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July 15, 2014 / thackersam

July 16 – Marty Balin

Balin

When I started the more in depth research for the recent Mrs. Slick article, beyond what I had looked into for the posts on the two Jefferson Airplane albums in the A to Z exercise to album project, I was surprised to learn that Marty Balin was not just a founding member of the group, he was the founder. Paul Kantner always seemed to be the stronger personality, but it wasn’t him. It was particularly confusing to me as I have this distinct memory from the 1970 movie Gimme Shelter about the Altamont free concert, which was probably better known for the violent atmosphere than for the line-up that included The Jefferson Airplane and of course the Rolling Stones. Someone had the brilliant idea to hire the Hell’s Angels as security. That did not work out well. While the Airplane were playing, fans were getting beaten up and Marty Balin jumped off the stage into the crowd and was slugged by one of the security guards. This is the part that adds to my confusion of who the band’s founder was. Slick, on stage and pissed and/or shaken, says into the mike that they just beat up “my singer.” I’ll say no more, mostly because I don’t wish to discuss that fiasco that caused the death of a fan, any further.

In any case, Balin had the idea, from what I have read, to form a six piece band, five guys, one “girl,” that plays folk music with electric instruments. Looking for band members, Balin first approached Kantner, who came on board, then the rest was assembled. Grace Slick was their second “girl” singer, replacing the original who left the group to start a family. Slick stole the spotlight, but Balin was the leader and wrote most of the songs. I had read that Balin actually didn’t like Slick’s stage antics, nor her voice, and that Jorma Kaukonen didn’t like something or other that Balin was doing. Yes there was tension in the group, yet their voices and styles complemented each other. They were a bunch of wonderful musicians who made some great music there for a while. They started breaking up and Balin left the band and cut an album called Bodacious DF (who remembers the Snuffy Smiff theme song? I’ll start. Ar, ar, ar…) with another group, rejoined Kantner in the Jefferson Starship for a bit, as did Slick, had some hits and left again. Unlike Slick, Balin continues to perform, and Kantner is still with a revamped Airplane.

I recently joined the Facebook group WNEW-FM Fan Club, which is pretty enjoyable. Someone shared a Gibson Guitar article on the Top 50 Guitar Solos of All Time. Missing from it was Jorma’s Embryonic Journey.” Also missing was Alvin Lee’s “Going Home” solo that was a highlight of the Woodstock movie. And now that I hear it again, Jorma on “We Should Be Together” from Surrealistic Pillow is really swell. But these kind of lists are just annoying. Who says, anyway?

That said, thinking back to all the albums and songs, how many times have I written that a particular song was the most beautiful song I had ever heard? Here is the list as I remember: Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” The Association’s “Cherish,” The Dave Clark Five’s “Because,” the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” and Marty Balin’s “Today” from Surrealistic Pillow. “Comin’ Back to Me” is nothing to sneeze at either, whatever that means. (I don’t have any Chicago albums, but honorable mention goes to “Color My World.”)

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  1. Richard Salit / Jul 16 2014 12:12 am

    I met Marty Balin a few years ago. My brother in law was putting on a show of his artwork with a private show to follow. Knowing that I was a fan he asked if I would go with him to pick Marty up at the airport. Marty told us some stories about Altamont and Woodstock (I’m sure it was not his first recounting of those stories) and it turned out that the airline had lost his guitar. So, I volunteered to run home and get one of mine. I even got to go up on stage and help him sound check.

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