Psychedelic Stories Of Female Rock Icon Grace Slick
Grace Slick is one of the most recognizable voices of 1960’s psychedelic rock. The lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship, Slick left her mark on ’60s and ’70s music history. She’s hailed alongside rockstars Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, and Janis Joplin as one of the most prolific female musicians of her time. Since she first appeared on the San Francisco music scene in her twenties, Slick was a force to be reckoned with– she never held back. Now 79-years-old, the rock icon has many stories to tell; including her biggest regret, why she doesn’t play music anymore, and what Slick never realized about herself, although everyone else did.
Music Was Her Escape Route from Life as a House Wife
Slick’s parents were both college educated, and her father held a job as an investment banker in San Francisco. However, after attending college herself and starting a career in modeling, Slick didn’t see herself following the life path that was expected of her. Living in the suburbs bored her, and with Haight-Ashbury just a stone’s throw away, she was ready to take the leap.
She told The Wall Street Journal, “I was a product of ’50s America in Palo Alto, California, where women were housewives with short hair and everything was highly regulated. I went from the planned, bland ’50s to the world of being in a rock band without looking back.”
The Truth About Her Style On Stage
Grace Slick became an iconic vocalist and musician of rock and roll, not just for a female artist, but any artist. Audiences were drawn to her onstage aura. Mic in hand, Slick holds her space with limited movement compared to other lead singers of the rock genre. Gently swaying to the sound, as if entranced by the instrumentals for the first time, fans adore her live performances. So where does her style come from?
Slick told The Wall Street Journal, “People in the audience thought I moved around on stage like a panther. I’m actually a klutz. The reason I moved so carefully was to avoid tripping and breaking my neck.”
Slick Joined The Same Band That Inspired Her To Pursue Music
With a college education and modeling jobs freely flowing around her, Slick had a world of opportunities at her doorstep in the summer of 1965. But after experiencing Jefferson Airplane play live, she knew music was her true path. Slick attended one of their shows at The Matrix after reading an article about the band in the San Francisco Chronicle. Their live performance inspired her to start a band of her own, The Great Society.
The following year in the fall of 1966, Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer, Signe Toly Anderson gave birth to her daughter Lilith and left the band. The band needed a new singer, and Slick stepped in. Imagine being asked to join the band that inspired you to pursue music. It must have been fate.
The Band’s Performance at Woodstock Was a Let-Down
Woodstock ’69 is revered as the greatest rock festival of all time. Jefferson Airplane played the festival, but it wasn’t their best performance. Drummer Spencer Dryden said, “There was a helicopter that was ferrying people back and forth from the hotel to the site and show times were being changed.” The band’s Saturday night performance was delayed through the entire night. Finally, Sunday morning, they took the stage.
The worn-down group plugged in and Slick took the mic to wake up the crowd. “Alright, friends. You have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, it’s a new dawn.” After a sleepless night, neither the band nor the crowd was top notch, and Jefferson Airplane’s performance didn’t make the cut for the Woodstock film.
Grace Has a Daughter With Guitarist Paul Kantner
Grace Slick has been married twice. Her first marriage was to Jerry Slick, who was the drummer of her first band, The Great Society. The marriage ended after ten years, and her second marriage was to Jefferson Starship lighting designer, Skip Johnson. However, between her two marriages, Slick dated her bandmate, guitarist Paul Kantner.
The couple welcomed their daughter, China Wing Kantner on January 25, 1971. When China was just 15-years-old she became the youngest MTV VJ. A testament to her talented musical genes, China also contributed vocals and wrote songs for Jefferson Starship.
Grace’s Joke at Her Daughter’s Birth Became An Urban Legend
On the day of China’s birth in 1971, Grace Slick made a joke to one of the nurses… and it didn’t land. At the San Francisco hospital, Slick joked to the nurse that she was going to name her daughter ‘God’. But, she joked, she would spell her name with a lowercase ‘g’ because she “wished for the child to be humble.”
The nurse didn’t catch on to Slick’s humor and repeated the story as though the new mother was being serious. With both parents being high-profile musicians, rumors spread like wildfire, and it became rock and rock urban legend that China’s name was originally ‘god’.
She’s Been Arrested At Least Four Times
Alcohol has a way of getting people into trouble and no one knows this better than Grace Slick. In fact, she’s even created a name for it. Boozed-up and feeling feisty, Slick often found herself in trouble after running her mouth. The psychedelic rock icon was arrested on at least four occasions for what she calls a “TUI” or “talking under the influence.”
In one such “drunk mouth” incident, Slick was in the backwoods of Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. She was sitting there, propped up against a tree trunk drinking wine, eating bread, and reading poetry when an officer approached her and questioned what she was doing. Slick gave a sassy reply and was subsequently arrested. In 1994 she was again arrested, this time for assault with a deadly weapon when she pointed an unloaded gun at a police officer.
Grace Slick Is Critical of Woodstock
Slick may be bitter about Jefferson Airplane’s showtime being pushed from Saturday night into Sunday morning at Woodstock, and not making the cut for the film thereafter. And in all fairness, she has a right to be upset. That may be the reason she’s so critical of the event that history deems ‘the greatest rock festival of all time’.
Slick later told CNN, “Woodstock– I didn’t see anybody play, except when I was standing backstage waiting to go on, because it was so muddy. And the weather was so horrible, you literally couldn’t get there except by helicopter.” She continued, “Woodstock is well known because this country is so hyped on amount. It was big. Half a million people doesn’t necessarily mean something is good. It just means it’s big.”
Grace Slick Was The First To Say A Certain Expletive On TV
Slick has a history of breaking down doors in her musical career, but she also has a rather interesting ‘first’ that she can claim. On August 19, 1969, Slick appeared on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show with Jefferson Airplane. The band was performing their song, “We Can Be Together” from the b-side of Volunteers.
Fans of Jefferson Airplane knew what was coming, but Dick didn’t. The host, along with the show’s viewers had to pick their jaws up off the floor after Slick sang the lyric, “up against the wall, [expletive]” making her the first person to state a certain curse word on television.
She’s Always Talked Openly About Psychedelics
From the very beginning of her music career, Grace Slick was open about her interest in psychedelic drugs and marijuana. She was in her mid-twenties; beautiful, talented and artsy, right in the thick of the Haight-Ashbury San Francisco scene that suited her so well.
In a 2016 interview with The Wall Street Journal Slick recalled, “The more the band gigged, the more media coverage we got. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, I argued in favor of marijuana and LSD, and somehow the article got back to my parents. It was painful for them, I’m sure, but I didn’t care whether they minded. Parents were criticizing a generation’s choices while sitting there with their glasses of scotch.”
She Didn’t View Herself as a Sex Symbol
Music lovers lusted after not just Grace Slick’s voice, but her image, too. However, the artist never saw herself as someone to be desired. “I thought I was kind of dark and foreboding, kind of witchey,” she told Rolling Stone. “But I didn’t think of myself as being sexy.” Not only did she not see herself as attractive, but Slick was completely ignorant to the fact that guys were tripping over themselves at the sight of her.
She recalled, “I wasn’t aware of that thing going on there until about four years ago when a guy who used to be my lawyer– and still occasionally is but not so much anymore– he said, ‘Oh yeah. I used to go in and just sit there and drool…’ And I said, ‘Really? You’re kidding me!’ So it didn’t occur to me until after I was already out of the business that, that was going on.”
She’s Had Her Fair Share Of Health Problems
The 1960’s rock music scene was immersed with drugs and alcohol, and those artists who were lucky enough to survive it and grow into old age weren’t left unscathed. Slick had a major health scare in 2006 when she was diagnosed with diverticulitis– inflammation along the walls of the intestines. She was sent into surgery, but complications led to two more surgeries, and then a tracheotomy.
Things got so bad, Slick was put into a medically-induced coma for two months while her body healed from the trauma. When she woke up, Slick had to go to rehab in order to learn how to walk again.
She Wrote “White Rabbit” While High On LSD
Slick adores Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and identified with Alice as a young woman. One afternoon in 1963, she began writing song lyrics inspired by the book. Slick played the first notes on a red piano she bought for $80 from a San Francisco warehouse. It was old and some of the keys were missing, but Slick said, “I didn’t play way up there anyway—the notes were too pingy.”
The song was left unfinished for a while until Slick was inspired to continue writing during a 24-hour LSD trip listening to Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” on repeat. “It was my Alice moment, heading down the hole. ‘White Rabbit’ seemed like an appropriate title,” she said.
Her Regret Isn’t What You’d Expect
Slick is quick to say that she’s enjoyed her life and is extraordinarily happy that she chose a musical path for herself. But that’s not to say she lives without regret. Twice divorced and single, her regrets mainly reside in her love life.
“…The only thing I’d do differently is probably nail a couple more guys,” Slick confessed in her 60’s. “It didn’t occur to me that I was any kind of sex symbol at all and that you can actually do that kind of stuff. You can call somebody’s people. I could have called Peter O’Toole. I could have met him. I didn’t realize I could do that at the time. I could have done it with Jimi Hendrix. I didn’t know that. It just didn’t occur to me that I was able to nail whoever I wanted to.”
Slick Planned to Spike Richard Nixon’s Tea With LSD
Grace Slick happened to attend the same college as Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon. In 1969, Tricia hosted a tea party for Finch College alumnae at the White House while her father was in office. Slick received an invitation addressed to her maiden name, “Grace Wing”, as the Nixon family failed to make the connection that she was now Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.
Slick accepted the invite and brought along political activist Abbie Hoffman to the White House. The two of them planned to spike President Nixon’s tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. However, being a male, Hoffman was turned down at the door of the “all-female” event and they never carried out the act. On their way out, Hoffman took a black flag with a multicolored marijuana leaf and hung it on the White House gate.
Why Grace Slick Doesn’t Play Music Anymore
Many legendary rock artists on par with Grace Slick are still touring, half a century after their first hit. But not Grace Slick. Slick bowed out from music in 1989, at the age of 49. Now in her seventies, when asked about why she retired from music, Slick brashly stated, “All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.”
When she was later asked to elaborate on her statement, Slick said, “You can do jazz, classical, blues, opera, country, until you’re 150, but rap and rock and roll are really a way for young people to get that anger out.” However, that doesn’t hold her back from giving the finger to a photographer today.
Odetta Was a Huge Inspiration For Her Sound
As a pioneer for female rock musicians herself, who was it that inspired Grace Slick? Her mother was a singer, who Slick describes as “high-end and soft”. But Slick’s voice was different from a lot of female singers at the time. She said, “I can’t sing high softly the way [Joan Baez] sings.”
The women who inspired Slick’s sound matched her powerful, low-end voice. “When I heard Odetta I was about 17 and I thought, ‘Wow! That’s very interesting!’ Because I never heard a woman sing like that. Odetta takes chunks out of you.”
Both Grace And Her Daughter China Are Sober
When China was eight-years-old, Slick started attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, bringing her young daughter in tow. By the time China was 15-years-old and working for MTV, both mother and daughter were self-professed alcoholics. While they attempted to stop drinking, it took a few years to make it stick.
Slick shared her rock-bottom moment with TheFix, “China came over, and I’m looking pathetic– an old bag who’s drunk. The look on her face will register with me forever. I don’t mind being an [expletive] but I do mind being pathetic,” she said, laughing. Both women have now been sober for over 20 years now.
Slick Really Doesn’t Like Getting Older
Once she neared the age of 50, Slick couldn’t get her mind off of aging. She quit music and essentially started another life for herself. She could be heard saying things like, “Old people should be heard but not seen. Young people should be seen, not heard.” Now 79-years-old, Slick can’t ignore her physical appearance or her aching body. And more often than not, she’s letting it define her.
“Old people are rotting,” she told The Washington Post in 2007. “I’m rotting. You’re rotting.” At her art exhibit, she cringes when a photographer’s camera flashes in her direction. “Jesus, I hate having my picture taken,” she said.
What Grace Slick Is Doing And Listening To Now
Officially retired from music for 30 years, Grace Slick is now a visual artist in her seventies. She lives by the beach in Malibu and has a number of her paintings featured in galleries around Los Angeles. When she was 69 years old, Slick told CNN, “Following your curiosity is a good idea, because you don’t want to be sitting around at my age going, ‘Gee, I was too scared to go for it.'”
You might– wait, you’ll definitely be surprised as to what music she’s playing in her car these days. In the same interview, she said, “I like Daughtry, I like Nickelback, I like Dave Matthews. I like Beyoncé — she’s a really good entertainer.”
She Took Chick-fil-A’s Money And Donated It To A LGBTQ Organization
In 2017, Grace Slick gave Chick-fil-A permission to use Starship’s 1987 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in an ad. At the time, the fast food chain was in the news for opposing gay marriage, so many wondered why Slick would choose to be affiliated with the company.
She explained her intentions in an op-ed she wrote, in which Slick stated that all of the proceeds that she would receive from the commercial would be donated to Lambda Legal, an organization fighting for LGBTQ civil rights. Slick wrote, “I decided to spend the cash in direct opposition to Chick-fil-A’s causes– and to make a public example of them, too.”
She Encourages Artists To Become Activists
She’s no longer performing music but Grace Slick is influencing today’s musicians in an important way. Slick has openly encouraged artists to see beyond the money and fame and use their songs and success to benefit important social causes.
In the 2017 op-ed piece she wrote, “I come from a time when artists didn’t just sell their soul to the highest bidder, when musicians took a stand, when the message of songs was ‘feed your head,’ not ‘feed your wallet.'” She also advised that artists should use their songs as “gifts to help stop the forces of bigotry.”
Grace Slick Mourns Paul Kantner’s Death In 2016
On January 28, 2016, Paul Kantner, Slick’s former band mate and the father of her only child, passed away at the age of 74. After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1980, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship’s guitarist suffered from another heart attack days before his death. Upon hearing the news, Slick was heartbroken.
Slick posted a photo of the two of them on her Facebook page, captioned, “Rest in peace my friend. Love Grace.”
China Kantner Became An Actress
While her parents took to the road to play music, China started a career of her own in the entertainment industry. She’s appeared in several movies including Airheads, The Stoned Age, and The Evening Star. China also played Willow Branch Leaf Wilson in the TV show Home Improvement.
China helped write songs and sang on a few Jefferson Starship tracks. However, she admits that she doesn’t have the same vocal talent as her mother. China quit acting in 1998 and enrolled in UCLA to study art history.
Slick Opens Up About Sobriety In The Album Dreams
In March 1980, Grace Slick released her second solo album, Dreams. It was her most personal work to date, and reached #32 on the Billboard charts. On the album, Slick divulged the thoughts and ideas that came to her while attending meetings for the twelve-step program, trying to get sober.
In “Do It The Hard Way” she sang, “She said I’ve got to make ’em all think I’m winning so I’ll just tell ’em lies/That way I can make sure no one ever knows just exactly what I mean.”
She Wrote A Book About Her Life in 1998
“I didn’t want to write a book. They made me do it,” Slick told SFGate in 1998. “About two years ago my lawyer told me, ‘You ought to be doing something.’ I said, ‘I am doing something. I’m drawing and painting… But he gave me the name of an agent friend of his anyway. She talked my ear off for nine hours about how fabulous it would be. So I finally gave in.”
So Slick and her friend Andrea Cagan wrote Slick’s autobiography, Somebody to Love? A Rock and Roll Memoir filled with backstage stories, psychedelics, and Slick’s uncensored opinions on life.
Police Knocked On Slick’s Door and She Answered With A Gun
Grace Slick has always had a thing for firearms and has kept one in her possession over the years. It does tend to cause her some problems, however. In 1994, when Slick was living in Tiburon along the San Francisco Bay, the police knocked on her door. Intoxicated at the time, Slick grabbed her gun and answered the door to find that they had her boyfriend, Ira Lee, with them in handcuffs.
Slick told SFGate, “They said, ‘Put the shotgun down, Grace.’ I told them, ‘Not until I know what’s going on.’ So one of them did a body roll and knocked me down. It was a good move.”
She’s (Sort Of) A Vegan
Many journalists who have interviewed Slick after she retired from music at the age of 50 have noted how youthful and healthy she looks. After a few health scares, Slick has buckled down on her diet and has been eating primarily vegan.
In 2001 she told USA Today, “I’m in good health and people want to know what I do to be this way… I don’t eat cheese, I don’t eat duck– the point is I’m vegan…. not a strict vegan, because I’m a hedonist pig. If I see a big chocolate cake that is made with eggs, I’ll have it.”
Her Home Burned Down in 1993
Slick lived in several homes around the San Francisco Bay Area, before moving south to Los Angeles. In 1993, her home in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, was lost in a wildfire. As high winds ripped through the wooded hills in her neighborhood, Slick’s home caught fire and she lost everything.
Deseret News reported that Chris Collins of the Marin Fire Department walked through the wreckage with Slick and commented, “It was sad and very numbing. It’s a sad moment for her.” Twelve acres of Mill Valley burned in the blaze.
She Can’t Quit Smoking
While Slick has managed to ditch her vices of alcohol and psychedelics, there’s one habit that the rock icon just can’t seem to quit. “I smoke every minute that I’m awake and have since I was 15,” she told SFGate. “It’s so stupid, it doesn’t even get me high. Which is just as well, I suppose. My mind’s been altered enough.”
Looking through photos of Slick offstage in her heyday, that only thing more natural than a cigarette in her hand is her middle finger in the air.
Slick Had A One-Night Stand With Jim Morrison
In her autobiography, Slick couldn’t help but include her one-night stand with The Doors front man Jim Morrison. It was 1968, and The Doors and Jefferson Airplane were on tour together. Slick knocked on Morrison’s hotel room door with a plate of strawberries.
She recalls they had relations while eating strawberries and that he was “surprisingly gentle”, confessing that “the most maniacal guys on stage can be such sublime lovers.” Slick told Morrison that if he asked, she would come back another time, but “he smiled, but never asked.” Slick has painted several Morrison portraits since.
The Reason Why Slick Lives Alone In Malibu
After her daughter, China, started her acting career in Los Angeles, and Slick’s home burned down in the Bay Area, Slick moved to Malibu. There, she has a gorgeous estate where she enjoys laying by the pool and says that she doesn’t mind living alone in the large home.
She told SFGate, “I’m really enjoying living alone. I can do what I want to do when I want to do it. I can fart in bed. No man wants to [expletive] an old woman, so I’m celibate. If I were gay, life would be a lot simpler. I’m kind of annoyed that I’m not.”
She Doesn’t Let Her Gender Define Her
Hailed as one of the best rock and roll female vocalists of all time, Slick has made it clear that being a woman (even during the 50’s and 60’s) never defined who she was, or held her back.
She told SFGate, “Apart from lifting heavy furniture, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to. It just depended upon my own level of desire and talent. I stick to what I’m good at, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether I’m a woman or a man.”
She’s Not Opposed to Plastic Surgery, But She Hasn’t Done It
As a celebrity, especially after living in Los Angeles for a certain length of time, it’s common to get some work done to maintain a youthful appearance. Slick is often asked if she’s had any plastic surgery to maintain her looks. In an interview with SFGate she said, “You think my eyelids would be resting on top of my eyelashes if I’d had any work done?
I’d love to have stuff done, actually. I’d like to have liposuction. I’d like to have a whole head transplant, and I’d do it in a New York second if they could promise me there’d be no pain.”
She Has A Few Nicknames
As one of the most iconic faces and voices of psychedelic rock, Grace Slick has been given a few nicknames. She’s been called “The Acid Queen” due to the psychedelic references in her song lyrics.
David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills & Nash called her “The Chrome Nun” and nicknamed Paul Kantner “Baron von Tollbooth.” In May 1973, Slick, Kantner, and David Freiberg named an album, Baron von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun.
Grace Slick’s First Marriage Fell Apart When She Joined Jefferson Airplane
In 1961, when she was just twenty years old, Grace Slick married longtime family friend Jerry Slick. The two formed the band The Great Society together while Jerry was in the beginnings of his career in film making. Jerry played drums and his brother Darby wrote the hit song “Somebody to Love”.
Then Grace left the band and joined Jefferson Airplane. Jerry joined another band, the Final Solution. By 1966, their marriage was falling apart. The couple didn’t get divorced until 1971, although Grace’s relationship with Kantner started in 1969.
Slick and Kantner Raised Their Daughter in the Airplane Mansion
In 1970, while Slick was pregnant with China, Rolling Stone magazine paid a visit to the “Airplane mansion” where the band was living. When asked about their parenting style, the rock star couple and soon-to-be parents said they were happy to raise their child in the mansion with other band mates and their kids.
“Some of the most interesting and happiest kids I’ve seen have lived with a lot of different adults,” Slick told Rolling Stone. “The kid gets to be very bright– and tolerant, you know, with that many kinds of people around.”
Slick and Kantner Wanted More Freedom For Musical Artists
Around the same time that Slick shocked Dick Cavett’s TV audience by belting out a expletive, she and Kantner explored options to allow Jefferson Airplane and other musical artists more freedom in their songs. Around 1970, tired of being repressed by the media, the band looked at starting their own record label as an option, or possibly embracing pirate radio as a way to sidestep the FCC.
Discussing pirate radio, Slick told Rolling Stone, “It’s possible. It’s a bit difficult to get hippies organized into anything, but I think if they get annoyed enough with the stuff that’s going down, they’re capable of showing up.”
Women Looked Up To Grace Slick in the ’60s and ’70s
While Grace Slick said she didn’t have a female rock artist to look up to, she became that idol for the next generation. Slick understood the importance of her presence and voice both in that time period in San Francisco, as well as the rock music industry.
She said, “I think a lot of chicks who are into that are having trouble figuring it out. What they’re supposed to be doing. Well, should I sit back and let it happen or go out there and grab that guy by the [expletive]? And they sort of do little bit of each of it and look and sound confused.”
Rock Goddesses Grace Slick and Janis Joplin Were Friends
In the late ’60s, Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were sisters of the psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco. While they both dabbled in drugs and drank like sailors, Slick stayed away from heroin, which would end up causing Joplin’s demise on October 4, 1970.
Slick told Rolling Stone they got along well. “We both were hard drinkers. We both swore our brains out, and we would cackle with laughter about stuff,” she revealed. However, Slick also said there was a “sadness” about Joplin that she never was able to put her finger on.