Jefferson Airplane—
After Bathing At Baxter's

Released 1967 on RCA Victor
The Seth Man, September 2022ce
Having already left behind the staid trappings of TAKES OFF (1966) with the transcendental SURREALISTIC PILLOW (1967), it was their third album, AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER’S (1967) where Jefferson Airplane would chart the largest progression in their seven-year musical evolution. Loosened up, volume up, lighting up, and kicking out into entirely different directions at once, BAXTER’S was a world removed from Airplane’s previous conventions of love ballads and cover versions bathed in reverb. It was an album that was a startling, kaleidoscopic configuration that exhibited the group’s individual and collective talents in full flower. Fueled by an unparalleled energy, a questing spirit of experimentation, and the optimistic drive of joy, their renditions were as though a sonic three-part spiral beveled gear rotating onto itself in a push-pull illusion of dimensional space/time expansion as rendered by rotating plasmatic nodal points in liquid movement...Er, and then some.

Changes were happening and happening fast in Jefferson Airplane between Halloween 1966 and 1967. The former was the day they began recording SURREALISTIC PILLOW and the latter the night of the final session for BAXTER’S and it was during this period of great creative ferment set against the backdrop of the nascent San Francisco hippie movement and a vibrant scene of bands, concert venues and constant touring that group founder and vocalist Marty Balin would see his power slip away. The group he had founded in 1965 was quickly evolving out from under his initial Byrds-based “Jet-Age Sound” parameters into something far beyond his show-biz imaginings. On BAXTER’S, he helped enlarged the range of the group’s three-way vocal harmonies and kept his vocal prowess but contributed only one full song...offering only humble sarcasm upon request. (“Armadillo.”)

Guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner may have kept his 6-string Rickenbacker, but it was now affixed with a lenticular sunburst pickguard more aligned with the parameters of “Mr. Spaceman” than “Mr. Tambourine Man” and he was firing on all songwriting cylinders, penning three psychedelicised songs for BAXTER’S that would also comprise the majority of sides on Airplane’s next two singles. Meanwhile, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady were likewise mind-manifesting beyond belief with their musical arrangements that consolidated into a single force that only continued to expand. The ballrooms of San Francisco provided a constant influx of new sounds, and the strongest influences on Kaukonen and Casady were from the pioneering performances of The Butterfield Blues Band and Cream. Their extended extemporizations, powerful amplification accompanied by the use of feedback as well as the use of such effects as fuzztone, distortion, and wah-wah led the guitar-minded duo to incorporate all of these into their evolving musical vocabularies. Aided and abetted by the use of Eskatrol, their near-constant gigging with Airplane led to on-the-spot improvisations which would only increase in length, feeling, and abandon into the far, far horizon. Meanwhile, keeping the beat and giving back so much more was drummer Spencer Dryden. With a keen sensibility, a background in jazz, and a relative foreknowledge befitting a person of his age (at 29, he was Airplane’s oldest member) his contributions to the engine room were unfussy and kept everything nailed down tight when demanded, loose when necessary, and experimental whenever whatever deemed it thus.

And speaking of loose, rounding out the sextet was vocalist Grace Slick. Her personal war on convention thrived (and would continue unabated for years) through stream-of-consciousness lyrics, sarcasm, frank observations, and a voice so singular, cold, and precise that it was a wonder it ever existed at all. It cut like a laser beam (l-i-i-i-k-e-a-l-a-a-a-a-s-e-r-b-e-e-e-e-e-a-mmmmm) while her physical beauty charmed audiences both straight and hip alongside an intrigued yet perplexed mass media. She was difficult, complex, had already dropped out of society as a whole (and The Great Society, as of autumn, 1966) and so: fit in Airplane perfectly. It was her presence (alongside the spirit of the times and combined with prodigious drug intakes) that imbued all her bandmates with a newfound confidence. Members had already ditched their horn-rimmed glasses, grew their hair long, and started dressing freaky in an ongoing game of Bohemian double dare but the bar was raised by Slick’s attitude and presence. By the time BAXTER’S was released, all members bore scant semblance to their portraits taken the previous year for the sleeve of SURREALISTIC PILLOW. They had changed, their minds had changed, and change was in the air and swirling all around as SURREALISTIC PILLOW remained lodged in the Top 5 for the entire summer of 1967. This was encouraged by the pair of hit singles brought on board by Slick from her previous group, The Great Society: “Somebody To Love” (peaking at #5, June 17, 1967) and “White Rabbit” (peaking at #8 July 29, 1967).

Among other benefits, these huge selling records afforded the group a great deal of leverage with their label, RCA Victor. In fact, the first of a stream of demands from the band started with one of the first custom printed inner sleeves in Rock. Predated a few months by The Doors’ STRANGE DAYS, the surreal sketches drawn and submitted by the group for the inner sleeve of BAXTER’S caused some degree of concern in the offices of the Radio Corporation of America as one of the doodles appeared to resemble to an office staffer, according to Grace Slick, a ‘psychedelic cunt.’ The band were both puzzled and highly amused, but the incident only hardened their resolve against Big Daddy Nipper. It remained.

Meanwhile, the sleeve illustration by artist Ron Cobb depicted Jefferson Airplane as a colourful San Franciscan Victorian house-cum-WW I-era biplane dispensing confetti and balloons while marijuana plants sprouted forth from its flower box as it soared above Planned Obsolescence, USA: a monochromatic landscape littered with billboards and garbage dumps. Framed against bold horizontal red and blue bars with stars, there was no identifying typography on the spine. Inside, the gatefold exhibited a black background with each band member in an array of bizarre, ghost-lit portraits flanked by near-illegible hand lettered credits. This was not folk. This was not even folk-rock. This was...ROCK. 1


Shredding waves of feedback fry on high tension wires to signal the entry of “The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil” as well as a new era of existence for all those involved on both sides of its performance. One of Paul Kantner’s best compositions, its title included a word blended from the names of Winnie The Pooh and folksinger Fred Neil. Featuring some wholesale recycling of A.A. Milne recalled from childhood in the lyrics,2 it would be one of several new songs by Kantner that would inevitably flush out old chestnuts like “Runnin’ ‘Round This World” and “Tobacco Road” from Airplane’s live set. A loud and resonant statement that pushed against the beat ceaselessly, midpoint there’s a Jack Casady solo bass line like no other previously heard in Rock...or anywhere else, because Rock was still only a couple of years old. Distorted and soulful, it sets up a constant interplay with Jorma Kaukonen’s blistering guitar lines that perforate the rhythm and sting throughout, alternating with the threefold Kantner / Slick / Balin vocals which are already constantly alternating within themselves. The perspectives within the lyrics alternate between the sky, the ground, and the colours of reality then currently melting into their minds like a glass jar of crayons left out in the sun for summer hours that created a flurry of impressions culminating into pulsating and rhythmically agitated waves. After Kaukonen’s feedback cloud reappears to bookend the song, 3 it immediately trails off into a minute and a half’s worth of discordant Mothers of Invention-styled percussion weirdness that is “A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You, Shortly.” With the longest title, it’s the shortest song of the album and a freak-out filled to the brim with in-jokes, sound effects, errant echo, spoken word, laughter all overdubbed with a crazy drum pattern, vibes, and ending with the boisterous declaration:

((((do it, do it, do it))))

He's a peninsula.”

Crazy laughter ensues as the rhythm quickly switches then crossfades into the already-in-progress “Young Girl Sunday Blues.” Balin’s single sole songwriting credit on BAXTER’S, the base track was taken from a live Fillmore performance after multiple studio attempts fell short of the mark. A mid-tempo love song that addresses uncertainty, discovery, time lapsing before and between today to a young girl with backing from Kaukonen, Casady and Dryden, it swung as hard as it was unruly. Ever the romantic, Balin implores sweet young thing to come into his mind, his life, etc. (when he’d already asked her to come up the years two albums ago) while the situation was in all certainty probably somewhat more wishful than wistful a proposition. But any hang-ups are immediately dissolved after a burning Kaukonen/Casady instrumental bridge with stinging vibrato, distortion and speed comes Balin’s classic line of honesty: “I walk beside you laughing / And I’m high / don’t try to touch me with words...” Balin’s songwriting strength was nearly always with love as its subject, wrapped in high romanticism but always underpinned by reflections that, if not pure, were as entirely true to heart as they were ultimately fired up by physical attraction.

The War Is Over

The second brace of songs begin with the quietest pace of the album as Kantner’s acoustic reverie, “Martha” enters in on tiptoes. In contrast to Balin’s straightforward love balladeering, Kantner’s love songs were vague and imagistic. With emotional distance, and recalled hints alongside instances of experiences felt or imagined against a backdrop of past encounters, it’s far closer to the heart and revealing a deeper sensitivity than his previous compositions. “Martha” is a beautiful song and a brief sonic respite from the raging tempests that surround it. A thicket of acoustic guitar picking, congas, and recorder create pastoral visions for Kaukonen’s toned down yet still scorching outbreaks of fuzz/distortion guitar soloing and accompaniment during the chorus and coda. Casady grooves through his exploratory and melodic bass until all falls away for Kantner to sing the final words in great cavernous echo. Slamming into high gear, “Wild Tyme (H)” 4 bursts open the door with highly idiosyncratic guitar bursts struck hard and unbridled, shored up by Casady’s long range patrolling bass and Kantner banging out Rickenbacker rhythm. Kantner and Slick are singing together, but not harmonised: more like double lead vocals. In the back, Balin contributes vocals but other attacks from the midrange -- Slick, Kantner’s vocals, Kaukonen’s guitar, and Dryden’s insistent snare cracks -- all bleed together and drown him out until the bridge. Of special note, when the trio sings the line “and it’s oh all so new” for the third time in succession with an additional “oh,” they nail it in a way that they would be unable to ever again. There’s an innocence to those words, sung as they are, with such a release of passion and conviction, lacking all and any shopworn, well-versed cadences of a group on the road for weeks. No, it’s with pure joy and a distinctly pre-Altamont ring of optimism with which those words are sung, and this alongside two other highpoints of vocalisation spirit on BAXTER’S are examples that speak to the spirit of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene with the greatest of ease. Meanwhile, the ensemble rumbles behind and locks in behind the three-way vocal entreaties, the first most memorable being: “I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet.” Kaukonen lets loose with yet another unrestrained solo of splintery hand vibrato, fuzz and feeling compressed into this dimension which permeates underneath/over the repeated, three-way vocal “wild tyme” chorus. In the bridge is the second moment of pure truth sung captured lighting in the bottle: “What doesn’t change is the way I feel for you today.” While all around them swirl changes, Balin surfaces vocally while the band continue to kick it out.

Hymn To An Older Generation

Jorma Kaukonen’s sole songwriting contribution to the album, “The Last Wall Of The Castle,” explodes with a sizzling guitar burst. The guitar dispenses electrified blues idiom at rapid fire while Kaukonen’s vocals are 40 grit sandpaper gruffness, quickly spitting out strings of lyrics to keep up with his 100mph barbed guitar lines. His vocals are barely discernable except for the chorus and flashes of words but what he cannot express in words he does manifold times with his electric guitar, which is absolutely shattering. A breakdown sinks into silence save a handful of drum hits. With feedback shrieking, Kaukonen releases a guitar solo that is distorted fuzz insanity while Casady’s Yggdrasil bass is locked in with supreme resilience and a near physical wall of roaring bass frequencies. They speed up, roaring with accompanying feedback. The guitar solo in the outro is a tempest as Kaukonen whammy-bars it into oblivion, driven by Casady’s bass and Dryden’s powering on all cylinders long past the fade. Needless to say, This was light years away from “Embryonic Journey.”

The late night attic ritual commences with Grace Slick’s “rejoice.” It’s a dark, strange, dream impersonating a stream of consciousness read of James Joyce’s equally stream of conscious masterpiece, ULYSSES (1920). Whereas Slick had previous tripped on LSD while listening to Miles Davis’ SKETCHES OF SPAIN (1963) and the experience inspired her to write “White Rabbit,” “rejoice” was the result of living weird and loose while concocting something more outré against an altogether different Gil Evans-esque horn arrangement. Slick accompanies her vocals with piano and sensitive percussive backing from Dryden, whose jazz background is to the fore while Casady proves here, as well as throughout the album, that he is truly in a class all his own. Soon, a sinewy Middle Eastern woodwind line appears, accompanying various anti-war sentiments and miscellaneous musings on physicality. Soon, as Slick sings operatically, it all falls apart behind a crescendo of woodwinds and the side is over.

How Suite It Is

Side two opens with the upbeat “Watch Her Ride.” Kantner’s ringing Rickenbacker falls against his dispassionate intonations, then falling against Grace’s strongly pitched vocal wavering. Then Balin’s vocals. Then Kaukonen’s stinging, slippery and taut guitar. Then Casady’s ultimate bass counterpoint, which was there all the time. Then Dryden, who’s been driving it the whole time. When Kantner, Slick, and Balin vocally unite on the third and final climax, “OF MY-Y M-I-I-I-I-N-D...” it is the final vocal high point of the album. The whole Haight-Ashbury microcosm is in that singing of those three words by three people. Charged entirely with an unparalleled idealism and buoyancy that make the words something more than just words. They were living it.

The instrumental players break down their backing exaggerated form, finished off with a drum flourish and immediately into a melodic bass strum that opens the nine-minute instrumental, “Spare Chaynge.” Like something off Sandy Bull’s INVENTIONS (1965) album only with keenly aware, jazz-inf(l)ected drums and knowledge of not only form, but the formless maneuvering of psychedelic instrumental playing, it’s a careening odyssey with Casady and Kaukonen at the controls. Dryden applies jazz touches, holds back for entire passages as though Kaukonen and Casady could play off each other forever. Parts evoke images of ancient Eastern European toiling, a fearsome river of magma cutting through a tropical landscape at unbelievable speed, a midnight reverie where lovers lay, and finally: pressing onward to the golden road to Samarkand. Recorded during the final night of sessions at RCA Studio in Los Angeles on Halloween night, “Spare Chaynge” shows the instrumental strength of Jefferson Airplane in the process of becoming stronger still.

Shizoforest Love Suite

Beginning with the fucking weirdness that is Grace Slick’s “Two Heads,” tightly regimented with hi-hatting and decorated with harpsichord accenting, all those short, sharp phrases and alternating stanzas of quietude and loudness make for maximum intensity. Like “rejoice,” it was no “White Rabbit” in terms of popular response but was every bit as experimental. Relegated to the B-side of “Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil,” it probably scared unwitting teenyboppers and confused everyone else. Besides, the month of its release, August 1967, “White Rabbit” was still bubbling under at #15 but it also had to contend with “Light My Fire” by The Doors; “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles; “I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder; “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees; and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by The Buckinghams. (But not “You Can Be So Jarring” by Mason & The Kids; “Swift Is The Undertow” by Water Featuring Raft; “One Of Us Has A Leaf” by Bob Table And The Chairs; “Roofy Tossday” by The Bouncing Twigs or “I Want To Hold Four Cans” by The Teatles.) Prominent harpsichord, a sluggish and disturbing beat, Slick’s icy vocals issuing bizarre proclamations like: “you can fill both your feet with sand”; “wearing your comb like an axe in your head,” or “new breasts and jewels for the girl” wasn’t the sort of lyrical content that was going to get played on the radio or any other broadcast media of the time (television.) On every level, it was just too provocative and dark.

Ending with a final strident hi-hat hit echoed into eternity, the psychedelic darkness clears for Kantner’s finale, his panegyric “Won't You Try” / “Saturday Afternoon.” On January 14, the second Saturday of 1967, The Human Be-In was held in Golden Gate Park at the Polo Fields in San Francisco. It was a gathering of the tribes that, for better or worse, brought the concept of hippie to the attention of the straight world and their attendant corporate sponsors; people who shut down free speech and cheered war; thrill seekers; and “those people who for the sake of appearances take on the superficial aspects of the quest.” Performances included not only Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother & The Holding Company, and Blue Cheer but a whole host of countercultural poets and speakers from Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, to Dick Gregory and Richard Alpert...Owsley produced a batch of White Lightning LSD for the event...The Diggers provided food...It looked like something positive was happening. It was all happening. As the trio of singers observed at the time, “It’s a time for growing / and a time for knowing love.”

It was life. And while it lasted, it was good.

Few albums come close to nailing the true spirit of questing individuals of that time, place, and space than AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER’S. Innocence, idealism, and freedom, change, consideration, love, and seeking out true alternatives to the things that were stifling, half-dead or even worse: boring. That life was for living, and worth living, and kept you searching for more.

Taken in the context of late 1967, it’s a stunning album. But for the ears of the 21st Century, it may seem at best a charming relic. But it’s still a stunning album. This lineup of Jefferson Airplane, as much a product of their time as they were experimental musicians, had a chemistry as unique as it was unstable, and that what they expressed and the way that they expressed it still stands as a highlight of early Rock Music that, even now, sounds like nothing else.

  1. (1) In 1968, RCA authorized a sheet music book for AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER’S (minus “Spare Chaynge,” natch.) Published by Music Sales Corporation, aside from containing musical notations, lyrics, and several photo montages (the one accompanying “Two Heads” is especially mesmerising) there was a two-page spread for each member containing photos and text. Curiously, this music book was issued in two different editions (One with the heading “JEFFERSON AIRPLANE,” the other as “THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE.”) In the former, Spencer Dryden’s quotation reads: ‘I’m going to run for president and when I get elected, I’ll assassinate myself. That’ll start a precedent’ while the latter contained the far blander: ‘Drummer Spencer Dryden, 23, strolled into the Matrix one day and was asked by Marty Balin if he played drums. A short time later (after intensive practice) he could – and did – answer that he did. And now does.’

    Likewise, the former held only an elliptical quote by Jack Casady:


    The latter edition replaced his quote with the following biography: “We had to send to Washington, D.C., for Jack Casady, who we wanted because Jorma said he was a good bass player -- which he was. When he got here, he had a moustache and looked sort of weird, but he played good bass and so we shaved off his ‘stache and now we are six...”

    Bizarrely, Grace Slick’s extended piece, “Meeting Of The Glands: A Positive Story,” remained uncensored in both editions. An excerpt: ‘(even Joan Baez flattens velvet when she sits down) but is there enough time to be repulsed by 10 million people you've never met?’

  2. Present in the song are three sections of verse from A. A. Milne’s poetry collection, WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG (1924). The first is the opening couplet of “Halfway Down,” which is sung at song’s end: “Halfway down the stairs / Is a stair / Where I sit.” However, the other two are complete stanzas, taken in full from “Spring Morning”:

    “If you were a cloud, and sailed up there
    You'd sail on the water as blue as air.
    And you'd see me here in the fields and say:
    ‘Doesn't the sky look green today?’”

    “If you were a bird, and lived on high,
    You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
    You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
    ‘That's where I wanted to go today!’”

  3. The single mix of “The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil” has a different feedback intro and outro. But the outro utilises the same feedback in the intro to their apocalyptic album closer of the following year, “The House At Pooneil Corners.”

  4. The song title references The Byrds’ “Wild Mountain Thyme” as much as Kantner’s previous “D.C.B.A.-25” was an homage to “CTA-102” or my name is Raja McGuinn. Kantner’s prickly sense of humour remained cryptic in the shadow of SURREALISTIC PILLOW up until 1969 when it was replaced by themes rooted in political polemics and/or science fiction.