by Steve Heilig
A short half-century ago in San Francisco, a handsome young San Francisco State University art student with an angelic but powerful tenor voice gathered a few musician friends to form a band that, before long, was named the Jefferson Airplane. And the rest, as they say, is musical history.
To this day, Marty Balin has never stopped singing and writing songs—especially the romantic kind. In fact his very first recorded song was titled “I Specialize in Love”—released in 1962.
“I love a good love song, you know?” he reflects today. “I guess I’m just one of the those wimpy romantic singers.”
In 1965, Balin founded San Francisco’s first real rock club, The Matrix, when the folk clubs wouldn’t let him plug his guitar in. “It was a thrill, we spread the word about this club and this band the Jefferson Airplane, and since nobody knew what that meant, on the first night we played, all the record labels were there looking to sign us as the new thing. Rock music then was part of this tsunami of change.”
After “the Airplane” flew high through the latter half of the 1960s and then noisily imploded, Balin carried on with the Jefferson Starship, garnering even more mainstream success through the 1970s. He moved to Mill Valley in 1968, and still has a house there, “although I haven’t been there that much—I came down to Florida permanently in 2000 because I have a daughter here who is disabled.”
Many of his songs—“It’s No Secret,” “Coming Back to Me,” “Miracles,” “Count on Me”—remain classics decades later. Others—“Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “Volunteers,” “She Has Funny Cars,” “3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds”—are more of cult favorites, echoes of a fading time.
Balin performs many of these songs and more in new, mostly-acoustic arrangements on his recent, two-CD collection Good Memories, released to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Airplane. The first impression that the collection gives is that his voice remains strong and unchanged. He also has another new record of all new songs titled The Greatest Love. He will sing both old and new tunes at the Throckmorton Theatre on Saturday, November 21.
In some ways, Balin remains a voice of ’60s idealism. “There was good and bad then too, of course,” he reflects. “But I still love the positive, uplifting songs, and I believe in songs with those qualities. I believe that music can help change the world for the better.”
Marty Balin; Saturday, November 21; 8pm; 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley; 415/383-9600; throckmortontheatre.org.