Gary James' Interview With Marty Balin of
Jefferson Airplane






Whether on his own, or in a group, Marty Balin's star is always shining bright. Marty Balin, for those who don't recognize his name, is the founding member of Jefferson Airplane which later became Jefferson Starship, then just Starship, and finally the KBC Band, with three of the band members joining that group. The Airplane and Starship, with Balin, racked up 9 platinum albums.

As a solo artist, Marty Balin enjoyed considerable success with his debut solo album, "Hearts" in 1981. That album produced two hit singles, "Hearts" and "Atlanta Lady."

For a guy who's been around since the summer of Love (1967), Marty Balin shows no signs of slowing down. His latest release is titled "Better Generation" (GWE Records) which he proudly dedicates to the memory of his close personal friend, the late Bill Graham.

Q - Marty, about Bill Graham, you say, "It's really the end of an era for musicians, the passing of someone great." Tell everybody why Bill Graham was such a great promoter, manager, and man.

A - Well, without Bill Graham you wouldn't have had the 60's as they were, I don't think. I think he was the biggest star of that era. He brought rock'n'roll from what I remember, from a little nothing sound system. When I started playing with Graham, I used to think 'God, if it's like this for me, what was it like for Elvis, and Little Richard and all those guys?' I used to think, 'boy, they really must've had it tough, sound-wise.' I've seen it change until now it's a monstrous business, and the sound systems are phenomenal. Equipment has become utterly amazing. You know what you can do. I just think that all that had a lot to do with the force of someone like a Bill Graham, spear-heading a lot of things that a lot of bands were doing. Santana, ourselves, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, all those bands in those days were given a big shot by Graham. When we wanted something or were after something, or to play free for people in a park somewhere, or to face-off with city officials at times, we'd send Graham after them. He was like a big shark. (Laughs). If he was on your side, it was great. If you were on the opposite side, boy he'd go for it. He was great. He got on my case a couple of times, and the wrath of him was hard to bear under. Everytime you'd go out and play a bad set or have some mistakes, or goof off, as soon as you walked back there for the break, he'd be on your case, telling you what you did wrong. I saw him do that to Hendrix, and you name the people.

Q - Marty, your voice sounds so good. What's your secret?

A - Well, the voice just gets better as you get older supposedly if you don't ruin it.

Q - What do you do to maintain your voice?

A - I just sing a lot. I guess I'm just a natural.

Q - Will you tour behind "Better Generation?"

A - I'll be touring again, but it won't be the same people as on that CD. That was iust a little tour I did, and someone saw us in Boston, and said, 'would you like to go in the studio and put down some songs?' So I said O.K., sure, a little commemorative of that. It was an easy contract and they'd be putting it out right away, so we went in. But, the studio wasn't that functional so we really couldn't do the electrical set we were doing. So, we just had to make do with half folky, half finished, unfinished tracks. But, they only gave us five days and the studio broke down. So, we just mixed it and left. That's why it's kind of bare at times, but I think it conveys everyone pretty good. And for the fans they like it.

Q - Do you have another record deal in the works?

A - I'm talking to people right now, in fact. It's just like any other business, the business of music is a little confused. They don't know if they want me or not, I guess. So, in the meantime, I'm writing and playing, and keeping busy.

Q - I recall seeing an ad you placed in Rolling Stone awhile back, in which you were advertising for a record deal. What was that all about?

A - I didn't do that. My father did that. He was watching a movie where Bette Davis put an ad in the paper looking for work. (Laughs) I got a lot of flack for it. A lot of people called me on that and asked me what it was. I didn't even know about it, so, I said, 'oh, it must've been my father.' He's always trying to help me in some way. I didn't mind. What people have said and written about me in the past is half untrue anyway. The myth is different from the reality, half the time.

Q - Marty, what keeps you going? What holds your interest? You've certainly toured, and recorded before.

A - I've never really thought that I got the attention, I guess. My ego is striving for it, so I keep pursuing it. Every time I kind of retire, people come back and say, why don't you sing? Will you come play here? And, I'm always writing music and songs, so I continue to go and give my music to people. I don't go pursuing it much, but I'm always eager to give it a try if somebody wants me to put something down (on a record). I don't think I've satisfied my ego yet, as far as music goes. I haven't become the mega star I'd like to be, I guess.


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


Jefferson Starship
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection


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