IN MEMORIAM: Marty Balin // Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths
Marty Balin, 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 Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
Balin was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Catherine Eugenia “Jean” (née Talbot) and Joseph Buchwald. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe. His father was Jewish and his mother was Episcopalian. Buchwald attended Washington High School in San Francisco, California.
In 1962, Buchwald changed his name to Marty Balin, and began recording with Challenge Records, releasing the singles “Nobody But You” and “I Specialize in Love”. By 1964, Balin was leading a folk music quartet called The Town Criers.
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 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.
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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.
Photo: Balin performing at a concert in Hallandale, Florida (By Carl Lender, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5913906)
Balin performing at a concert in Florida (Photo by Carl Lender)
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
3: Joseph Kamaru, 79, Kenyan benga musician and political activist, complications from Parkinson’s disease; John Von Ohlen, 77, American jazz drummer.
2: Balabhaskar, 40, Indian violinist, composer and record producer, heart attack; Geoff Emerick, 72, English recording engineer (Abbey Road Studios, The Beatles), multi-Grammy winner, heart attack.
1: Charles Aznavour, 94, French-Armenian singer (“La Bohème”, “She”), lyricist and actor (Shoot the Piano Player), complications from pulmonary edema; Caroline Charrière, 57, Swiss composer, conductor and flautist; Stelvio Cipriani, 81, Italian composer, complications from a stroke; Jerry González, 69, American bandleader and trumpeter, heart attack; Antonis Kontogeorgiou, 73, Greek choir conductor (Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation); Vasyl Kozak, 75, Ukrainian trumpeter; Ronnie Leitch, 64, Sri Lankan singer and actor (Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor, Re Daniel Dawal Migel, Onna Babo), heart attack.
30: Kim Larsen, 72, Danish rock singer, songwriter and guitarist (Gasolin’), prostate cancer; Angela Maria, 89, Brazilian singer.
29: Tulsidas Borkar, 83, Indian harmonium player, chest infection; Franchesca La Profeta, 25, Dominican rapper and social media personality, asthma attack; Otis Rush, 84, American Hall of Fame blues guitarist and singer (“All Your Love”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “Double Trouble”), complications from a stroke; Michael Weiley, 58-59, Australian rock guitarist (Spy vs Spy), cancer; James Wright, 52, American musician and producer.
28: Koos Alberts, 71, Dutch levenslied singer; Joe Masteroff, 98, American playwright (Cabaret, She Loves Me), Tony winner (1967); Zang Tianshuo, 54, Chinese rock musician, liver cancer.
27: Marty Balin, 76, American Hall of Fame rock singer and musician (Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship).
26: Dale Barclay, 32, Scottish musician (Fat White Family), brain cancer (death announced on this date); Tito Madi, 89, Brazilian singer and composer; Sergei Mosin, 59, Russian jazz musician.