Inside the happenstance behind Jefferson Starship’s cool 1970s album covers: ‘Almost by accident’

Jefferson Starship, starting with 1973’s Dragonfly, issued a trio of well-received albums — each of them with an interlocking cover-image theme — first air, then water, then fire and then earth. Cool, right? Longtime leader Paul Kantner says it was essentially just a happy accident.

Dragonfly was the gold-selling debut of Jefferson Starship, a group that had evolved out of the ashes of Jefferson Airplane. That first project went to No. 11 on the Billboard album charts and featured the single “Ride the Tiger.” Next came Red Octopus, the two-times platinum smash featuring the No. 3 hit “Miracles” — which had a water-themed cover.

Spitfire and Earth, both platinum releases, followed in 1976 and ’78 respectively. Earth rose to No. 5 on the strength of the Top 10 hit “Count on Me” — but by then co-founding members Grace Slick and Marty Balin had left the group.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Craig Chaquico talks about his blues-rocking release ‘Fire Red Moon,’ and his musical journey from Jefferson Starship into acoustic contemporary instrumentals.]

Eventually Kantner left as well, prompting the group to transition into the Mickey Thomas-led Starship. Kantner has since taken up the Jefferson Starship banner again, though bassist David Freiberg is the only member still remaining from the original 1970s-era lineups.

Together now with Cathy Richardson, Chris Smith, Slick Aguilar and Donny Baldwin, Jefferson Starship is celebrating a new four-CD live album for 2012 called Tales From The Mothership, recorded at Roswell, New Mexico.

Which is how a question about the thematic album covers from the ’70s arose, in a talk with Mike Ragogna of the Huffington Post. Here’s Kantner’s surprising answer:

“That sort of came about almost by accident, as we started off with Dragonfly in that series,” Kantner said. “That was obviously air, flight. Then Red Octopus came next, which was water. Then Earth, and then Spitfire, which was fire. That was a nice little combination of elements that worked out almost accidentally.”

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