A Look Back At Grace Slick’s Great Society Band

Great Society

Photo: KRLA/Beat Publications-page 2 [Public domain]

There are many classic rock fans that are completely unaware that Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love,” was not originally a Jefferson Airplane song. The roots of the song began in a band named The Great Society. The group named after President Johnson’s “Great Society,” initiative in the 1960’s. The Great Society band originated in the San Francisco California area in 1965. The band was formed by Grace Barnett Wing and two brothers named Darby and Jerry Slick. At the time Jerry Slick was married to Grace who we all came to know as the soon to be legendary singer Grace Slick. The three of them who were living the Bohemian lifestyle at the time were inspired like all other artists by the new musical movements on the mid 1960s fueled by groups like The Beatles.

Grace, Jerry and Darby Slick along with musicians David Miner, Bard DuPont  and Peter van Gelder began performing in the San Francisco are in 1965. It was during their brief tenure together that they released the single “Somebody To Love.” The song was released on an independent label. The label was unable to provide the necessary money to promote the band or the song. Consequently the great song that they had written went pretty much unnoticed.

Interestingly, one of the producers who worked at the independent label entitled Autumn Records was Sylvester Stewart. While that name may not seem familiar to most rock fans, the very talented producer would eventually from his own band under the name Sly and The Family Stone. Autumn Records did not have any chart success with The Great Society. However, the label was also the home of the group The Beau Brummels. Sly Stone than known as Sylvester Stewart produced the band’s first album. The Beau Brummels debut album on Autumn Records in 1964 scored two top 20 hits entitled “Just a Little,” and “Laugh, Laugh.” 

While The Great Society enjoyed great success as local heroes in the San Francisco area, the band was relatively unknown everywhere else. In search if expanding their fan base, the Great Society began opening shows for major rock and roll acts. One of those acts was the group Jefferson Airplane. The power of Grace Slick’s talent opened eyes to many in the music industry who witnessed her on stage opening for the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1960s record companies were always searching for talent in the ever expanding rock and roll universe. It was much easier to get signed to a record deal in the 1960s than any other era.

There are thousands of albums released in the 1960s by bands no one has ever heard of. The Great Society would get there chance as Columbia Records offered the band a recording contract after seeing them open for the Jefferson Airplane. The label responsible for signing artists such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash and so many others would have the power to break the band on a worldwide basis.

The Columbia Records recording contract offered to the Great Society would never come to fruition. While Grace Slick was opening for the Jefferson Airplane with The Great Society, she would be offered the lead vocalist position in the Jefferson Airplane replacing vocalist Signe Toly Anderson. Jefferson Airplane’s vocalist Signe Toly Anderson has been one of the founding members of the band. In 1966, the singer decided she did not want to tour with the band anymore for personal reasons. After being informed of Signe Toly Anderson’s decision to leave, the Airplane offered the lead vocal position to singer Sherry Snow. The female vocalist Snow had been part of a duo with her husband named Blackburn & Snow. Sherry Snow decoled the offer to join the Jefferson Airplane. This left the door open for Grace Slick to be offered the position which she accepted.

The departure of Grace Slick from the Great Society to join The Jefferson Airplane proved to be too much of a loss for the Great Society to continue on as a band. Grace Slick was the face of the Great Society and the band’s main draw. Without her, it would be just futile to try and continue. The Great Society disbanded in 1966, only one year after first forming in 1965.

A few years after Grace Slick had joined the Jefferson Airplane, Columbia Records would look to presset fans of Grace Slick and The Jefferson Airplane  with a historic artifact from Grace Slick’s days as lead singer of The Great Society. In 1968 Columbia Records would released an album entitled Conspicuous Only in Its AbsenceThe record album showcased live music performed by The Great Society at The Matrix club in San Francisco in 1966.The album featured Grace Slick on piano, vocals and bass guitar, Darby Slick on guitar David Miner on guitar,Peter Vandergelder on bass and Jerry Slick on drums. Original songs written by Grace Slick that would later become big hits for the Jefferson Airplane included “Somebody to Love,” and “White Rabbit.” The album also included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues.”

Columbia Records would also release a second Great Society compilation in 1968 entitled How It Was. The second album would later be combined with Conspicuous Only in Its Absence and released as a two record set in 1971. Both vinyl records were eventually released on a single cd containing seventeen tracks. Grace Slick sings lead vocals on fourteen of the tracks on the album. There is a killer version of White Rabbit that extends over six minutes. The sound quality is not bad when considering these recording come from old 1960s tapes.

It would have been interesting to see how the rock and roll world would have shaped itself if Grace Slick had never joined the Jefferson Airplane. No one can deny the talents of the other members of Jefferson Airplane like Marty Balin, Paul Kanter, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and Spencer Dryden, but Grace Slick’s’ talents and personality were bigger than life and played a major role in  the classic rock era of the 1960s and 70s.

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