Written and originally recorded by Paul Pena (1973, released 2000).
Hit version by The Steve Miller Band (US #8/CAN #3/NZ #12 1977).
Paul Pena’s life could be summed up this way: When life gives you a lemon, you make lemonade.
Born with congenital glaucoma, Pena would become completely blind by age 20. By that time, though, the multi-instrumentalist had landed gigs opening for The Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa, and playing sessions with B.B. King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Bonnie Raitt. Pena found some permanency, too, as a member of the T-Bone Walker Blues Band. And, it was while traveling to the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1972, to perform with Walker, that Pena wrote ‘Jet Airliner’.
Upon his return, in 1973, Pena went into the studio with producer Ben Sidran to record the song and others for the planned-release of the album New Train. But, a dispute with Bearsville Records owner Albert Grossman led to an embargo, and the album would not be released until 2000.
Sidran, however, took a copy of the unreleased album to his Bay Area friend, Steve Miller, who would subsequently cover ‘Jet Airliner’ (with Sidran, again, producing) for his own album, Book of Dreams, in 1977 – assuring that Pena would receive what would become a relatively rich source of royalty income. ‘Jet Airliner’ would prove to be the most successful single from Miller’s album.
The Steve Miller Band, “Jet Airliner” (1977):