Darby Slick Interview
(My Sister-In-Law Grace Slick)

Grand and Darby Slick began The Great Society at the start of the San Francisco music explosion in the summer of 1965. The group played dances at Longshoreman's Hall, the Fillmore Auditorium, Mother's, the Avalon Ballroom, and the Matrix.

The Great Society never enjoyed any real success and disbanded in 1967. Their singer, Grace Slick, did go on to bigger and better things with Jefferson Airplane, which later became Jefferson Starship.

As lead guitarist for The Great Society, Darby Slick was in a rare and unique position to observe one of rock's greatest eras.

And he's done just that in his book, Don't You Want Somebody to Love, Reflection on the San Francisco Sound (SLG Books, P.O. Box 9465, Berkeley, CA. 94709.)

We spoke with Darby Slick about the people and places that made the 1960's so special.

Q: O.K. Darby, for the record, what is your relationship to Grace Slick?
A: She was by sister-in-law. She was married to my brother.

Q: How did your brother meet Grace?
A: Well, she lived very near us in Palo Alto ( California) and our parents were good friends, drinking buddies as it happens. You know, just the right age, they got together, and that was it.

Q: Why did you decide to write "Don't You Want Somebody to Love"?
A: To me, that's kind of an interesting story. I set out to write a book, before I was actually playing music in a band. Before this scene happened, I sort of saw it happening in my mind. People were starting to get together and play music in kitchens, living rooms, and smoke a joint. Three or four people would kind of jam with acoustic guitars, flutes, and thing like that. I could just kind of see this whole counter-culture thing happening. So, I started to write a novel about it, and in the novel, it got to be a bigger thing and there started to be big clubs where people went and bands played. This whole lifestyle was happening. In the breaks from writing my novel, I would pick up my guitar and practice. Gradually, the guitar breaks got longer and longer and the novel writing got less and less, and I actually started to live the life of what the book was about. Then, after many years, it dawned on me that I had actually lived the thing I had intended to write about in a novel. So, I wrote a very similar book but, true to life.

Q: You started writing the book then in the mid-60's?
A: Very early 60's. About '62, '63, somewhere in that period.

Q: As a lead guitarist in a band in the mid-60's, who are you listening to? There was Don Wilson of The Ventures; George Harrison of The Beatles, and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Who else?
A: Well, definitely those three that you mentioned. The Ventures were really big to me when I was in my last year of high school. A friend of mine had a Fender Jaguar, and we used to play some Venture songs on it, and got that same kind of sound. The Beatles were the biggest influence, but not so much as a lead guitar player, as the vocals. They did have the solos. Keith Richards was an influence. I'd been listening to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. More of the people Keith Richards listened to. The Blues guys. The Staple Singers. Even as simple as the solos were, Pop Staples was a favorite guitarist of mine.

Q: To me, to have lived in San Francisco in the mid-60's, as opposed to living in Syracuse, N.Y. must've been ideal.
A: Well, it was wonderful.

Q: San Francisco was the happening place.
A: Yeah, and we knew it was wonderful too. We felt very fortunate. Our egos were inflated by the whole thing because we knew it was happening.

Q: Were gigs easy to get back then?
A: Yeah, they were for us, let's put it that way. I mean Grace was such a strong singer, a strong personality that we got everything we tried for. There was no failure of the slightest degree. But, I did have friends in other bands and there weren't all that many venues really, and if you somehow got turned off.... there were really only 3 main places to play, the Fillmore; The Matrix; and The Avalon Ballroom. So, if you weren't in, in those 3 places, you wouldn't have a very good circuit going. I did know some people that I liked and respected that didn't have a very easy time of it . For example, there was a band called The Mystery Trend which a lot of people collect and like, but Bill Graham didn't like them apparently and neither did the people at the other places, and they had a tough time working, and broke up.

Q: Why do you think Grace enjoyed so much success? Was she that good of a singer?
A: You know, as far as her singing goes, I really have no comment one way or the other. Her personality is so strong that it comes out in her singing. She's just very direct. She would do anything to grab an audience. She and Janis ( Joplin) were similar in the way. Their styles were really different, but they were both incredibly powerful as singers.

Q: How did your life change when Grace hit the big time?
A: While I was in The Great Society with Grace, I had begun to study the music of India. That's part of why the band broke up, why she left to join the Airplane, because the bass player Peter Van Gelder and I were becoming more and more involved in Indian music and talking about going to India for an extended period and things like that. So, when she left to join the Airplane, it allowed me to actually start to study the Indian music full-time. Then, the money I got allowed me to study it for many years. So I went in to study 12 years nonstop, just absolutely full-time. For one of those years I practiced exercises for 12 hours a day, six days a week. It was just a total commitment to the classical music of northern India.

Q: Do you continue those studies today?
A: I've taken what I've learned in that music and blended it with rock 'n' roll. I play a fretless guitar which my son and I designed. We have a record out in Europe that's getting rave reviews over there. Our band is called Sandoland. That comes from the Speed Racer cartoon series that name. It's a mythical country in there. Rolling Stone in Europe called it a "master piece" and we're just about to go over there and tour all over Europe.

Q: What kind of places will you be performing in?
A: Pubs.

Q: Did you ever meet Jim Morrison?
A: No. I saw him at his first Fillmore gig which was an awe-inspiring sight. I thought Grace was the strongest performer around until I saw him. I said Grace would do anything to grab an audience. He would do absolutely anything, just too any length. It was amazing.

Q: How about Jimi Hendrix?
A: I never met Jimi Hendrix. I saw him at Monterey Pop (Festival), at his first American performance, as big-time guy, and that was amazing too.

Q: Janis Joplin?
A: I knew her well. As a matter of fact I was just talking to Sam Andrew who played guitar with her.

Q: Did she have a happy side to her?
A: Yeah, she did. But she was also really nervous, especially before she would perform. She would always be pumping back the Southern Comfort. That's not just an image thing you've heard about, or a manufactured thing. That's based on reality. She was really down to earth.

Q: Could she have been saved? She didn't have to die of a heroin overdose, did she?
A: Who knows? Does anybody have to? They try interventions with people now, and sometimes they work. In face, they intervened with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and got him to stop. He's been clean and sober for a number of years now. So, it does happen sometimes, but that kind of knowledge just wasn't available in those days. Nobody knew enough about alcoholism and drug addiction to really help her, I think.

Q: That's incredible, because heroin was just as big of a deal then as it is today.
A: Right, but the thing is, until the person is ready to stop, or at least until they come up against some really big kind of thing.... if you're an addict or alcoholic, you can't imagine being happy without the stuff. You might be willing to live without it if there's some great reason to, but you think you're never gonna be happy again and that's a pretty big thing to decide. That doesn't turn out to be the case by the way. For example, I'm happier now than I've ever been. But that's how it looks while you're in the addiction stage.

Q: Was there some reason why you were unhappy?
A: What I'm saying is, once you're addicted, then you happiness comes from the substance you're addicted to.

Q: What drives a person to heroin?
A: There are a number of things. In my family, both of my parents were alcoholics. People are finding a lot of genetic connection. I think they've already found genes that predispose you towards alcoholism. So that's one of the factors. I got into heroin, because the musicians I admired used heroin, John Coltrane and people like that, and Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and on and on. Also early on, I didn't understand music technically very well at all. So I would go out and play a solo one night that would be good; well, I would have no idea what I had done really. I would just improvise this thing. I wouldn't know the names of the notes I had played or how they related to the chords that were being played behind me. So, all I could do was to try and chase the magic head space and hope that I'd play another good solo.

Q: And so you thought drugs made you play better?
A: Right and I think a lot of people think that way. I've talked to artists who've quit using drugs and alcohol, some of whom say they still don't feel as creative as when they were using it Personally, I think that's b.s. Creativity is accessible to anyone that wants to access it.

Q: Did you know Jerry Garcia?
A; Yes. There's a chapter in my book called 'Jamming with Garcia' that talks about Jerry Garcia. I played with him, many times.

Q: Was Jerry Garcia basically an unhappy guy?
A: Well, he certainly was an addict. See, I don't think in terms of somebody's unhappy, so they become an addict. It can just kind of happen.

Q: What about Bill Graham?
A: I liked Bill Graham. He was always nice to me. He was always really accessible to me which I really appreciated. After a lot of years, a lot of people weren't that accessible. They didn't always answer my phone calls. With Bill Graham, if he was there, he'd be right on the phone, or if he was talking to somebody else, he'd call me in 5 minutes, or if he was out of town, he'd get back to me when he got back. That was the way he was with a whole bunch of people. There were some people that developed grudges, and for every negative story, I could tell you a whole bunch of positive ones. I think he was pretty well liked, even though he had a pretty quick and strong temper.

Q: Good guy to work for though.
A: Yeah. Like my friend John Cipollina in Quicksilver Messenger Service. Quicksilver was playing at Madison Square Garden the night Bobby Kennedy was shot, and nobody came out to hear them. They said to Bill you don't have to pay us. This show was disastrous. He said no way, I'm the promoter, I took this on, and he paid them. That was just a small example of the way he was.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved