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Spencer Dryden

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: New York, NY, USA
Death: January 11, 2005 (66)
Petaluma, CA, USA (stomach cancer)
Immediate Family:

Son of George Wheeler Dryden and Alice Judd
Father of <private> Dryden; <private> Dryden and <private> Dryden

Occupation: Professional drummer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

    • <private> Miller
    • <private> Dryden
    • <private> Mann
    • <private> Dryden
    • <private> Davis
    • <private> Dryden
    • mother

About Spencer Dryden

US musician Spencer Dryden is best known as the drummer for Jefferson Airplane, New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Dinosaurs, and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

He was born on April 7, 1938 in New York City to Alice Chapple, a member of the Radio City Ballet Company, and Wheeler Dryden, a British actor working on Broadway and a half-brother of Charlie Chaplin. Dryden often concealed this information, preferring to be judged on his own abilities, rather than on his uncle's name He moved to Los Angeles as an infant, when his father went to work as an assistant director for Chaplin. Spencer fondly recalled playing at his famous uncle's Hollywood studio as a child. His father was a jazz fan, and took him to LA jazz clubs in the 1950s, which inspired his musical ambitions.

In mid-1966 Dryden was recruited to replace Skip Spence as the drummer in leading San Francisco psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane. The former jazzer, together with bassist Jack Casady, created an exceptional rhythm section. A feature of live Airplane sets at the time were free-form improvisational jams, with Dryden's licks complementing Casady's fluid style. During this time also, he had an affair with Grace Slick.

The song Lather, appearing on Jefferson Airplane's Crown of Creation (1968), is said to have been written by Grace Slick on the occasion of Dryden's 30th birthday. Its lyrics tell of a boy who stays as young as possible until one day when he is shattered by having to finally grow up. The instrumental sections are wild and purposefully discordant. On the news of his death, Slick and other bandmembers wrote tributes to Dryden that appear on the group's website. Slick's ends with this: ""Lather was 30 years old today, they took away all of his toys." - Grace Slick (Jan 13, 2005)".

In 1969, music critic Ralph J. Gleason published "The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound." The book includes an engaging forty-four page interview with Dryden.

Dryden quit Jefferson Airplane in February 1970, motivated in part by the group's unpleasant experiences at the notorious Altamont Festival, during which lead singer Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by Hells Angels bikers and a festival patron, Meredith Hunter, was fatally stabbed. Dryden seemed to have some sense of foreboding about the concert, as he initially did not want to play, saying the "vibes" were wrong.

Dryden left the music business for a short period, and returned to drumming as a member of The New Riders of the Purple Sage. He performed and recorded with them from late 1970 until 1977, at which point he became the manager of the band. After leaving the New Riders, Dryden went on to play a lengthy stint with The Dinosaurs and Barry Melton's band before retiring from drumming in 1995.

Spencer did not participate in Jefferson Airplane's 1989 reunion. In 1996, Dryden was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the rest of Jefferson Airplane, playing with the band for the first time since 1970. He joined the group onstage for the last time in 2003, with the Jefferson Starship Gallactic Reunion.

He needed hip replacement and heart surgeries in the few years before his death. In 2004, several musicians, led by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers Band), raised US$36,000 to help pay Dryden's medical bills. He had also lost his home due to a fire in 2003; later in 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer. The benefit re-kindled Spencer's friendship with Jefferson Airplane band member Jorma Kaukonen, who remembered him fondly for the way he said, "Aww, MAN!!" It was not until 2004 that Kaukonen became aware that Spencer was the nephew of Charlie Chaplin. Spencer's last public appearance was with Jefferson Airplane bandmembers in 2004, at a DVD party for the release of the group's Fly documentary.

Spencer died from stomach cancer in relative obscurity, reportedly living in a shack at the back of a rented property in Petaluma, California. Married three times, he was survived by his three sons Jeffrey, Jesse and Jackson Dryden, five grandchildren, and his mother Alice Chapple Judd, who died on December 25, 2005 at the age of 94.

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Spencer Dryden's Timeline

April 7, 1938
New York, NY, USA
January 11, 2005
Age 66
Petaluma, CA, USA