Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jefferson Airplane: Good Shepherd

For this Spiritual Sunday, we travel back to 1969 when the Jefferson Airplane released their sixth album, “Volunteers.” It was the last LP to feature the classic lineup of the band as vocalist Marty Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden left the band after the release of the album. One of the gems on “Volunteers” is an old song dating back to the first decade of the 19th century. It is named here as “Good Shepherd.” The song, under its original title, “Let Thy Kingdom, Blessed Savior” was written by Methodist evangelist John A. Granade. Granade died in 1807, so the song was written during that year or earlier.

Eventually, the song was titled “Good Shepherd” and its lyrical content changed from “Some for Paul, some for Apollos, Some for Cephas – none agree” to “One for Paul, one for Silas, one for to make – my heart rejoice.” This may have been done to make the song easier to sing as the reference to I Corinthians 3. Apollos seems to be more difficult to sing than Paul’s companion on his second missionary journey.

The substitution may have been made because Paul and Silas have been paired in song before in “Old Time Religion.” There also is a meter problem with Cephas as it really should be a one syllable name or word to match with Paul in the previous line. The loss of Apollos and Cephas and the inclusion of Silas made the Corinthian reference obsolete – so the message “one for to make – my heart rejoice” takes into consideration of Paul and Silas in the Phillipian Jail rejoicing through their singing hymns.

As with songs centuries old, lyrics and titles often change via oral tradition. Alan Lomax even collected a version of it for the Library of Congress in 1936 named “Blood Stained Banders,” which was a misinterpretation of the lyric: “Stay out of the way of the blood stained bandit.”

Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen brought his version of the song to the band. He arranged the tune and sings lead on it. His introduction probably was a gospel-blues version of the song and may have been “Blood Stained Banders.” The song was performed by the Airplane and its splinter groups the Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. It often is used as a signature song today by Kaukonen when his gigs with Hot Tuna as one of the several gospel-blues songs that he performs.

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