Marty Balin ( born Martyn Jerel Buchwald; January 30, 1942 – September 27, 2018) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician best known as the founder and one of the lead singers and songwriters of Jefferson Airplaneand Jefferson Starship.
Balin was the primary founder of Jefferson Airplane, which he “launched” from a restaurant-turned-club he created and named the Matrix, and was also one of its lead vocalists and songwriters from 1965 to 1971. In the group’s famous 1966–1971 iteration, Balin served as co-lead vocalist alongside Grace Slick and rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner.
While his output diminished after Surrealistic Pillow (1967) as Slick, Kantner, and lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen matured as songwriters (a process compounded by Balin’s eschewal of the group’s burgeoning “ego trips”), his most enduring songwriting contributions—which were often imbued with a romantic, pop-oriented lilt that was atypical of the band’s characteristic forays into psychedelic rock—include “Comin’ Back to Me” (a folk rock ballad later covered by Ritchie Havens and Rickie Lee Jones), “Today” (a collaboration with Kantner initially written on spec for Tony Bennett that was prominently covered by Tom Scott), and again with Kantner, the topical 1969 top-100 hit “Volunteers.” Although uncharacteristic of his oeuvre, the uptempo “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” (both written for Surrealistic Pillow) remained integral components of the Airplane’s live set throughout the late 1960s.
Balin played with the Jefferson Airplane at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and at the Woodstock
Festival in 1969.
In December 1969, Balin was knocked unconscious by members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club while performing during the infamous Altamont Free Concert, as seen in the 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter. In April 1971, he formally departed Jefferson Airplane after breaking off all communication with his bandmates following the completion of their autumn 1970 American tour. He elaborated upon this decision in a 1993 interview with Jeff Tamarkin of Relix:
I don’t know, just Janis’s death. That struck me. It was dark times. Everybody was doing so much drugs and I couldn’t even talk to the band. I was into yoga at the time. I’d given up drinking and I was into totally different area, health foods and getting back to the streets, working with the American Indians. It was getting strange for me. Cocaine was a big deal in those days and I wasn’t a cokie and I couldn’t talk with everybody who had an answer for every goddamn thing, rationalizing everything that happened. I thought it made the music really tight and constrictive and ruined it. So after Janis died, I thought, I’m not gonna go onstage and play that kind of music; I don’t like cocaine.
Balin remained active in the San Francisco Bay Area rock scene, managing and producing an album for the Berkeley-based sextet Grootna before briefly joining funk-inflected hard rock ensemble Bodacious DF as lead vocalist on their eponymous 1973 debut album. The following year, Kantner asked Balin to write a song for his new Airplane offshoot group, Jefferson Starship. Together, they wrote the early power ballad “Caroline”, which appeared on the album Dragon Fly with Balin as guest lead vocalist.
Rejoining the team he had helped to establish, Balin became a permanent member of Jefferson Starship in 1975; over the next three years, he contributed to and sang lead on four top-20 hits, including “Miracles” (No. 3, a Balin original), “With Your Love” (No. 12, a collaboration between Balin, former Jefferson Airplane drummer Joey Covington, and former Grootna/Bodacious DF lead guitarist Vic Smith), a cover of Jesse Barish’s “Count on Me” (No. 8), and N.Q. Dewey’s “Runaway” (No. 12). Ultimately, Balin’s relationship with the band was beleaguered by interpersonal problems, including Slick’s longstanding alcoholism and his own reluctance toward live performances. He abruptly left the group in October 1978 shortly after Slick’s departure from the band.
Solo work, and reunion projects
In 1979, Balin produced a rock opera entitled Rock Justice, about a rock star who was put in jail for failing to produce a hit for his record company, based on his experiences with the lawsuits fought for years with former Jefferson Airplane manager Matthew Katz. The cast recording was produced by Balin, but it did not feature him in performance.
Balin continued with EMI as a solo artist, and in 1981, he released his first solo album, Balin, featuring two Jesse Barish songs that became top-40 hits, “Hearts” (number eight) and “Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love)” (number 27). This was followed in 1983 by a second solo album, Lucky, along with a Japanese-only EP produced by EMI called There’s No Shoulder. Balin’s contract with EMI ended shortly after.
In 1985, he teamed with Paul Kantner and Jack Casady to form the KBC Band. After the breakup of the KBC band, a 1989 reunion album and tour with Jefferson Airplane followed.
Balin continued recording solo albums in the years following the reunion, and reunited with Kantner in the latest incarnation of Jefferson Starship.Balin had intended to record lead vocals for two tracks for Jefferson Starship’s album, Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty. However, his art touring schedule conflicted with studio sessions, and instead, the track “Maybe for You”, from the German release of Windows of Heaven, was included.On July 2, 2007, the music-publishing firm Bicycle Music, Inc. announced that it had acquired an interest in songs written or performed by Balin, including hits from his days with Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
Balin, along with other members of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship bands, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. As a member of the Jefferson Airplane, he was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
Balin enjoyed painting all his life. He painted many of the most influential musicians of the last half of the 20th century. Marty Balin’s Atelier is located at 130 King Fine Art in Saint Augustine, Florida, Balin’s permanent signature collection gallery.
Balin resided in Florida and San Francisco with his wife, Susan Joy Balin, formerly Susan Joy Finkelstein. Together, they had Balin’s daughters Jennifer Edwards and Delaney Balin, and Susan’s daughters Rebekah Geier and Moriah Geier.
Jennifer was born later in the year of his 1963 marriage to Victoria Martin. Balin married Karen Deal, Delaney’s mother, in 1989. Karen died in 2010.
While on tour in March 2016, Balin was taken to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City after complaining of chest pains. After undergoing open-heart surgery, he was transferred to an intensive-care unit to spend time recovering. In a subsequent lawsuit, Balin alleged that neglect and inadequate care facilities on the hospital’s behalf had resulted in a paralyzed vocal cord, loss of his left thumb and half of his tongue, bedsores, and kidney damage.
Balin died on September 27, 2018 at the age of 76.
See also: Jefferson Airplane discography and Jefferson Starship discography
There’s No Shoulder (1983) (EP, Japan only)
Better Generation (1991)
Freedom Flight (1997)
Marty Balin Greatest Hits (1999) (new recordings)
Marty Balin (2003)
Nashville Sessions (2008)
Time For Every Season (2009)
Blue Highway (2010)
The Witcher (2011)
Good Memories (2015)
The Greatest Love (2016)
with Bodacious DF
Bodacious DF (1973)
with KBC Band
KBC Band (1986)
Wish I Were (1995) (Europe only)
Mercy of the Moon: The Best of Marty Balin (2009)
Nothin’ 2 Lose: The Lost Studio Recordings (2009)
415 Music: Rare Studio & Live Recordings 1980-82 (2011)
Year Title Peak chart
positions Record Label B-side Album
US AC Rock
1962 “Nobody but You” — — — Challenge Records “You Made Me Fall”
“You Are the One” — — — “I Specialize in Love”
1981 “Hearts” 8 9 20 EMI America Records “Freeway” Balin
“Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love)” 27 11 — “Lydia!”
1983 “What Love Is” 63 — — “Heart of Stone” Lucky
“Do It for Love” 102 17 — “Will You Forever”
Year Album/single Artist Comment
1972 Grootna Grootna producer
1977 Goodbye Blues Country Joe McDonald vocals on “Blood on the Ice”
1978 Jesse Barish Jesse Barish producer, vocals
1980 Mercury Shoes
Rock Justice Various artists producer, co-writer
1993 Ships in the Forest Kerry Kearney vocals on “Love Me Slow”
1994 Then And Now, Vol. 1 Various artists vocals on “It’s No Secret” & “Summer of Love”
Then And Now, Vol. 2 vocals & guitar on “Always Tomorrow” & “Summer of Love”
2010 “Summer Rain” Brian Chris Band cameo in music video
2011 “In the Sun” The Producers Heart and Soul vocals