Marty Balin, co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, dead at 76
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and founding member of San Fransisco-based psychedelic rock legends Jefferson Airplane also founded the offshoot group Jefferson Starship.
Marty Balin, co-founder of San Fransisco-based psychedelic rock legends Jefferson Airplane, and a member of its later incarnation the Jefferson Starship, died Thursday at the age of 76, a representative confirmed to Rolling Stone. The cause of death is yet to be confirmed.
Balin played a crucial role in the creation of the Airplanes' 1960s albums, including the widely acclaimed 'Surrealistic Pillow' and 'Volunteers,' and his high and soulful tenor voice defined many of the band's finest songs.
Born Martyn Jerel Buchwald, Balin was a struggling folk guitarist on the San Francisco scene when he formed a band with Paul Kantner after meeting the guitarist at a hootenanny. Along with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Slip Spence, and singer Signe Toly Anderson, they formed Jefferson Airplane and launched their 1966 debut LP 'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.'
The band gained a cult following in the Frisco musical scene, but nationwide stardom arrived a year later when Anderson was replaced by the fantastic Grace Slick.
Balin co-wrote five songs on their breakthrough album 'Surrealistic Pillow,' including 'Comin’ Back to Me' and album opener 'She Has Funny Cars.' He played with the Airplanes at all of their most famous gigs, including the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the infamous Altamont festival.
During the Altamont gig, Balin was brutally beaten by the Hells Angels after he dove into the audience to help an audience member in distress. “I woke up with all these boot marks all over my body,” he said in a 1993 interview with Relix. “I just walked out there. I remember Jorma saying, ‘Hey, you’re a crazy son of a bitch.'”
A little over a year later, Balin quit the group, blaming the Airplanes substance abuse - especially the excessive cocaine use - for his exit. “I thought everybody [was] kind of an asshole,” he said in an interview earlier this year, reminiscing the old days. “It was a period of cocaine then…everybody took cocaine. And people I would work with, they would yell at you, and it got intense. The Airplane was on that kind of trip. You know, I personally just drank alcohol. But some of the chemicals made people crazy and very selfish, and it just wasn’t any fun to be around for me. So I bailed.”
Balin spent a few years managing rock bands in San Francisco, but rejoined the group in 1974, although this time, they had rebranded themselves as Jefferson Starship, with Casady and Kaukonen having already left the band. Starship outperformed Airplane, at least in terms of scoring more hits - the likes of which included 'Miracles' from the 1975 album 'Red Octopus,' which Balin wrote himself.
Balin defected again in 1978, this time due to Grace Slick’s alcohol issues, which caused many off-kilter performances, and he began to pursue a solo career. In 1989, he participated in the short-lived Jefferson Airplane reunion tour and returned four years later to Jefferson Starship, finally calling it quits in 2008.
An avid painter, Balin painted many of the most influential musicians of the last half of the 20th century, including his good friends Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jerry Garcia, to name a few. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Jefferson Airplane in 1996 and was presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
He is survived by wife Susan, daughters Jennifer Edwards and Delaney Balin, and stepdaughters Rebekah Geier and Moriah Geier.