January 13, 2005 by

Spencer Dryden

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Categories: Musicians

sdryden.jpgSpencer Dryden, a former drummer for the rock band Jefferson Airplane, died on Jan. 10 of cancer. He was 66.
Although he was born in New York, Dryden was raised in Los Angeles. The son of Broadway actor Wheeler Dryden and ballet dancer Alice Dryden, Spencer was also Charlie Chaplin’s nephew. He picked up the drums as a teenager and eventually sat in with bands at southern California jazz clubs.
After Dryden graduated from the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, Calif., he switched from jazz to rock n’ roll. To make a living, Dryden offered rim shots to comedians in L.A. nightclubs and gave the exotic dancers at Hollywood strip clubs a rhythm to follow. Session drummer Earl Palmer heard Dryden’s performance at the Pink Pussycat and recommended him to the manager of Jefferson Airplane.
Dryden joined the band in 1966, replacing Skip Spence, who later formed the rock group, Moby Grape. As Airplane’s drummer, Dryden performed at Woodstock, Monterey and Altamont, and recorded “Surrealistic Pillow,” the band’s most famous album, which included the hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” He also dated Airplane’s lead singer Grace Slick. A year after they broke up, Dryden married groupie Sally Mann, and Slick served as the matron of honor. Dryden was fired from the band a few weeks after the 1970 wedding. He and Mann divorced three years later.
Dryden spent the 1970s in the country rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage before becoming the group’s manager. From 1982 to 1995, he played with the Dinosaurs, a Bay Area group of psychedelic rock veterans. For his work with Jefferson Airplane, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
In recent years, Dryden fell on hard times. He lost all of his personal belongings in 2003 when his home burned down. He underwent two hip replacements and heart surgery, then was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. To help with his medical bills and living expenses, friends put together an eBay auction and a benefit concert, featuring performances by Grateful Dead vocalist Bob Weir and singer Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule. These events raised nearly $36,000.
Surrealistic Pillow Download “Surrealistic Pillow”

2 Responses to Spencer Dryden

  1. karen

    I would just like to make a correction to this page. I was there when the phone call came telling his son that his house burned down. This was not in 1993, but rather, 2003 followed by his heart attack, the concert, and then his diagnosis with cancer. And, unlike SF reported, he sis not die of stomach cancer, but rectol-colon cancer. Thank you

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