Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin (above, fourth from left) subscribes to Michelangelo’s view: The projects do themselves, and the art comes through him. Makes sense, as Balin is an accomplished painter as well as musician. He’s also busy. Balin’s “Blue Highway” was released in 2010, and another album is in the works for 2011. Balin had a hard time narrowing down his 10 Albums list. He cited The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Janis Joplin, Doors, Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival as standouts, saying, “I would just put them all on a turntable and play them at the same time; you’ll get an idea of how powerful they all were.”
1. Ray Charles, “The Genius of Ray Charles.” I think this is one of the most beautiful albums ever made, by probably the greatest singer that ever lived. An album that I’ve worn out ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, it was one of the first two albums I ever bought — this one and Jonathan Winters. “The Genius Of Ray Charles” is a soothing, great, wonderful album which I listen to in the car, at home.
2. Tony Bennett/Bill Evans, “The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.” I just love the mastery of Tony Bennett, but the quality of him alone with a keyboard player shows the range, control. This really just pares it down to him and a keyboard. The Jefferson Airplane were at the original RCA recording studios in L.A. at Sunset and Vine. In Studio A was the Rolling Stones, in B was us and in C, Tony Bennett. We all wanted to meet Tony Bennett. I figured a good way to meet him was to write a song for him (“Today”). He didn’t record it, but we got to meet him.
3. The Sweet Inspirations, “The Sweet Inspirations.” The Sweet Inspirations sang backgrounds for everyone, and they went in and did their own album and it’s just fantastic. I think it’s a good training ground for any young singer; it’s a good workout. I used to drive to record stores, in the regional soul and R&B areas and buy 45s. I have a great collection of 45s. I knew The Sweet Inspirations from all the records they played on, so when they released their own disc I checked it out. It became a staple of my musical listening diet. I used to practice to it.
4. The Yardbirds, “Five Live Yardbirds.” I just thought they were one of the better bands; they gave me a lot of inspiration when I was growing up. The songs, the playing, the style that they were doing … it was just a great band. (Marty also noted that if he likes a group he tends to like the majority of its work, and this is true for The Yardbirds).
5. Robert Johnson,” King of the Delta Blues Singers.” It’s something every musician comes across: To hear the man himself kind of hypnotizes and mystifies you as you try to figure out how he did all that with just two hands. The beauty of his haunting voice, haunting songs. When you check out the mythology behind the man, you see why it’s so great. (Learn more about Robert Johnson in this Flashback column.)
6. James Brown, “Live At The Apollo.” One of the great albums of all time, shows you the master at work, live, bringing the house down. Makes you want to dance and go crazy. I remember in the early ’60s how it was so funky, scary, raw. Before Michael Jackson, he was the dancing man. Sweaty shows. I saw him at the Apollo, more than a few times in San Francisco.
7. Otis Redding, “Live in Paris.” God … probably the highest performer, highest energy I ever saw come off the stage, and this captures that energy and that kind of performance at its peak. It’s just masterful to listen to. We were on the same bill at the Fillmore. I took “These Arms Of Mine” to Bill Graham, and he booked Otis.
8. Sam Cooke, “Live At The Copa.” Well, this too, one of the most beautiful voices of all time. Sam Cooke was just a magnificent singer … in concert you could hear the beauty in his voice and the great control he had. When my very first record came out on Challenge Records (“Nobody But You” and “I Specialize in Love) one of my first shows, if not my first show, was with Connie Stevens and Sam Cooke. Sam had on a white cashmere sweater, was real friendly. We all introduced ourselves, it just blew me away.
9. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Are You Experienced?” Well, Jimi Hendrix … monster God of all time. I could say listen to everything he did — any one of his albums, take your pick — there’s nothing like it. It’s like listening to Beethoven, the real power and beauty of his guitar playing set standards that have not been toppled, not yet. He made love to every note. He did the thing, the nasty thing, and grooved the note out of the guitar.