Volunteers is my favorite Airplane album.
The Airplane were THE archetypal Summer of Love band, with the motto “Jefferson Airplane loves you,” trippy “feed-your-head” lyrics, a communal Haight-Ashbury lifestyle, and a musical style cobbled together from folk-rock (singer Marty Balin, guitarist/singer Paul Kantner), blues and roots-rock (legendary guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, who went on to form Hot Tuna), all doused liberally with psychedelics. When provocative, strident, ex-fashion model Grace Slick replaced a pregnant Signe Anderson on female lead vocals in late-’66, the group’s classic lineup was complete.
Al Schmitt produced four albums for the Airplane, starting with their third, ’67’s After Bathing at Baxter’s. Crown Of Creation followed in ’68, the exceptional live album Bless its Pointed Little Head came in ’69, as did the group’s last great album, Volunteers.
Balin and Kantner’s title track for Volunteers is band’s best rocker ever. Kantner’s “We Can Be Together” is a wistful last rallying cry for the disappearing ideals of the ’60s. Slick’s “Hey Frederick” begins quietly before building into an 8-minute jam highlighted by Kaukonen’s guitar rampage, and the Airplane’s fine version of “Wooden Ships” is more organic and evocative than CSN’s.
Schmitt took the Airplane’s craziness in stride. “That was my first experience with doing complicated multitrack recording, with songs taking a week to record instead of a few hours. On top of that the band was bringing motorcycles and a tank of nitrous oxide into the studio. It was a little bit frustrating because I was used to people being prepared, on time, and in the right frame of mind, but I also learned an awful lot from them about spontaneity,” he said.
“We would start at 8pm and go all night. I’d go home, get a few hours sleep, and then go back to the studio to record Eddie Fisher in the morning.
“One night I got a call from Jack at 8, and he asked if we were working that night. I said, ‘Yes, right now.’ He said, ‘We’ll be right down.’ He was calling from San Francisco, we were recording in L.A. – we started at 11,” Schmitt laughed.