On September 27, we lost Marty Balin. We look back at his ‘60s work with Jefferson Airplane, hit singles in the ‘70s in with Jefferson Starship, and ‘80s solo hits. Songwriter and friend Jesse Barish shares heartfelt memories with Goldmine. David Laflamme, leader of It's a Beautiful Day, shares a story of one band helping another.
By Warren Kurtz
In early 1966, ahead of their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, the first of three singles were released, “It’s No Secret,” a Marty Balin composition showcasing his compelling vocal talent. As Jefferson Airplane fans grew, along with progressive rock radio over the next several years, the popularity of this song also grew, and became the opening number on the 1970 greatest hits album The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. While Marty Balin sang lead on most of the album’s songs the other lead singers were Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner. Signe Anderson would leave the group after the first album to focus on motherhood. Fifty years later, on January 28, 2016, both Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson passed away of unrelated deaths on the same day.
The group’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, featured the band’s new female singer, Grace Slick, on the group’s biggest hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” both reaching the Top 10 that year. Marty Balin was heard on the flip sides “She Has Funny Cars” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” respectively, along with the album’s first single “My Best Friend.” He brought power to “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” singing, “You know I love you baby, yes I do,” as part of the vocal chorus. “Today” showed his tender side as did the album’s longest track, at 5:18, “Comin’ Back to Me,” as he sang, “I saw you, I saw you, comin’ back to me,” with Grace Slick providing a recorder backdrop.
Marty Balin, top right
Jefferson Airplane continued through the end of the decade, playing thirteen songs at Woodstock, and being key to the San Francisco music scene. David Laflamme, the leader of It’s a Beautiful Day, told Goldmine, “Without Marty and his father Joe, there would have never been It’s a Beautiful Day, with their love and support during some very difficult times. As an example, we were performing in the Matrix in San Francisco on a weekend. We had discovered that the club had been broken into and the thieves stole all the equipment. I called Joe and he told me not to worry, and he asked Marty to bring Jefferson Airplane equipment to the club, so we could perform that evening. That’s an example of what kind of people supported us in the ‘60s.”
In the early ‘70s, Jefferson Airplane disbanded. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna. By the mid ‘70s, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and Marty Balin were in Jefferson Starship. Marty Balin’s song “Caroline” from their album Dragonfly, was well received.
In the summer of 1975, the highly anticipated next album, recorded at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, was released. It was named Red Octopus and gave Jefferson Starship their highest charting single, the Marty Balin composition “Miracles,” which reached No. 3.
Marty Balin, left
Marty Balin’s voice was heard on all four of Jefferson Starship’s ‘70s Top 40 hit singles. After “Miracles” in 1975, one he co-wrote, “With Your Love” from the album Spitfire, reached No. 12 in 1976. In 1978, he sang lead on outside compositions “Count on Me” and “Runaway” from the album Earth.
“Count on Me” became Jefferson Starship’s second highest charting single, reaching No. 8. This love song was written by Jesse Barish, who told Goldmine, “I lost a great friend, Marty Balin. Words can't express the sadness that I feel. We have been friends for almost 45 years. I was a fan before I became a friend. Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was the soundtrack to the summer of ‘67. I had never heard a voice quite like his before or since. In the early ‘70s I found myself living in Mill Valley where a mutual friend took me over to Marty's little house on Blithedale. We hit it off immediately and we were, as they say in Brazil, simpatico. He always was reading and his appetite for information was astounding. I have never met a more interesting person than Marty. He walked me into RCA in the mid ‘70s and got me a deal where he produced two albums for me. That was an amazing chapter. Jefferson Starship recorded my song ‘Count on Me’ and made it a hit. Believe me, I was amazed and humbled by that. Marty also recorded several of my songs for his solo albums with EMI America and ‘Hearts’ became my second hit song with Marty singing. I feel a profound loss. Marty was one of the most alive and vital people I have ever known. There will never be another like him. The world is a lonelier place without him.”
Jesse Barish and Marty Balin, 1977 at Wally Heider Studio, courtesy of Jesse Barish
In the ‘80s, Marty Balin’s solo career took off with “Hearts” reaching No. 8 in 1981, followed by another Jesse Barish composition, “Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love),” reaching No. 27, both from the album Balin.
In 1983, Marty Balin had another pair of charting singles from his next album Lucky. First was “What Love Is,” balancing power and beauty, and performed on the television show “Solid Gold.” The single reached No. 63 early in the year. His final charting single was Jesse Barish’s composition “Do It for Love,” delivering another beautiful performance, which received brief radio airplay in May through June of 1983, and reached No. 17 on the adult contemporary charts. While the A side was gentle and on par with “Count on Me,” its flip side, “Heart of Stone,” was a catchy pop rocker with prominent performances by Waddy Watchel on guitar and Rick Marrota on drums.
Flip side: Heart of Stone
A side: Do It For Love
Top 100 debut: May 7, 1983
Peak position: 102
EMI America 8160
In 1986, 3/5 of the classic lineup of Jefferson Airplane reunited for KBC Band, named for the last name initials of Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Casady. They recorded one self-titled album on Arista, had a catchy charting single, “It’s Not You, It’s Not Me,” and embarked on a tour which included a performance at the historic Daytona Beach Bandshell, in Florida, the state where Marty Balin would spend his final years.
At the end of the ‘80s, all five members of Jefferson Airplane’s classic lineup reunited for a self-titled album on Epic and a tour which featured a pair of singles, led by Marty Balin, “Summer of Love” and “True Love.” On his composition “Solidarity,” he sang, “Black or white or brown or yellow, leave your old disputes behind. Once you start talking to your fellow men, you’ll soon be of one mind.”
Marty Balin in the middle
In the ‘90s, while Mickey Thomas continued to lead Starship with no “Jefferson” members remaining in that band, Jefferson Starship reformed, featuring KBC Band members Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Cassidy. Their 1999 album Windows of Heaven included three Marty Balin and two Jesse Barish compositions.
On Jefferson Starship’s 2001 double live CD, Across the Sea of Suns, Marty Balin sang songs from the ‘60s through the ‘80s including the flip side “She Has Funny Cars,” “Today,” “My Best Friend,” “Caroline,” “Miracles” Red Octopus anthem “There Will Be Love,” and “Hearts.”
In recent years, Marty Balin continued to release albums, through 2016 with The Greatest Love.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.