Marty Balin, who was behind the founding of the Jefferson Airplane and played a key role in the band’s early recordings, will be featured on the Oct. 3 edition of The Boris Rock Show. Balin passed away at the age of 76 on Sept. 27.
The program airs 9 a.m.-noon. Click here to listen live.
Boris plans to emphasize the Jefferson Airplane Takes Off and Surrealistic Pillow era of the band. Balin had writing credits on eight of the 11 tracks on Takes Off, the debut album by the Airplane in 1966 where he sang lead on all but four tracks.
Five months later, the band — with vocalist Grace Slick on board taking the place of Signe Anderson and drummer Spencer Dryden taking over for the sacked Skip Spence who would later re-emerge with Moby Grape — released its breakthrough, Surrealistic Pillow, which reached No. 3 on the charts.
The album featured a more balanced contribution of material by band members. While the tracks “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” featuring Slick on lead vocals each went Top 10 in the charts, Balin’s
“She Has Funny Cars,” “3/5 Mile In 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” were stellar examples of rock meeting psychedelia, while “Coming Back To Me,” with Jerry Garcia on guitar, was a hauntingly beautiful song that perfectly captured Balin’s emotional vocal delivery.
As the co-owner and manager of The Matrix, a former pizza parlor that was renovated into a music club in 1965, Balin was key in forming the Jefferson Airplane which he put together as the house band for the room. Enlisting folk guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, singer Anderson and a rhythm section of bassist Bob Harvey and drummer Jerry Peloquin, the Airplane made its debut at the Matrix on August 13, 1965, the opening night of the room.
The lineup would change after a few weeks as Peloquin left, replaced by Spence and Harvey’s spot taken by Jack Casady, an old friend of Kaukonen’s who moved from Washington, D.C. to join the band.
The best-known line-up of the band featured Balin, Casady, Dryden, Kantner, Kaukonen and Slick, essentially in place 1966-70, saw the band release its best work, but never reaching the chart success of Surrealistic Pillow.
After Bathing at Baxter’s in late 1967 – the band’s most psychedelic effort — saw Kantner, Slick and Kaukonen writing the lion’s share of the material. Crown of Creation (1968) was more straight ahead and returned the band to Top 10 chart success with Balin getting credit on four tracks, but again limited as a lead singer. A year later, punctuated only by the live offering, Bless Its Pointed Little Head, the band released Volunteers, an album which had the Airplane taking an anti-war and more politicized approach on some tracks.
Becoming disillusioned with the group dynamic of the Airplane, especially the copious amount of drugs being consumed by its members, Balin left the band in April 1971 as the band was in the midst of sessions for the album Bark on which Balin did not participate.
He would return for a one-off appearance on stage with the band on Sept. 22, 1972 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco which would be part of the live release 30 Seconds Over Winterland in 1973.
In the ensuing years Balin would work on artist management and production before linking up with Kantner to co-write “Caroline” which he would record with the Kanter-Slick Jefferson Starship for the album Dragon Fly in 1974.
A year later, he was part of the band and contributed half of the tracks on the chart topping Red Octopus, including writing “Miracles” which went to No. 3 on the charts — the highest-charting song the band ever released.
Balin remained with Jefferson Starship until 1978 when he and Slick each left the band. In 1981, he released his self-titled debut solo album which boasted the Top. 10 single “Hearts.” The album would go to No. 35 on the charts and be the best showing that Balin had as a solo artist as following releases were largely forgettable. In 1986, he reunited with Kantner and Casady for the short-lived band, KBC, which released one album.
The Jefferson Airplane would reunite in 1989 to record a self-titled album and undertake a supporting tour. The album’s best-charting track, “Summer of Love” was penned by Balin.
The Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and in 2015, the then-only surviving members of the Airplane — Balin, Casady, Kaukonen and Slick — were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the band.