Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

April 7, 1938 – January 11, 2004

Woodstock alum
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee
Sound clip: “A Small Package of Value Will Come To You, Shortly” from After Bathing At Baxter’s by Jefferson Airplane written by Dryden

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Not the first

Spencer Dryden was not the Jefferson Airplane’s first drummer. Spencer Dryden was not the Jefferson Airplane’s last drummer. But Spencer Dryden was the Airplane’s drummer.

Born in New York City, Dryden grew up in Los Angeles where his father often brought him to jazz clubs. Jazz was Dryden’s first love and drums his choice of instruments.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Peanut Butter Conspiracy

Like many young musicians of the early 60s, the writing on the wall said Beatlemania rock and the emerging folk-rock was the writing on the wall and Dryden became part of the Ashes (later known as the Peanut Butter Conspiracy).

When Skip Spence (guitarist who played drums for the Airplane and guitar again for Moby Grape) left the Airplane to form Moby Grape, Dryden was asked to step in. When Dryden arrived in San Francisco he was surprised and accepting of the communal atmosphere he found in Haight-Ashbury.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Skip Grace

Fortunately for the Airplane (and Dryden), they’d also lost their lead singer (Signe Toly Anderson) at the same and in came Grace Slick.

Dryden and Slick formed an unofficial pact that helped drive the Airplane’s musical direction. Along with the other members their first album together was 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, one of the most famous and well-respected albums in rock.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden
cover of Surrealistic Pillow
Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Spencer Dryden

The late 60s carried Dryden and the Airplane along for an amazing ride. The Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and both Woodstock Music and Art Fair and Altamont in 1969.

Here is the Airplane doing Somebody to Love from the sunrise serenade it provided that hazy Sunday morning in August 1969. Dryden’s drums highlight the song’s drive.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden


The pressures of success combined with the resources success provided hobbled Dryden. Unpredictable behavior led to difficulties with the band. The group “released” him in early 1970.

Dryden did not leave music. From the Airplane he joined the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

Continued to be active 

From All Music: “Dryden was enough of a fixture on the San Francisco scene that he was asked in to various combos of veteran Bay Area players during the ’80s, including the Dinosaurs, whose members included veterans of such bands as Country Joe & the Fish, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, and played on one of Barry Melton’s albums as well. He was the only member of the classic lineup not to participate in the Jefferson Airplane’s 1989 reunion tour and album, though he was present in 1996 for the group’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

Dryden died of colon cancer on January 11, 2004.

Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden

One thought on “Airplane Drummer Spencer Dryden”

  1. From Mike Kulpa: Spencer had been besieged by bad luck in his last years. A hip replacement that didn’t take well left him permanently disabled. In September 2003, fire destroyed his home and all of his possessions and memorabilia. Three weeks after the fire, he suffered a heart attack and was told that he needed cardiac surgery. Friends and family worked tirelessly throughout 2004, including hosting a benefit concert in Dryden’s honor, to raise the funds needed for the procedure. A week before he was set to have it performed, he was diagnosed with cancer. His battle with the disease lasted only three months.

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