Spencer Dryden, the drummer for rock band the Jefferson Airplane, died of cancer Jan. 11 in Petaluma, Calif. He was 66.
Dryden retired from performing 10 years ago, although he hadn’t been working much before that.
A benefit concert last year featuring Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule and raised $36,000 for Dryden, who was in the middle of two hip replacement surgeries and was facing heart surgery at the time. His Petaluma home and all his possessions had been destroyed in a fire in September 2003. He also had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Dryden was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 for his work with the Jefferson Airplane during the band’s glory years — from the breakthrough 1967 “Surrealistic Pillow” album through rock festivals such as Woodstock and Altamont.
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Born in New York City, Dryden moved with his parents when he was an infant to Los Angeles. He played in some early rock bands but soon drifted toward jazz and was working as a drummer at the Hollywood strip club the Pink Pussycat when session drummer Earl Palmer recommended him to the Airplane’s manager.
He replaced Skip Spence, who went on to start another Fillmore-era San Francisco rock group, Moby Grape. During his stint with the Airplane, Dryden had an affair with the band’s female vocalist, Grace Slick, and his marriage to the former Sally Mann was covered extensively in Rolling Stone magazine. He left the band in 1970.
Dryden replaced Mickey Hart in the Grateful Dead sideline country-rock band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, in February 1971 and stayed with that group until 1978.
In the ’80s, he joined a group of psychedelic rock veterans called the Dinosaurs that played informally around the San Francisco Bay area along with former members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Country Joe and the Fish. When the other band members reunited for a 1989 Jefferson Airplane reunion album and tour, Dryden was not invited.
He last appeared in public in November, after he was already being treated for cancer, signing autographs and shaking hands at a release party for the DVD of Jefferson Airplane video clips.
He was married three times and is survived by three sons.