Spencer Dryden

Acclaimed drummer Spencer Dryden, who ascended from Jefferson Airplane to the New Riders Of The Purple Sage has died at the age of 66.

Dryden was one of the celebrants of the Californian country rock marriage that broke the genre into a younger, broader market in the seventies.

He replaced Mickey Hart in the New Riders in February 1971 and stayed until 1978.

Thrice wed Dryden perished after a short battle with colon and stomach cancer and was survived by three sons Jes, Jackson and Jeffrey.

Dryden retired from performing 10 years ago.

"I'm gone," he told The San Francisco Chronicle last May. "I'm out of it. I've left the building."

A benefit concert last year featuring Bob Weir of Grateful Dead and Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule raised $36,000 for Dryden, who had two hip replacement operations and was facing heart surgery at the time of his death.

His Petaluma home and all his possessions had been destroyed in a fire in September 2003.

Dryden was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 for his work with Jefferson Airplane, from its breakthrough 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow and played historic rock festivals Woodstock, Monterey and Altamont.

He played on their hits Somebody to Love and White Rabbit and on their other albums, including After Bathing at Baxter's, Bless Its Pointed Little Head, Crown of Creation and Volunteers.


Spencer was born in Manhattan in New York to Wheeler and Alice Dryden.

Wheeler was a British stage actor on Broadway and Alice Chapple was a prima ballerina the City Music Hall Ballet Company at Radio City.

Spencer was also the nephew of famed actor Charlie Chaplin.

The family moved to Los Angeles a year later where Wheeler Dryden worked as an assistant director for Chaplin.

His parents divorced when he was six and Spencer spent weekends with his father on the lot of Chaplin Studios.

"I had a playground that was just immense," Spencer recalled of living in Hollywood. "I was constantly being around artists and Bohemian types."

At age 13 or 14, Spencer accompanied his father to jazz clubs - legal in those days - and paid attention to the drummers and how they played.

He found an early mentor in Ray Bauduc, who had played with Jimmy Dorsey and Bob Crosby.

"Ray was working with Jack Teagarden and playing Dixieland at the time," Spencer said.
"He took me under his arm. He was a real character - pencil-thin moustache, slicked back hair. He was a hipster."

Dryden attended Glendale High School and graduated from the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California, in 1955.


Spencer grew up honing his drumming skills on the Los Angeles jazz circuit, playing with such notables as Charles Lloyd, Bobby Hutcherson and Paul Bley.

In 1956, Spencer joined his first rock band, The Heartbeats, which featured guitar
legend Roy Buchanan.

He drifted toward jazz and was working as a drummer with The Ashes at Hollywood strip club, the Pink Pussycat, when a session drummer, Earl Palmer, lured him to meet Jefferson Airplane's manager.

Dryden left The Ashes, who later became the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, to replace Skip Spence, who started another San Francisco rock group, Moby Grape.

During his stint with the Airplane Dryden had an affair in 1967 with their outrageous singer Grace Slick.

And his marriage to the former Sally Mann was covered extensively in Rolling Stone magazine.

They were the only band to play all three of the landmark rock festivals of the sixties: Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and Altamont


Dryden left Jefferson Airplane in 1970 and joined The New Riders of the Purple Sage from 1970-8.

His only song to make it onto an Airplane album was country parody A Song For All Seasons (Volunteers, 1969).

The band took its name from the 1912 Zane Grey western novel Riders Of The Purple Sage.

It began opening for Grateful Dead in 1970 and Jerry Garcia played pedal steel, guitar and on their self titled debut disc that year.

Australian record label Raven released excellent retrospective Wasted Tasters 1971-5 on the New Riders and offshoots.

Check it out at www.deaddisc.com/disc/Wasted_Tasters.htm
And www.ravenrecords.com.au

Dryden played on 11 of the band's 12 albums whose singer John Dawson wrote most of their originals.

Spencer penned Home Grown solo and Take A Red and Cement, Clay and Glass with guitarist David Nelson.

"Spencer Dryden was born cool," said Nelson. "He had an air of calm mastery about him. I feel fortunate to have him as a friend, and proud to have played on the big stage with him.

Always fun and creative, we had a running commentary on life as we travelled the road together. He was a love. He will live in my heart forever."


New Riders of the Purple Sage
Dryden also played with San Francisco super group, Dinosaurs, which also featured Barry Melton of Country Joe & The Fish, John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Peter Albin of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Robert Hunter of The Grateful Dead, and Merl Saunders of the Saunders-Garcia band.

Spencer had been besieged by bad luck in recent years.

A hip replacement that didn't take well left him permanently disabled.

In September 2003, fire destroyed his home and all possessions and memorabilia.

Three weeks after the fire, he suffered a heart attack and was told he needed cardiac surgery.

Friends and family worked tirelessly throughout 2004, including hosting a benefit concert in Dryden's honour, to raise funds 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.

Even throughout this difficult period, Spencer managed to maintain the humour and wit that so many people will remember him for.

In a December interview, he jokingly remarked, "Well, at least I know how much I'm worth," when speaking in regard to the seven-figure medical debt he had managed to accumulate in two-months' time.

When the other members of Jefferson Airplane reunited in 1989 for a reunion album and tour, Dryden was not invited.

He last appeared in public in November, signing autographs and shaking hands at a release party for a Jefferson Airplane video clips DVD.


Three sons and wives survived Dryden.

Jeffrey lives in Houston, Texas, and is the son of Texas dancer Jeannie Davis, known as Athena the Grecian Goddess.

The couple met in a jazz club and Jeffrey was born in 1966.

Jes lives in San Francisco and is the son of Sally Mann whom he wed on January 26, 1970.
Dryden wed Sally at the Airplane House with Grace Slick as matron of honour and Paul Kantner as best man.

They were divorced by 1973.

Another son Jackson lives in Novato, California - his mother is Kathy Miller.

Mother Alice Judd of Glendale, California, also survived Dryden.

His sisters Ginny Ramsdell live in Sun City, Arizona and Marillyn Morris in Queensland.

He has 5 grandchildren, Aaron, Lauren, Christen, Meagan, and Jessica (Houston, Texas).

Further info - www.spencerdryden.com


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