Marty Balin, the San Francisco-based singer and guitarist who co-founded the legendary rock bands Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, died on Thursday at the age of 76, his representative confirmed. A cause of death has yet to be announced as of this writing.
As recalled by Pitchfork, Balin was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati in 1942 and began his musical career as a solo artist in 1962 after changing his surname. After his early recordings failed to make an impact, Balin bought an iconic San Francisco nightclub, The Matrix, in 1965 and recruited the musicians who would make up the first incarnation of Jefferson Airplane, including singer Signe Toly Anderson, guitarists Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, and drummer Skip Spence.
While the group’s 1966 debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, established them in their home base of San Francisco, it was only when Anderson was replaced by Grace Slick that the Airplane became a household name for listeners around the world. With Slick and Balin sharing lead vocals, the 1967 release Surrealistic Pillow became Jefferson Airplane’s ticket to stardom, as the songs “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” became U.S. top 20 hits on the Billboard charts and future staples of classic rock radio.
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) September 28, 2018
Earlier this year, Marty Balin looked back on his 1971 departure from Jefferson Airplane, which he said was driven by the band’s rampant drug use around that time.
“I thought everybody [was] kind of an a**hole,” Balin recalled, as quoted by Rolling Stone.
“It was a period of cocaine then…everybody took cocaine. And people I would work with, they would yell at you and it got intense. The Airplane was on that kind of trip. You know, I personally just drank alcohol. But some of the chemicals made people crazy and very selfish, and it just wasn’t any fun to be around for me. So I bailed.”
Jefferson Airplane were amazing. Extremely important. Always at the forefront of American activism. RIP Marty Balin. https://t.co/5vMKNq5BMm
— Stevie Van Zandt (@StevieVanZandt) September 28, 2018
After focusing on band management for the next few years, Marty Balin returned to the band in 1975, which had changed its name to Jefferson Starship and lost original members Casady and Kaukonen. Pitchfork and Rolling Stone noted that the offshoot band enjoyed even more chart success than the original Airplane, with Balin singing lead vocals on the No. 3 Billboard hit “Miracles” and three other Top 20 singles. He then left the group in 1978 due to a series of conflicts with his bandmates and fatigue from touring, and focused on a solo career that was highlighted by two top 40 hits, including “Hearts,” which peaked at No. 8 in 1981.
Aside from releasing 11 albums as a solo performer, Balin also took part in Jefferson Airplane’s short-lived 1989 reunion, then sang for the reformed Jefferson Starship from 1993 until his departure in 2008.
While news reports have yet to provide information on Marty Balin’s cause of death, the musician experienced his share of health problems in recent years. In 2016, he underwent open-heart surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, but later sued the hospital for medical malpractice after the procedure allegedly resulted in various complications, including vocal cord paralysis, the loss of his left thumb and one-half of his tongue, and kidney damage.