member, and musicians Slick Aguilar, Chris Smith and Diana Mangano have been performing Jefferson Airplane’s most political work, the 1969 album Volunteers, live in its entirety over recent months. And at times, they have been billed in major venues, including the House of Blues in Los Angeles and the Bottom Line in New York, as Jefferson Airplane Volunteers.
“I’d rather have a root canal than to sue somebody we’re partners with,” Thompson says, adding that the suit was only filed after requests to stop using the name were ignored. “Jefferson Airplane is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and people are going to these shows expecting to see Grace Slick sing and there’s some other girl singer. It’s a fraud. We want to stop it.”
Kantner counters that the lawsuit is “inane and lightweight,” for a number of reasons. First, he says, since he took back Jefferson Starship’s name in 1992 and it has gone uncontested “for so long, it gives me the right to use the name,” according to copyright and publishing law. Additionally, he has a 1997 agreement with Slick for her share of Jefferson Airplane Inc. which would allow him use of that name. Add this to his own share, he reasons, and “in a sense, it’s me suing myself.” Finally, in this particular instance, the use of the name was made — in error — by the promoters of the venues, not the band. “The one most glaring was made by the House of Blues,” he says, noting that this venue has already apologized, since the group had told the venues to bill themselves as “Jefferson Starship Acoustic performing Volunteers.”
Despite whose error it might be, the use of the name now, Thompson says, also jeopardizes the possibility of future reunions. “The Jefferson Airplane could perform again sometime, you never know,” he adds. “So you don’t want to put an inferior product out and then have people say ‘the Jefferson Airplane already played.’ No, they haven’t played.”