Marty Balin’s influence on rock & roll both in front of the mike and behind the scenes was enormous. He soared to fame during the summer of love as one of the main singer-songwriters for Jefferson Airplane. He passed away over the weekend in Tampa, FL, where had had made his home. The cause of death is, at this time, unknown
Born Martyn Buchwald in Cincinnati, Balin got interested in music at an early age. He recorded two singles in 1962 for the small Challenge Records label. It was that label that changed his name to Marty Balin.
Relocating to San Francisco, Balin hooked up with musicians Paul Kantner, Skip Spence, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Signe Anderson in 1965. That same year, he and some partners also opened the hugely influential Matrix nightclub that was a launch pad for many Bay Area groups including the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Steppenwolf.
Jefferson Airplane became the first of those San Francisco groups to land a contract with a major label, recording their first album for RCA in 1966. Ms. Anderson, one of the Airplane’s lead singers became pregnant and left the band. She was replaced by Grace Slick. Drummer Spence also left and was replaced by Spencer Dryden.
It was the Airplane’s second album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” that catapulted them to superstardom. While Balin was sharing most of the lead vocal duties with Slick, it was Slick’s songs that became the group’s first hits. From then on, the media tended to focus their attention on Slick and who could blame them? In addition to her powerhouse vocals, she was also an extremely good-looking young woman. Tensions within the band escalated until Balin left in 1971.
The band then renamed themselves Jefferson Starship and continued along. By 1975, Balin had rejoined his old group; and this time, it was his songs that led to their biggest chart successes – “Miracles” “Count on Me,” “Runaway” and “With Your Love.”
Balin left the group again in 1978 avoiding the band’s slide into corporate rock as simply Starship in the 80s.
Balin recorded some solo albums and appeared with his former bandmates in various aggregations, including a full-fledged Jefferson Airplane reunion tour in 1989 and with a reincarnation of Jefferson Starship in the 90’s.
He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and was still writing and singing right into this year.
Back in the 70’s, David Gates was the key member of a group named Bread. Between 1970 and 1976, Bread placed 11 records on Billboard’s Hot 100 (10 of them landing in the Top 20), all of them written and sung by Gates. He scored his last success in 1977 by singing the title song to the film The Goodbye Girl. Then, he just seemed to vanish.
Well, like a lot of bands, declining success on the single charts and internal tensions (particularly between Gates and band mate Jimmy Griffin, who also wrote and sang with Bread, just never on their singles) caused the band to break-up in 1976.
Gates tried a solo career, but outside of “Goodbye Girl,” never found much success. Instead, he took the money he had made and bought a cattle ranch (no kidding) in Northern California in the early 1980s.
Since then, he has recorded sporadically and even patched up his differences with Griffin for a Bread reunion tour in 1996-97, but for the most part, has been content to remain a cattle rancher. He has been happily married to his high school sweetheart, Jo, since 1958.
BTW, Gates was heavily involved in the music scene before forming Bread. He wrote “Popsicles & Icicles” for the Murmaids in 1964 and was the arranger on Glen Yarbrough’s 1965 hit “Baby, the Rain Must Fall.” He worked in the studio with such music heavies as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Merle Haggard, Duane Eddy and Brian Wilson.
How about that, a rock star who lived happily ever after!