Grace Slick - vocals, organ; Darby Slick - guitar; David Minor - guitar, vocals; Peter Van Gelder - bass, saxophone, recorder; Jerry Slick - drums
After catching early performances by Jefferson Airplane during the summer of 1965, husband and wife Jerry and Grace Slick decided to start their own band. Recruiting Jerry's brother, Darby, on guitar and several friends, they debuted as the Great Society on October 15, 1965 at North Beach's Coffee Gallery. They continued performing around San Francisco throughout 1966, often opening for Jefferson Airplane at their club, the Matrix.
The group only released one single during their existence. Produced by Sylvester Stewart (later Sly of Sly and the Family Stone) and released on North Beach Records, "Somebody To Love" was considerably different than the familiar Airplane version. Written by Darby Slick, Great Society's version was taken at a much slower tempo and was yet to have any vocal arrangements applied beyond Grace's distinctive lead vocal.
The song was regionally popular and momentum for the band began to build. They began opening for other San Francisco bands and Columbia Records offered the group a recording contract in mid 1966. However, by the time the contract arrived, Grace had been recruited to replace pregnant vocalist Signe Toly Anderson in the Airplane, taking "Somebody To Love" and her own composition "White Rabbit," with her. This recording gives a sample of what the Great Society was all about. As musicians, they were amateurs, but their naivete and their experimental nature, not to mention a repertoire of good songs, made them quite enjoyable.
This show features the original arrangement of "Somebody To Love" as well as their homage to comedian and controversial figure, Lenny Bruce, but the standout track is Grace Slick's original composition, "White Rabbit." The Great Society's version was far more adventurous than the more popular Airplane take. As this live recording demonstrates, the song was originally conceived as a vehicle for improvisation and features an entire section of raga-like experimentation. A little known but intriguing detail, Grace Slick plays bass at the beginning of White Rabbit here, with Peter Van Gelder on sax. Grace hands off the bass to Peter before she sings; you can hear both instruments drop out at the end of the improv.
In the hands of Jefferson Airplane, who condensed it down to its core elements, this song would be one of the first to sneak overt drug references past AM radio censors and go on to be one of Grace Slick's career defining songs and one of Jefferson Airplane's most memorable hits.
Grace Slick would go on to become one of the first female rock stars (as opposed to pop singers). Her strong presence and personality would prevent her from ever being relegated to just a singer backed by a band. She would redefine women's role in popular music and become an icon of the 1960s in the process.