Marty Balin, a co-founder of Jefferson Airplane and one of its principal vocalists and songwriters, has died at age 76.
Balin was best known for the Airplane ballad “Today” and the later hit single “Miracles,” performed by the offshoot band Jefferson Starship.
Balin died en route to a hospital in Tampa, Florida, near his home. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Former Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen called his friend “one of the greatest voices of my time.”
Other well-known Balin songs performed by Jefferson Airplane included “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” “It’s No Secret” and “Young Girl Sunday Blues.” With guitarist Paul Kantner he wrote the rockers “Volunteers” and “She Has Funny Cars.”
Marty Balin, left, with the classic lineup of the Airplane.Balin stayed with the Airplane until 1971, although his contributions to the group began to decline after its second album, “Surrealistic Pillow.” He wrote most of the first album and much of the second.
“He was the most consummate of artists in a most renaissance way,” guitarist Kaukonen wrote in a tribute on his blog. “I always felt that he perceived that each day was a blank canvas waiting to be filled.”
Balin was an artful and precise singer, but he often worked in the shadow of Grace Slick, a former model with the arresting voice heard on the Airplane’s biggest hits, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” She quickly became one of the most famous and volatile personalities of the 1960s counterculture.
Like many San Francisco underground rockers, Balin began as a folk singer. He started the seminal Bay Area club the Matrix, with the Airplane growing out of that scene and serving as house band.
“He and Paul Kantner came together and like plutonium halves in a reactor started a chain reaction that still affects many of us today,” Kaukonen wrote two days after the singer’s Sept. 27 death. “It was a moment of powerful synchronicity.”
Grace Slick joined the Airplane after its first album and the band soon found worldwide fame with the release of “Surrealistic Pillow.”
The 1967 album’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” found Balin looking with psychedelic prescience at the effects of technology and electronic media. He wrote:
Data control and IBM
Science is mankind’s brother
But all I see is drainin’ me
On my plastic fantastic lover
Balin performed with the Airplane at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969), appearing in films shot at both festivals. His eye-to-eye duet with Slick on “High Flyin’ Bird” was a high point of the “Monterey Pop” movie. Later in 1969, Balin was knocked unconscious after taking on bikers at the Altamont concert. Again, he was featured in the festival’s feature film (“Gimme Shelter”).
Balin, best known for his ballads, left the Airplane as it turned to heavier music at the turn of the decade. He cited other members’ increasing use of cocaine as an aggravating factor in his exit.
He remained friends with his former bandmates, though, and eventually rejoined Kantner and Slick in Jefferson Starship, creating a series of light rock hits such as “Miracles” and “Count on Me.” He and Slick both left that band as it imploded in 1978.
Balin found modest success as a solo act, and worked again with Kantner (and Airplane bassist Jack Casady) in the KBC Band. Kantner and Balin later teamed in a reunited Starship. In 1989, most of the classic lineup of the Jefferson Airplane reunited, with Balin, for an album and tour.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Airplane in 1996.
Balin’s solo output over the years resulted in more than a dozen albums. Other popular songs from his solo years included “Atlanta Lady” and “Hearts.”
The singer recently sued a New York hospital saying its open-heart surgery left him with a paralyzed vocal cord and other damage.
Survivors include his wife, Susan Joy Balin, and three children.
Balin’s death leaves behind three members of the classic Jefferson Airplane lineup: Kaukonen and Casady of Hot Tuna, and Slick, now a painter.