Famed Jefferson Airplane guitarist Marty Balin, who co-founded the San Francisco psychedelic rock band in 1965 and played a crucial role in the creation of all their 1960s albums, including Surrealistic Pillow and Volunteers, died Thursday at the age of 76. Balin’s rep confirmed the musician’s death to Rolling Stone, though the cause of death is currently unknown.
Born Martyn Jerel Buchwald, Balin was a struggling folk guitarist on the San Francisco scene when he formed a band with Paul Kantner after meeting the 12-string guitarist at a hootenanny. They met up with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Slip Spence and singer Signe Toly Anderson and cut their 1966 debut LP Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. They developed a strong following around the budding San Francisco rock scene, but became nationwide superstars in 1967 when Anderson left the group and was replaced by Grace Slick.
Balin co-wrote five songs on their breakthrough LP Surrealistic Pillow , including “Comin’ Back to Me” and album opener “She Has Funny Cars,” and his tenor voice became a key component of their signature sound. He played with the group at all of their most famous gigs, including the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and Altamont. At the latter gig, Balin was brutally beaten by the Hells Angels after he dove into the audience to help an audience member in distress. “I woke up with all these boot marks all over my body,” he told Relix in 1993. “I just walked out there. I remember Jorma saying, ‘Hey, you’re a crazy son of a b-tch.’”
In 2016, Balin underwent open-heart surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. He later sued them for medical malpractice, claiming they caused him a myriad of injuries, including a paralyzed vocal cord, bedsores, kidney damage and the loss of his left thumb and half of his tongue.