Jefferson Airplane's Spencer Dryden Dies - Rolling Stone
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Jefferson Airplane’s Spencer Dryden Dies

Drummer succumbs to colon cancer at age sixty-six

Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden died Tuesday at his home in Petaluma, California, after a battle with colon cancer. He was sixty-six.

“It feels like Janis [Joplin] said, ‘Take another little piece of my heart,'” Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick told Rolling Stone at the news of Dryden’s death. “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. It’s too bad everybody can’t go out in their sleep at about age 120.”

Dryden joined Jefferson Airplane in 1966 and played with the band during its heyday, drumming on their breakthrough, Surrealistic Pillow, and playing shows with the group at Woodstock, Altamont and the Monterey Pop Festival.

“For me, the incarnation of the Airplane I liked the best was the one with Spencer, Paul [guitarist Kantner], Marty [singer Balin], Jack [bassist Casady], Grace [singer Slick] and myself,” says Jorma Kaukonen. “We struggled together . . . occasionally lived together . . . argued together . . . and made some great music together.”

The nephew of Charlie Chaplin, Dryden was drumming at a strip club in Hollywood when he was recommended to Jefferson Airplane’s manager by fellow skinsman Earl Palmer. Dryden took over for Skip Spence, who had left and later formed Moby Grape.

After Dryden split from Jefferson Airplane in 1970, he played with Grateful Dead side project New Riders of the Purple Sage in the Seventies, and with members of Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service in a knowingly titled combo called the Dinosaurs in the Eighties.

Dryden had fallen on hard times in recent years, losing his home and possessions in a September 2003 fire. The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule played a benefit last year for him at Slim’s in San Francisco, raising $36,000 to help pay for a pair of hip replacement surgeries and pending heart surgery.

Dryden attended a DVD release party for Jefferson Airplane last September, at the Great American Musical Hall in San Francisco, in what became his final public appearance.

Dryden was married three times. He is survived by his sons Jackson, Jes and Jeffrey.


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