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Marty Balin – Rock ‘n’ Roll with a Splash of Color

By Ashley Bates
photos SJBuchwald®

It’s not every day that a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee graces downtown St. Augustine, belting out rock hits.
In September, art enthusiasts at the First Friday Art Walk had the chance to see just that when Marty Balin of famed Jefferson Airplane came to town.But when Balin made his appearance at the art walk in September, it was to showcase his art work not his music.

Even though many of us know Balin for his historic rock hits like “Hearts,” “Atlantic Lady” and “Volunteers,” he was a painter long before he began recording hit songs. Actually, Balin got his start painting when he was a child and says painting was his first artistic expression.“I’ve been painting since I was young…selling my artwork in shows. I actually did that before I played music,” said Balin, who has lived in Tampa for the last 20 years.Balin’s full art collection, featuring rock legends many of whom Balin knew personally, can be found at 130 King Fine Art Gallery in downtown St. Augustine.

You wouldn’t be too surprised at what images Balin portrays in his artwork–rock legends from years past including several paintings of the Grateful Dead’s lead singer Jerry Garcia, the queen of rock Janis Joplin, The Door’s Jim Morrison and Elton John, all grace Balin’s canvases. 
Balin said he chooses specific musicians from certain time periods to relive a personal memory. 
“Really it’s a way for me to go back to those memories, like when you see a picture,” said Balin, who has been known to journal while painting to jot down special memories.


When asked what his favorite pieces in his own collection are, Balin explains that the French Le Pétomane pieces are his favorites. 
Le Pétomane was a French entertainer from the Belle Époque era (French for “Beautiful Era”). The famous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge in Paris, also became famous during that time. 
“I just love the idea of the Moulin Rouge, the top hats, the colors,” Balin said. 
The bright, whimsical colors can be seen in his Le Pétomane pieces complete with carousels, elephants and of course the French entertainer Le Pétomane.

The whimsical nature of nature of Balin’s artwork could be attributed to where he was raised as a young boy. Balin was born in Cincinnati but grew up in the San Francisco area, which is where he found his calling to rock music by none other than pop music legend Johnny Mathis. It has been said that Balin was one of the musicians that catapulted San Francisco onto the music scene in the 1960s. Balin formed Jefferson Airplane in the summer of 1965, in San Francisco, as a folk-rock group but the band later came to be known in the psychedelic scene, scoring a gold record with their 1967 second album, “Surrealistic Pillow.” Balin wrote hit songs for the band including “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “Share a Little Joke.”

Later, in the early 1970s, Jefferson Starship was formed by several members of the original band Jefferson Airplane.
 Balin and Jefferson Airplane were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, with the likes of David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Gladys Knight & the Pips, to name a few. “Rock and Roll will never die, good music will always be around,” commented Balin on the evolution of modern rock music. 

Balin continues to record his brand of rock ‘n’ roll in the studio and is currently recording an album at the studio in Tampa. “Currently I’m in the studio. (The album) will be Marty Balin music…I haven’t come up with a name for the album just yet.”

Today some of the musicians he says are on his radar are Katy Perry and Madonna. “I guess Katy Perry is pretty good,” he said. “I was watching Madonna’s new tour on TV the other day and she’s still pretty good.”
Even though Balin has enjoyed supreme success in rock ‘n’ roll, he says his greatest accomplishment is “that I’m still here today and alive.”

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