Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra
The Creation of a Science Fiction Epic and the Band that Rocked the Universe
Suzanne McNamara Colton
Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra: The evolution of the revolution 

The Inception

The early years of the 1960s were to bring Paul Kantner, David Crosby and David Freiberg together and a stoic friendship was formed. Venice Beach, California was the place to hang out, play music and philosophize about the state of the planet. This was the initial bond - the cornerstone of the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Dream. 

As the '60's rolled along each were in bands of their own. True to spirit of the time, musical interaction between artists spawned one powerful creative force. Jerry Garcia sat in on the 'Surrealistic Pillow' sessions. David Crosby had given "Triad" to the Jefferson Airplane. Kantner, Crosby and Stills had written "Wooden Ships". David Crosby had sailed his boat up to Sausalito harbor. Graham Nash resided in the Haight. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick were now living in Bolinas and the Dead were at home in Mill Valley. The tribes were scattered yet close all at the same time.

The Interaction

Interaction came easily , what was lacking was a place to play and record. Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco was the answer. Jefferson Airplane had just released "Volunteers" and CSNY were to start working on "Deja Vu". San Franciscan musicians like the Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Dead instantly had a place where they could record. And it was Wally's. They had freedom from the corporate studios to record and produce on their terms and most of all, the musical neighborhood was always welcome. At the end of the day, their destination was Wally's for an evening to work on PERRO songs. Wally Heider Recording Studios in San Francisco, California was the birthplace of Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra. The studio opened in 1969 and bar none it met the demand of producers and artists alike in the bay area. After all, Wally was known as the most "here to please" studio owner in the business. San Francisco was the right place and it was definitely the right time. Even the particular studio location was chosen because of its proximity to the Blackhawk nightclub which was right across the street. The studio is now known as 'Hyde Street Studios'.

The First Incarnation

1969 brought Paul Kantner, David Crosby and David Freiberg full circle. Paul was spending time with David Crosby on board his yacht and with David Freiberg. Soon Paul came to assemble musicians to record 'Blows Against The Empire'. He sought his orchestra not only from Airplane members but turned to David Crosby, Jerry Garcia and Graham Nash. Graham had just bought a house in San Francisco and thoroughly relished being part of the tribe. He produced the whole second side of the 'Blows Against the Empire' album at Pacific High Recording studio with Paul Kantner and recording engineer Phil Sawyer in 1970. Side Two of Blows Against the Empire, has come to be known as the "Blows Suite" or BATE. Paul's recollections of this time are as follows, "It happened like this. I wanted to make some tasty demos to show everybody what the song was about and there was an innovative studio, Pacific High Recording, right behind the Fillmore West, off Market Street. For some unexplained reason Grace chose to help me by playing this very grand, Grace style piano, near totally off the top of her head. Very little rehearsal. She just sort of joined in and followed my chords beautifully. There were many miscues and mistakes but they blended in well in the free-form modal tone structure that was the heart of the piece. All big, rich chords, both rhythmic and elegantly elegiac at the same time. She does a thing playing octaves with her left hand and rich chords with her right hand that always impressed me. ..."

Phill Sawyer's recollections of  the "Blows Suite" sessions: I had worked at Heider's both in LA and SF, but PHR was special. This is where I'd recorded and mixed "Mexico", and this is where Paul had recorded the original guitar and vocal track for the Blows suite - with Grace's majestic playing on the studio's rebuilt early 20th century Steinway Concert C Grand Piano. And I knew for certain that PHR's new stereo echo chamber was the biggest and the creamiest in SF, especially for acoustic instruments and vocals. So Paul and I decided to go there - this time so that Graham, who hadn't been hanging around at the Heider mixes, could try to produce a mix. We spent the next 2 days in the studio/control room and we began by listening to the tracks over and over and over looking for the key into the mix. It was slow-going for quite awhile. Paul had some tape clips of off-TV sounds and I also had a stash of tape oddities I'd brought from Hollywood, along with my own experiments with some of these elements, and some ongoing "music concrete" works (about 2 minutes of one of these had already become a part of XM). For more on Phill Sawyer please visit :

The album would be the recipient of the prestigious Hugo Award for science fiction. 'Blows Against the Empire" was the first album by that collected group of musicians whom Paul deemed the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra. He credited the album as being by Jefferson Starship but Kantner was well aware that Crosby, Slick, Freiberg, Nash, Garcia, Lesh, Casday, Kreutzmann, Kaukonen and Hart were the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra. They supported each other on ground breaking projects. Their creativity, imagination, and musical interchange knew no bounds nor were there any at Wally's or Pacific High Recording. The Planet Earthers forged a virtual musical realm with an alliance to be reckoned with.
The music to emerge from the PERRO era became these subsequent sister and brother albums:

Blows Against the Empire - Paul Kantner / Jefferson Starship, 1970
If I Could Only Remember My Name - David Crosby, 1971
Songs for Beginners - Graham Nash, 1971
Sunfighter - Paul Kantner / Grace Slick, 1971
Graham Nash/David Crosby - Graham Nash and David Crosby, 1972
Rolling Thunder - Mickey Hart 1972, studio
Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun - Kantner / Slick / Freiberg, 1973
The Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra - Paul Kantner, 1983

The Second Incarnation

David Crosby's debut solo album, 'If I Could Only Remember My Name', was to become the second PERRO incarnation. It featured all of the previously mentioned Planet Earthers and the added talents of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Greg Rolie and Mike Shrieve.

In November 1970, David Crosby was to record his solo album, 'If I Could Only Remember My Name'. David had just finished "Deja-Vu" with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. Both albums were recorded at Wally Heider Studios. David held residence on his boat and was spending most of his time in the Bay Area.

The first session was on November 4, 1970, and the first song to come out of that session was 'Orleans'. David Crosby's unpredictable work ethic meant that tape should always be rolling, you never knew what might happen. Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Graham Nash, Michael Shrieve, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, David Freiberg, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Neil Young, Jorma Kaukonen, Joni Mitchell, Laura Allan, Jack Casday, and Greg Rolie were invited to these sessions. You never knew who was going to show up. Small groups would gather, contribute, come and go. The song 'What Are Their Names' was the exception where as many people from this group that could fit into Studio D gathered to do a sing-along chorus. This stellar assemblage of musicians would become the second incarnation of the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra. Initially over 30 reels of 2 inch tape were to be become the PERRO tapes. By January 1971, David Crosby and recording engineer, Stephen Barncard reviewed the tapes during a 4 hour session, made some rough mixes and those mixed tapes were to become the PERRO tapes. The PERRO tapes were to make their way safely into storage at the home of Graham Nash and remained there for several years.

The Third Incarnation

On his 'solo' album of 1983. entitled 'Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra', Paul dedicated 'Mountain Song' ...'to David C, Jerry G, Graham N, Grace S, David F, Billy K and Mickey H and to one summer when all of our schedules almost didn't conflict.'

The circumference indeed was to grow wide but the circle undeniably would complete itself once more. Rumors in the recording industry had indicated that the third incarnation was going to be another Paul Kantner album entitled, 'Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra' aptly subtitled as: an original story 'The Empire Blows Back' a compliment and soulmate to 'Blows Against the Empire'. It's impending release 1972. It would be another ten years though before that album was made. With unshakable perseverance and the original message intact Paul Kantner assembled a new orchestra of Planet Earthers featuring:

Paul Kantner - guitar, synthesizer, banjo, glass harmonica, vocals 
John Blakeley - guitar 
Jack Casady - bass 
Craig Chaquico - guitar 
Aynsley Dunbar - drums 
David Freiberg - synthesizer, vocals 
Alexander Kantner - vocals 
China Kantner - vocals 
Scott Matthews - mandolin, piano, organ, harmonica, drums, synthesizer, saxophone, percussion, pedal steel guitar, vocoder, vocals 
Ronnie Montrose - guitar 
Ron Nagle - piano, vocals 
Pete Sears - piano 
Grace Slick - piano, vocals 
Mickey Thomas - vocals 
Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (Flo and Eddie) - vocals 
The Durocs - sounds

An astounding group of musicians who came together to become as
the verse from title track suggests:

'Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra,
Everybody Here Can Be In The Band,
Planet Earth Rock And Roll Dream '

The PERRO Tapes

The PERRO tapes would not resurface again until spring of1975 when Stephen Barncard was asked by Graham Nash to compile a tape of all unrecorded songs, alternate takes et all at his San Francisco home studio in the Haight, known as Rudy Records. This collection of songs was dubbed "Dirty Thirty", of which the PERRO material was included. The PERRO songs were now part of a collection, complete with references to the source tapes but had nothing directly to do with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's work. Either way, this was a monumental task and extra assistance was provided by Joel Bernstein who had his own personal tape collection and lived in an apartment next door to Graham Nash. David Crosby and Graham Nash were present for a first listening when the tapes were finally compiled. The PERRO tapes were intact as a subset to about a dozen 10 1/2" reels. Cassettes were run off for Crosby and Nash.

The Dirty Thirty were to become a resource for rarities for the Crosby, Stills and Nash Boxed Set in 1991. The PERRO tapes were an altogether different matter.

The PERRO tapes had been put into storage in Graham Nash's vault. The Graham Nash tape collection included the personal collections of Stephen Barncard, Joel Bernstein, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. Paul Kantner called Graham Nash in 1992 requesting DATs of those tapes. They were copied at A&M Post Production audio. The PERRO tapes are of excellent quality. They were recorded at Wally Heider's studio in the summer of 1971. Stephen Barncard fastidiously captured the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra working on songs that would later emerge on 'solo' recordings by David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick.

The PERRO Tapes have not been commercially released.

Suzanne McNamara 2005