Sixties Survivors #6: Signe Anderson

When I knocked off this little piece back in 2008, I never imagined it would grow such long legs that it would still be striding along in 2014.  I can’t remember a week that’s gone by since without a note from someone who, like me, remembers Signe with admiration and honor. She had a short run, but an unforgettable one.

Here’s the post as it ran in 2008:

This is a rock star? You’ve got to be kidding! She looks like a normal person.  Shouldn’t a mid-sixties rocker have big hair like Dusty Springfield?  Or long bangs like Cher?  Rock stars aren’t supposed to wear pigtails, especially with little ribbons like Petunia Pig.  And her teeth aren’t even capped.  Girl rock stars are supposed to look glamorous, not like somebody’s sweet cousin from Astoria.

Signe Anderson had a couple of attributes, though, that sort of worked.   First, she was a terrific singer.  She could raise blisters on her microphone while sending chills down your spine.  Second, we hippies loved her.  She was real.  She was one of us except she could sing like Aretha.  Well, maybe not like Aretha – but she could sing really good.

After a year or so with the Jefferson Airplane, Signe got pregnant, but she was married, so it didn’t count as shocking rock star behavior.   She sang right through her pregnancy up there on stage at the Fillmore, getting a little bigger each week,  still belting it out out with her finger in her ear.  She was breaking all the rock star rules, but not in the approved shocking way.  We could hardly wait to see what would happen next.

(Side note: The finger in the ear posture was standard for San Francisco rock singers in those days, it was so they could hear themselves.  In 1966, onstage monitor speakers still had a ways to go.  And, after you got used to it, it actually looked kind of cool.)

What happened was, after Signe had her baby, she decided to move back home to Oregon.  Suddenly, she was gone, leaving behind only that one so-so album, The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.

Then the Jefferson Airplane stole equally talented Grace Slick from The Great Society, and really took off for fame and fortune.  But I never could warm up to Grace, not that she cares.  I can’t fault her fabulous singing or her appropriate rock star looks and shocking rock star behavior – it’s just that she wasn’t Signe, and  Signe was the cat’s meow.

Signe had a rough road in her later life.  In the early seventies, she was diagnosed with uterine, cervical, and bladder cancer.  She has spent much of her adult life trying to beat them, plus other other physical problems that cropped up along the way, including an eighties bout with breast cancer.  The thing is, she’s still out there fighting…and singing.

Her old band mate Marty Balin was up to see her in August and together they played a benefit billed as the  Jefferson Airplane Family Reunion.  Fans came all the way from San Francisco for the event.  If I had known about it, I might have dropped in myself.

Happy 67th Birthday, Signe.  You’re a gas.


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73 thoughts on “Sixties Survivors #6: Signe Anderson

  1. I pulled out “Takes Off” after reading this post. I used to really dig that old sound and, behold, I still do. Tobacco Road was always a favorite. No matter that it’s sort of primitive and Jorma sounds pretty quirky. Signe and Marty’s harmony together was great. She really did have a pretty commanding voice. It’s good to know she’s still belting it out.

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    • greetings music lovers .. my name is lilith, and i am signe’s oldest daughter. it is a joy and a thrill to read genuinely positive reviews of my mother’s vocal talents, as well as her musical career. i had the privilege of watching her perform last august in oregon, at a benefit concert in her honor, and i must say … she ROCKED! i have never been so proud!!! she is alive & well in portland and music is an integral part of her daily life … peace & love to all.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah? Well, I am equally thrilled to have you show up at The Pondering Pig. You must be the very package she was carrying around up there on the Fillmore’s stage. And Lilith has got to be one of the best names. Trust Signe to pick a good one. You Mom’s singing is one of my favorite memories of the early Haight-Ashbury. At some point I would love to interview her for the blog, if she would be interested.

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      • Great to see her doing great !! I just listened to the first JA CD as i have listen to for many years and still love to hear her voice; Does she keep in contact with the other members of JA ??

        Regards

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      • Hello , Lillith,
        I met you at the concert for big red in astoria a few years ago. It was such a treat to have your mom sing for us.
        Who knew , on that weekend , I would make such a dear friend.
        Sending good vibes your way….. Babs

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      • Wow. How cool is that?
        Thanks for chiming in , Lilith. I’ve always loved your mum’s voice on those early Airplane tracks. I always thought it was great that she looked so innocent – not at all like a rock star, as the author of this blog has already pointed out.

        I hope Signe wins her battles – so sorry that she’s had a rough couple of years. Her strength is inspirational. Please tell her so.

        Praying for her health and happiness (yours as well),
        David

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    • Hi Lilith god what a blast to hear your mum I absolutely loved her voice & am so sorry to hear she went on to have all those medical issues.
      I hope she is doing great, what a legacy she, to me was one of the greats up there with Janice Joplin her voice was and probably still is magic, lucky you to grow up with such a wonderful voice in the house . Suzanne from Australia

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  2. I thought I would be listening to Signe,but it sounded so familiar that I thought I was listening to Grace. Is that because Marty’s voice is so dominant?

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  3. Hey Silky. Marty’s voice dominated the track all right. You can tell who was dominant in that incarnation of the band. I don’t believe this was filmed live, by the way. Looks more like the single ‘It’s No Secret’ with footage cut to it later. It’s still pretty good though – captures that moment in time. I wish there was more Signe.

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  4. hello! yeah,the film clip is dubbed over obviously a silent film (or a badly recorded?)piece of film.The thing to do is get the dvd “Fly Jefferson Airplane” Eagle Rock Entertainment for the whole song and lots of nice J.A. appearances.For a fabulous look at the Haight circa ’67 get again on E.R.Ent.”Go Ride The Music” the J.A. segment is pretty naff but go to “West Pole” to see The Ace of Cups/Sons of Champlin/Steve Miller band and more…brilliant stuff!all produced by Ralph Gleason.Also find a B.B.C.T.V. video called “Whickers World” where Alan Whicker in ’67 visits the Haight,chats to Chet Helms and watches him take acid up in Muir Woods! lots of BRILLIANT footage of commune life/Grateful Dead/street scenes and interviews as life goes on….p.s. dig those interviews outside the Avalon in West Pole!

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  5. Thanks for the hitlist – I want to see all of these.

    Interesting you mentioned Ace of Cups. This is a band I’ve wanted to write about for a while. They were the first all-female rock band on the West Coast and had very few predecessors anywhere — but they have been shockingly ignored and forgotten by the rock press. I have their lead guitar’s email, and it’s just a matter of doing it. But it would take a lot of research and I just don’t want to take the time awau from my novel right now.

    Thanks for writing!

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  6. hello again!nice of you to mention the Ace of Clubs in your reply to my e.mail.Big Beat records here in the U.K. put out a wonderful compilation of their unreleased material some years back:CDWIKD 236 Big Beat Records.As you know they never released anything over their life time as a band but here is to be found wondrous stuff such as Afro Blue/Hear Everysound etc also includes many photo’s/posters.Also an old friend of yours was in the group Denise Kaufman!

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  7. Mary Ellen Simpson (Ace of Cups lead player) sent me a link to this blog. Thanks for the kind comments about the Ace of Cups. FYI — we’re all still playing and will very likely get together for some events that Alec Palao is putting together in SF later this year. He is co-curating a show on SF music from 1963-73 at the Museum of Performance and Design.
    Most recently I’ve been playing bass with Dave Stringer and his great band (CC White, Joni Allen, Patrick Richey and Jeff Andrews) on the kirtan circuit here in LA and around California. Every other member of the Ace of Cups has musical projects going, too.
    Music, Music — everything will be all right.

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  8. great news there ponderpig….just been thru some of my film archives as something kept bugging me…but lo and behold i found it! a beautiful clip of the Cups playing an outdoor festival ’67 and sounding GREAT! its to be found in the film “Revolution” released 1967,Centred around a hippie chick Today Malone its more of a documentary with tons of stuff filmed on the streets/inside the Avalon/crash pads/med.centre/the Haight/hippie hill/and lots more….what song are they playing its so tuff and very raw? people look so happy!

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  9. Signe Anderson has always intrigued me. Most people today think Grace Slick was the only female lead singer for the Airplane, but I think Signe’s voice had its own charm, especially on the song “It’s No Secret.” Check out the DVD “Fly Jefferson Airplane.” The first song is “It’s No Secret,” and there’s Signe, pigtails and all, belting it out for an exuberant crowd.

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  10. I can confirm what dave tulloch told you: the Fly Jefferson Airplane DVD has the It’s No Secret clip. For what little you see and hear of Signe, she certainly looks and sounds like the she belonged up there on styage with the Airplane. Thanks for the post.

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  11. Thanks, Lad. If I ever get back to focusing on this blog, I’d like to do a more complete profile of her. She was/is a terrific singer – but apparently there is not much of it on record.

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  12. She was a friend of the family in the early 70’s. They lived a half block away in Portland. Played with the kids Delilah, Ladybug and adopted brother Shawn. It would be cool to get back in touch. Is there an email or web site to contact?

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  13. hello! and its certainly been a long time since i last wrote…many personal problems have blocked my way but i’m here again! just really a follow up to the “ace of cups” blog to let you know i have my own youtube channel:alberthoffman1 where you will find lots of killer stuff including the cups live from the film ‘revolution’ that i previously spoke about…enjoy!hope your well?

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    • Excellent. I just subscribed and am looking forward to seeing your stuff, including the Graham Bond Organization footage. I remember remember reading about them back in the day as an ultracool group – but they never had a hit in the States, and, to my knowledge, never toured here.
      I am well, and writing, but am working on a novel and a longer piece about San Francisco in the 60s, so not focused on the Pig at the moment.

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  14. Thanks for the tribute to Signe, and my feelings echo yours regarding Grace Slick.

    I lived next door to Signe on Council Crest back in ’76 (Tom McCall was across the street).

    Didn’t know the personal problems she was having with the cancer but am happy that she’s well and little Ladybug is a grown woman now.

    Was sorry to hear Chet Helm passed a few years back to cancer. I believe he was the godfather of Haight-Ashbury, and I spent many a night at the Avalon.

    Keep up the good work!

    Peace & Love

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      • Look forward to seeing your work, PP, and thanks for the update on Chet.

        I remember hanging at his flat after a show at the Avalon. Pretty incredible place. A regular workshop for the FamilyDog in his spare time I imagine, and there were posters everywhere, on every wall, and they even covered the ceilings.

        You enjoy your hiatus and I wish you well with the novel. Often thought of writing one myself just because of the crazy stuff we did back then, and people today are usually amazed at the stories I prattle on about because their lives didn’t have the same chemistry in the times they lived as ours did.

        Feel free to contact me anytime via email, who knows, we may’ve shared a joint or wine in a brown bag back in the Haight. I lived at 710 Clayton Street just over from the Dead.

        Be well, be safe.

        Kurt

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  15. I’m a fan of Grace Slick, but I’ve always preferred Signe’s vocals. I just personally love that raw, bluesy, emotive sound.

    My favorite performances of hers are those of “High Flying Bird” and “Get Together”. I got to see her perform both with Paul Kantner’s “Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation” in NY in the mid 90s, and I was more than impressed. In spite of all she’d been through, her voice was still intact and powerful.

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  16. Look at that smile on Jack’s face. Was he getting a little on the side? Wouldn’t surprise me. You ever hear the story of how Grace was recruited? The band sent Jack and he “sweet talked” her. That dog!

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  17. “Side note: The finger in the ear posture was standard for San Francisco rock singers in those days, it was so they could hear themselves. In 1966, onstage monitor speakers still had a ways to go. And, after you got used to it, it actually looked kind of cool.”

    Maybe back then. Now it just looks stupid. Almost as stupid as when people at concerts wave lighters in the air during “ballads.”

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  18. Like many of you, I am a huge fan of Signe. Her voice is so incredibly powerful and is just as good as Grace’s if not more so. Signe is a true survivor. I have had some recent contact with her and am amazed by her incredibly positive attitude. She has been through so much, but doesn’t allow anything to let her down.

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  19. I was sent this link today . I’m so pleased to see something , anything about Signe. I fell in love with her voice the first time I saw her sing. I had a hard time warming to grace as well. I will admit Grace has a beautiful voice , but Signe has soul.
    Though she doesn’t perform anymore, she can still sing . A true beauty , inside and out . Thank you for writing the piece.

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  20. [posted by lilith anderson: greetings music lovers .. my name is lilith, and i am signe’s oldest daughter. it is a joy and a thrill to read genuinely positive reviews of my mother’s vocal talents, as well as her musical career. i had the privilege of watching her perform last august in oregon, at a benefit concert]

    hi Lilith, are you the daughter that went by the nickname ‘Ladybug’ i think it was? i used to live in the little house behind your mom, and across the street from tom McCall. then a year later i moved up to Talbot Rd, where i lived across the street from your school friend Matt and his little brother. Hope all is well with you and your mom. i liked her and loved her angelic voice.

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  21. Sorry PP. That post to Lilith just now was by me but I had forgotten how to login. (sigh) I have two brain cells rubbing together as fast as they can to get the third one started. Thank you very much Haight Ashbury 🙂

    Just happy to see your thread is still alive & well, and Signe & Marty got together to do a gig! (not sure when the timeframe was tho?)

    Be safe, be well.

    Kurt

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    • Thanks, Kurt. The Pig is still alive and well in my mind, and I do have a few more pieces about my early life in San Francisco in various stages of progress. The blog is still very active – as far as readers go – and I have no intention of taking it down. I am not amazed but I am thrilled to find so many other Signe fanciers out there – this post is consistently one of the highest rated on the blog – up there with Grace’s.

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  22. She had passion of what artistical expression that was real. Not corporate greed of making it rich. Interesting though I would like to hear Florence Weich sing Signe’s “Somebody to Love. The I think Florence would make a wonderful comparison.

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  23. All that I can say is amazing. I knew about Signe for quite awhile, and used to love listening to Grace on Somebody to Love, but when I purchased Jefferson Airplane Takes Off – I fell in love with Signe’s voice… AMAZING! Her vocals on High Flying Bird just sent chills up my spine! Too bad she didn’t stay with the Airplane longer. What a talent!

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  24. Hello music lovers, and fans of Signe! This is Ladybug, the little sister of Lilith. And I love reading the posts from everyone supporting my mother. She is and will always be the best vocalist that I have heard or personally know. And yes, regardless of all of her medical issues currently, or in the past, she always maintains a smile on her face, and a twinkle in her eye. Thank you all for the continued support for Signe (mom), and know that she appreciates all of you 🙂

    -Ladybug Anderson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ladybug, and thank you for the news about your mom. I used to live behind you in the little brown house and then up the street on Talbot Rd in the white house across from your friend Matt, and Chris was next door to me. I met you a couple times when you were hangin out with them in the neighborhood. I didn’t know your mom well, we only talked a couple times, but like so many I loved her voice and was disappointed when she left the Airplane. Never-the-less, glad to know you and her are well. Much love and best regards to you and your mom.

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      • ima singer myself and.. i wish Signe the very best.. and i hard ..she had finacnaiul issues.. and.. i dont have much myself but.. id like to see if some of us couldnt get together help her out ..shes a sweet part of rock history and we owe her that=how could we send her a lil sumthin sumthin?

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      • Dearest Ladybug .. Sending you strength & courage with the passing of your Mom. Signe’s voice is what has been missing in Rock & Roll Heaven’s band.

        Much love. Be safe, be well.

        Kurt “Stix” Stine

        Liked by 1 person

  25. hello once again and it sure feels like a long time since i last wrote but just wanted folks to know i have another youtube channel now :puresandoz25 with tons of great 60’s/70’s rare video’s etc including ace of cups stuff! dave tulloch.

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  26. To Signe: I have been a JA fan since the begining of time. You are the original voice that can never be duplicated. I’m hoping someday to meet you. You’re the reason for JA’s sucess.

    John N Ward

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  27. Hi Onateska:
    Can you ask your mom what it was like to work with Skip Spence? He always receives praises as a song writer. I would love to hear her memories about him.

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    • Hey! Thinkin…Skip was in Moby Grape too, right? …The other really awesome SF band….(um…forgetting the Dead ’cause they are well…dead and stuff. …um and Big Brother…oh GeeZ!!! ….nevermind….)

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  28. Sorry, but “Takes Off” was not so-so! It was a seminal mind-blower!
    In my mind “Surrealistic Pillow” was a midlin sequel. Signe was the best. Grace, well… she’s iconic, I guess, but I’ve always loved Signe more.

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  29. If this is redundant, forgive me because I don’t see my earlier post. I just want to respond to the fellow that said “Takes Off” was so-so. Not true. It was seminal psychedelic rock at its finest. Can’t beat “It’s no Secret” and “Come Up the Years” for original poignant stuff. Gotta say too that Signe had and has genuine raw talent… Grace was a great performer, but Signe was truly missed. Ah, well…life is brief, and (believe it or not) rock and roll is not life. Signe, I love you, and I am not alone in that sentiment.

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  30. Pingback: Thomas Edison and The Jefferson Airplane??? | Ilene On Words

  31. The Signe Toly Anderson Jefferson Airplane were beloved by the flower children of the Haight-Ashbury, written about by the eminent music journalist Ralph Gleason, and sung about by Donovan. They opened the door for the other San Francisco bands. The Grace Slick JA were viewed by the flower children (now dubbed “hippies” by the mass media) as sell outs. Grace Slick was charismatic, especially when dressed as a nazi, or a nun, or going topless—but she couldn’t sing a note. If you think she could, you have a tin ear. She wasn’t even the Airplane’s first choice to replace the popular Signe. Sherry Snow was. But Grace scored two AM teenager hits, and the Airplane for a long time simply pretended the Signe era group never existed. Like the Beatles did. Signe is not included on JA’s roster in the so-called Rock and Roll hall of fame, which is OK, because the flower children would have scoffed at such a ridiculous notion as a “hall of fame”. Personally, I lost interest in the group after Signe retired and they started doing blue jean commercials. Thankfully, quality recordings of the real Jefferson Airplane exist.

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    • I couldn’t agree more with this!! My mother is a “class act”, and nothing will ever come close to her amazing vocal abilities. She is, and will forever be, the “original” female voice of The Jefferson Airplane! ! It’s a shame that she never received the recognition she deserved. However, I will continue to be a huge fan of Marty, Paul, and Jorma!!

      Sincerely,

      Onateska “Ladybug” Anderson
      (Signe’s youngest daughter)♥

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      • Hi Ladybug: Did your mom ever speak about Skip Spence, who was the original drummer? He seem to have excellent songwriting ability. Any comments about him?

          R. Hoffman

        Like

  32. Pingback: Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2016: The Only System We've Got

  33. “Ladybug”, my heart & strength goes out to you with the passing of your Mother.
    You may recall me as the hippie that lived next door to you and her, and then a year later up the street across from Matt Green’s home. Signe was a beautiful person and i considered her a friend.

    Be well, be safe Ladybug.

    Kurt “Stix” Stine

    Liked by 1 person

  34. I saw that Paul Kantner died (learned from the Grammys, of all places). When I looked it up online, there was Signe Toly Anderson (who also died. Same day ?!?) I forgot all about that name. I heard the old Chauffeur Blues and then remembered her great voice. God, I hate getting old.

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  35. To Lilith and Ladybug.
    My sincere condolence to both of you. I was so sad to hear that Signe had passed away.
    I tried to get in contact with her by a message on Facebook at the end of October -15, but she never opened it. She was probably ill..
    I am her second cousin (66) in Norway and I live in the same place as her grandma ( Signe Elde)
    was born. It was my first attempt to get in touch with her, -but unfortunately it was too late.
    I’m sure we could have had some family history to share.
    When I started my family research I didn’t know she had been a vocalist in JA. I used to listen to that band in my youth, unconscious that the great female voice was my second cousin’s!
    Now I have listened to them again, and what a unique voice Signe had!

    My warmest thoughts
    Eli Strom Troennes ( els-tro@ online.no)

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  36. Thank you, Ladybug. I’m looking forward to a contact with you.☺ I’m thinking of you and your sister and of how hard it is to deal with the loss of a dear mum.

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  37. I was about 14 years old when I first heard Signe on the album “JA Takes Off.” I loved her voice plus it’s the first time I’d seen a girl singing with a rock band. What I liked about Signe was the fact she looked approachable. Like someone you could talk to. The whole concept of rock superstar did not exist then.

    My condolences to Signe’s family. I visit her shrine at FindAGrave to leave cyber flowers.

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  38. Though I grew up in the Bay Area and the Jefferson Airplane was my 2nd favorite band, I never differentiated between pre- and post-Grace era, but now that I understand the JA’s history a little better it’s easy to see Grace had to style her act on Signe’s voice, to fit in with the established vibe that Signe co-created with her bandmates. This is such an enormous revelation to me, that Grace’s extraneous singing, her brassy vibrato, stretched-thin stage presence and affect, and supersexual efforts seem attempts to copy Signe and compete with her natural attractiveness and talent. Grace’s vocal style never developed beyond this mimicry — to compare the two now seems a slight to Signe. At least the remaining staff didn’t kick her to the curb the way the Beatles, my favorite band, treated Pete Best. The music industry being what it is, and the world being the way it is, has a way of destroying art and artists. I look forward to uncovering Signe’s legacy. What a genius.

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    • Great stuff, Miss Crone. Please give us a full report on your findings. And don’t worry about old Pete. He’s going to make a comeback one of these days, just like the Pondering Pig. By the way, which was your 1st favorite band?

      Oh, want you to know I can feel your Emma Nations from here.

      Like

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