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MARTY BALIN,
1942-2018

Marty Balin, co-founder and lead vocalist of Jefferson Airplane who had later hits with Jefferson Starship and as a solo artist, died Thursday. He was 76.

His death was announced by his wife, Susan Joy Balin, who wrote "Marty and I shared the deepest of love—he often called it Nirvana—and it was. But really, we were all touched by his love. His presence will be within my entire being forever." No location or cause were given.

The Jefferson Airplane family tweeted: “We have lost a true legend. Marty Balin helped start a revolution that still lives on today. He will be greatly missed—our hearts go out to his family, friends and music fans everywhere.”

A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Balin’s smooth and soulful tenor was a key component of the Airplane/Starship sound, often twinned with Grace Slick’s emphatic vocals. As a songwriter, his best-known works include the Airplane’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Volunteers,” and “Miracles” and “With Your Love” with Jefferson Starship.

Born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, he was raised in San Francisco where he was among the artists who birthed the city’s music scene in the mid-1960s, often credited with having the business smarts needed to succeed in the then-burgeoning scene.

A folk guitarist with a band called The Town Criers, he started the Airplane with Paul Kantner after meeting him at a hootenanny. They recruited Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Skip Spence and Signe Toly Anderson and were the first San Francisco act to sign with a major label. RCA released their Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966; a year later Grace Slick replaced Anderson and the band burst out nationally.

Balin appeared at all of the 1960s’ landmark events—the Human Be-In, Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont where he was famously attacked by members of the Hells Angels after he leaped into the crowd and attempted to help beaten audience member.

Balin left the Airplane in 1971, managing acts and singing lead with one, Bodacious DF. Kantner lured Balin back in 1974 to join the Jefferson Starship in 1974 with he and Slick. They promptly had a massive hit with Red Octopus and his signature song, “Miracles,” which reached #3 in 1975. Three years later, tired of touring, Balin left the band for a solo career. His first album, Balin on EMI, yielded the Top 40 hits “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady (Something about Your Love).”

Balin worked with Kantner and Casady in the short-lived KBC Band, participated in the short Airplane reunion tour in 1989 and, beginning in 1993, was a regular member of Jefferson Starship until 2008. Over the last 10 years, he has self-released a half-dozen albums.

Balin’s career was cut short in 2016 after complications following open-heart surgery left him with a paralyzed vocal cord, the loss of half his tongue and the use of his left thumb. He sued Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City for medical malpractice.

Besides singing, Balin was also a visual artist who painted large-scale portraits of musicians and friends such as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia.

Among the tributes on Twitter were these:

The Afghan WigsGreg Dulli: “Farewell, Marty Balin. Many a late night driving my car with his voice coming out of the speakers. Such a great singer.”

Steven Van Zandt: “Jefferson Airplane were amazing. Extremely important. Always at the forefront of American activism. RIP Marty Balin.”

Michael Des Barres: “Marty Balin was an unsung singer & composer of enormous talent. Both with & without Grace Slick he kicked ass. He will stand the test of time here.”

Former Santana band member Michael Shrieve: “RIP Marty Balin. One of my earliest acquaintances of the San Francisco scene, along with Jack Casady and Jorma L Kaukonen. A great singer, a great guy. The voice of the times.”

 

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