Jefferson Airplane Co-Founder Marty Balin Dead at 76
Jefferson Airplane co-founder Marty Balin has died of unknown causes at the age of 76. Spokesman Ryan Romenesko told the Los Angeles Times that Balin was on the way to a hospital in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday when he faltered.
Balin had recently filed a lawsuit after being left “totally disabled” after a stay at a New York City medical facility, where he'd been admitted for an emergency procedure. Balin alleged that the staff at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital botched his recovery from open-heart surgery in 2016, according to the New York Post. Balin was left, the suit said, without half his tongue, his vocal cords, left thumb and mobility in his left hand.
He leaves behind a huge legacy in rock. “Marty was the one who started the San Francisco scene,” Bill Thompson, Balin’s '60s roommate and former manager of both the Airplane and Jefferson Starship, told Variety.
Martyn Jerel Buchwald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 30, 1942, and was raised in the San Francisco area. Equally inspired by the Beatles and other British Invasion acts, he formed Jefferson Airplane with the like-minded Paul Kantner in 1965.
With folk venues declaring their music too loud, Balin opened his own club called the Matrix that summer, providing a home to other adventurous groups such as the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Jefferson Airplane became the house band.
Within two years, they were one of the country's hottest acts. Balin's soulful voice contrasted with co-singer Grace Slick's edgier sound on songs like like "It's No Secret," "Come Up The Years," "Today," and "Volunteers." He co-wrote five tracks on the seminal Surrealistic Pillow, and appeared on stage with the Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Altamont. Over time, however, Kantner and Slick largely took control of the band, and a frustrated Balin left in 1971.
“I thought everybody [was] kind of an asshole,” Balin told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “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.”
Listen to Marty Balin Sing Jefferson Starship's 'Miracles'
Balin returned in 1974, after the group changed their name to Jefferson Starship, and played a more central role in this new era. He led them to a string of Top 10 hits, including the No. 3 smash "Miracles." "Count on Me" went to No. 8, while "With Your Love" and "Runaway" both reached No. 12. Still, bad feelings remained.
"Every time I did something, it was always Grace Slick and the Airplane and Grace Slick and the Starship – even if it was my voice," Balin told Relix magazine in 1993. "I've even done songs of mine on my own and people come up to me and say, 'I'm surprised you do that song. I always thought it was Grace's.' For a while that hurt my feelings, but there's nothing I can do about it."
He left again in 1978, and later scored still another Top 10 solo hit with 1981's "Hearts." Balin reunited with Jefferson Airplane for a tour in 1989, then re-joined Jefferson Starship in 1993 for another 15-year run. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with the Airplane in 1996, before later resuming solo work. This time, Balin returned to his folk roots, doing club performances with an acoustic trio.
"The whole night is me — and if you dig it, cool," he told Relix in 2016. "And I'm having fun. I move wherever I want, from one song I want to another. There aren't any egos and [we are free from] people's problems — waiting for somebody to light a cigarette, have a drink or change guitars and organize their music. Let's get to the music, man. That's what I'm doing — just flying along."
Balin was in New York for a performance in March of that year when he was rushed to the hospital with a cardiac issue. He didn't leave Mount Sinai Beth Israel for three months, as he had open-heart, triple-bypass and valve-replacement surgery while spending an extensive amount of time in the intensive care unit. While there, Balin said a tracheotomy was performed improperly. The lawsuit, first reported last month, also alleged his IV was incorrectly inserted and improperly monitored.
He was unable to attend when Jefferson Airplane were honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2016 at the Grammys, but released a congratulatory prepared comment: "I am grateful for the beautiful musical journey my life continues to take," Balin said. "To all my fellow Jefferson Airplane band members, through its various metamorphoses, I thank you for a dream come true."
His most recent album, The Greatest Love, was released the same year. Balin is survived by his wife Susan, daughters Jennifer Edwards and Delaney Balin, and stepdaughters Rebekah Geier and Moriah Geier. "Marty and I shared the deepest of love. He often called it nirvana, and it was," Susan said in an official statement. "But really, we were all touched by his love. His presence will be within my entire being forever."
Rockers We've Lost in 2018