Jefferson Airplane Merchandising Revival Coming for 50th Anniversary (Exclusive)

7:00 AM PST 06/09/2014 by Alex Ben Block

Epic Rights plans to launch a wide range of products for fans and upscale customers in 2015.

Jefferson Airplane is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a merchandising bonanza courtesy of Epic Rights, The Hollywood Reporter has learned exclusively.

The move comes as legalized marijuana has become more prevalent across the country, which is why Epic believes it's the perfect time to bet on Jefferson Airplane, one of the definitive bands of San Francisco psychedelic rock era.

“It’s the baby boomers now in their mid-60s and a lot of the younger people who are part of the revival of interest in this culture,” says Dell Furano, CEO of Epic Rights. “Everything vintage is hot at retail.”

Epic plans to mount the anniversary campaign in 2015 with a wide range of merchandising and licensing envisioned to include everything from guitar picks and greeting cards to high-end apparel and shoes.

Although Epic Rights, based in Hollywood, is only a year old, Furano has been involved in rock merchandising for more than 30 years dating back to his tenure at Winterland in San Francisco. He also worked for Sony and Live Nation in music licensing.

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About six months ago, Furano heard the song "White Rabbit" on the radio and thought about how it symbolized its era.  He felt it would be something Epic could capitalize on, just as it is doing with a recently signed a deal with the band Kiss, as well as a license to promote the Woodstock Festival.

Jefferson Airplane charted 12 albums on the Billboard 200 chart, including the No. 3 set "Surrealistic Pillow" in 1967. That album featured the group's two highest-charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100: "Somebody to Love" (a No. 5-peaking hit in 1967) and "White Rabbit" (No. 8). 

Although Jefferson Airplane hasn’t recorded since the mid-1970s, its music continues to be used in movies and TV, and a 1975 Jefferson Starship concert was released as a live album last summer.

“Every once in a while you see a real nugget in terms of influence that hasn’t been exploited,” says Furano.

So he contacted Bill Thompson, now 70, a former journalist who has managed Jefferson Airplane and its spinoff groups since its earliest days. Thompson continues to manage (and in part own) the band's rights today in association with the group’s lead singer, Grace Slick.

Thompson believes the Jefferson Airplane music remains relevant because it was so original and personal.

“It has lasted because it is good,” says Thompson, “better than most of the stuff being put out now.”

Thompson says he is also in conversations with Sony Music, which owns rights to much of the music, about re-releases. The live album that came out last summer interested fans, but based on comments on Amazon.com, the quality of the sound is not very good. It has sold only 2,000 copies in the U.S. according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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Furano will attend the annual Licensing Show in Las Vegas later this week to gague interest, and plans to have a detailed stylebook of ideas to circulate by late July, initially built around the song "White Rabbit." He expects products to be in stores sometime next year.

Epic expects to license two kinds of things – items for fans, such as buttons, incense, stickers, decals and metal jewelry; and higher end products including hand bags, scarves, T-shirts, tops, sleepwear and other accessories, home décor, stationery/paper goods, collectibles, gifts and novelty and publishing.

After the band broke up, Thompson and the music labels involved bought out the interest of most of the band members besides Slick. Paul Kantner later toured using the Starship name and in 2008 was sued by Thompson and Slick. They reached a settlement that year.

The deal with Epic Rights is described as long-term. No details of the transaction were released.

For this revival, Thompson said he has reached out again and will share royalties in some form not just with Slick but also with bandmembers Kantner, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen.

Thompson and Furano believe the time is right to bring back this brand because of rising interest in marijuana. This was the band that told the world to “feed your head.”

They think the time is right to offer a range of psychedelic-style products. The song White Rabbit has remained a kind of anthem to the drug culture over the years.

“The band’s album covers–Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter's, Crown of Creation–were amazing works of art that continue to inspire artists, musicians and designers today,” says Furano, “and we plan to capture the essence of the band to deliver a unique licensing program reminiscent of that era yet relevant for today’s consumers.”

Thompson notes that the publishing rights to Jefferson Airplane music are held by a company called Ice Bag, which refers to a type of very powerful pot that singer David Crosby introduced the band to back in the 1960s.

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