When Spencer Dryden succumbed to cancer Tuesday, San Francisco rock legends Jefferson Airplane lost the drummer who kept time for them during their pinnacle: from their 1967 classic Surrealistic Pillow album through gigs at the three landmark Sixties concerts: Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont. For their role in popularizing psychedelic rock, Dryden and his bandmates were elected into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Singer Grace Slick remembered her former bandmate — and former boyfriend — two days after his death.
How did you react to the news of Spencer’s death?
The older you get the less shocking it is. It’s too bad everybody can’t go out in their sleep at about age 120. But that’s not going to happen to most of us. But a chunk of you gets torn out because the members of the Airplane in particular were such a powerful part of my youth that it feels like Janis [Joplin] said, “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby.” It feels something like that. Both my parents are gone and every time somebody dies it tears another part of you, a chunk of you out, because they are a part of you, all these people. I lived with Spencer for a little over a year, and it was delightful to watch him appreciate the time that we were in, and make use of it by freedom of imagination.
When you think about him what comes to mind?
A delightful little conspiracy of two, that I think most couples feel they have. And a perfect nose. He had a beautiful face, and that’s very superfluous, but that does come to mind. And his childness — he was very childlike. And that’s not a detriment, it’s a compliment. It’s hard to do when you’re thirty years old. You can pretend by making a jerk out of yourself getting loaded — that’s childish — but I’m talking about childlike. It’s different.
What stood out to you about Spencer’s drumming?
Very imaginative fills. He was not a power drummer — he was more imaginative than that. He had a rough call because he was having to keep time. Jack Casady used to play lead guitar before he played bass, so he played kind of a lead bass thing. So Spencer had to hold down the rhythm, which is hard to do with a band that’s that loud. So he had quite the task.
Had you been in touch in recent years?
Off and on, yeah, because he called a couple months ago to thank me. He was very sweet. We were doing some benefits to raise money because he had a tremendous amount of medical bills and his house burned down. He got hammered with a lot of unpleasant stuff near the end there. I do painting and drawing and so forth as an artist professionally, so I gave some of my paintings for the auction to raise money for him. I talked to him once in a while. The members of the band all live in different cities, but we talk to each other. I do talk to them, all of them.