Marty Balin: Singer Following His Joy

Michelle Stimpson & Marty Balin

Michelle & Marty backstage - Milwaukee, WI

Beginning in the mid 1960’s, Marty Balin was the lead singer and founder of Jefferson Airplane—a pioneer of the psychedelic rock movement from the San Francisco music scene. I met Marty a few years ago backstage at an outdoor summer concert when he was performing with the spin-off group, Jefferson Starship.

Since then, we’ve spent time together on a few different occasions and I came to realize that this guy loves what he does. And I’ve been drawn to his voice since I was a kid (yes, some of my favorites are from my preschool days!). When I posted on Facebook that I was doing an interview with Marty, one of my FB friends commented: “Marty’s got one of the best voices in rock and roll!” Agreed.

Need a quick refresher? First check out this post to read the cool story of when Marty and I first met, and you can also catch a glimpse there of one of my favorite songs of all-time, “Miracles” (which hit # 3 on the Billboard charts in 1975).

Doing this interview with Marty was a joy…and a breeze. He’s laser-focused, living a life of intention and simplicity, and following the things in life that bring him joy—to a “t.” He’s living a lifestyle that is the essence of following your joy. During our interview, I realized that he couldn’t be a more perfect candidate for the blog’s Joy-Follower series.

Without further ado, I’m very proud to introduce the legendary Marty Balin!


Michelle: Tell me about how joy shows up in your life.

Marty: Joy. Well, isn’t that the whole purpose of life, anyway? People are so inundated with technology these days and walking along like zombies, lost in the world of technology. You can read all the self-help books you want, find a guru, read the Bible—they’re all going to tell you the same thing: Find your inner self, your peace, your joy. Who knows, maybe they’ll come up with a chip of “joy” and implant it in people!

Michelle: That might not be so far-fetched!

Marty: But you have to find things for yourself. You can hear something, you can be taught, you can read about joy…but unless you actually absorb it and feel it yourself, it doesn’t really matter. Everybody can be touched by something that’s real to them, something that’s universal—whether it’s music, books, movies—no matter how many cell phones you’ve got!

Michelle: When did you first know that music brought you so much joy?

Marty: I’ve always loved music and it’s always been a part of my life. Even as a boy, I would sing on street corners and in the church choir. We lived in a poor neighborhood, and on Christmas Eve I would go into the rich neighborhoods and sing Christmas carols on the streets. People would invite me into their homes and give me something to eat or give me a dollar or five dollars.

Still to this day, I love to just sing. It’s healthy for you. Everybody should sing! Now you’ll find me in the grocery store whistling or humming, and people ask, “Why are you such a happy person?” There’s always some kind of tune going through my head. I do it unconsciously, and my mom said I whistled before I even talked! It’s funny, sometimes I will hear my song come over the sound system in the grocery store and the check-out person will make small talk and say, “So, what do you do?” and I’ll say, “Oh nothing”; I don’t want to tell them: “That’s me up there!”

My parents were very encouraging. If I wanted to do something, they helped me do it. If I wanted to paint, my father brought me paints and paper, if I wanted to try out for a dancing thing, they’d get me to the audition. My father was really into music, so I had the influences of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald. There was always music going on.

Michelle: What is it, specifically, about music that brings you joy?

Marty: The “connection” that happens. Music is the soul of people. I can’t imagine a world without sound or music. We all have sound within us, where we can be awakened or touched. Music is a universal vibration that goes through the world and something we can all tap into.

And of course I love hearing the applause! It’s a wonderful thing to see people enjoying your song. People tell me this song meant so much to them, or they gave birth to that song, or their father died to this song.

Michelle: And I’ve told you how much “Miracles” means to me.

Marty: Yeah. And I love to watch people dancing with me or singing along or swaying to the music; you can see them enjoying hearing the song live. It’s just a thrill to bring all these people together on one song.

I don’t think of me doing it, I think of it flowing through me. When I write songs, I don’t really ‘write’ them; I just reach up there in the ether and find out what it’s saying to me. I try to get out of my own way and don’t try to cram words into something. I take down translation. And if I get it right, it works.

Marty Balin

Outdoor summer festival - Madison, WI; 2007

Michelle: What else brings you joy?

Marty: I love to paint. Sometimes something’s not a song, sometimes it’s a picture. It gets me away from strumming my guitar all the time. I’ll be playing the guitar and then walk by my canvas and say, “That should be red!” and then bam—I’ll work on that for a while. Talk about “following” your joy!

I love to read and watch old-time movies. I’ve studied the great actors, writers, and directors. I love the theater and how when you see it live, the chills go through your body.

I still enjoy the old-fashioned stuff. I like to touch and feel a book. There’s something intrinsic in the touch, like having a guitar and the feel of the neck.

I’m not interested in technology. I don’t have the time or the inclination to bother with it. I’m staying away from a lot of it. I’m on a landline with you now!

Michelle: Me, too.

Marty: I like things that I can touch and feel. I like to write with a paper and pen. It’s there, I can see it, I can touch it. Someone else can transcribe it and send it on to a publisher. The joy is in the real intrinsic thing of how you move the pen, the way you write. I’m not in that much of a hurry!

I think I’m going to become Amish. Give me a buckboard—you know, those four-wheeled wagons—and a horse. I’m going to go backwards. I’ll bring my guitar. I’ll be touring the U.S. in a covered wagon. “It’s Marty on tour with his buckboard!”

Michelle: It will take you a long time to get to the next venue!

Marty: But that’s okay, ‘cause he ain’t in no hurry!

Michelle: So how is your life impacted when you take the time for what brings you joy?

Marty: What I do is no different than what I’ve ever done; it’s my life. I find joy in all the things I do and take time to enjoy. I love to take time to stop in a bookstore, have a cup of coffee, and see what the new magazines are. I like what they used to call ‘newspapers.’ You used to have to learn how to fold a newspaper on a subway; that took a talent. I’m an old-fashioned guy.

Michelle: Actually, it sounds like it’s more about “simplicity,” than being old-fashioned.

Marty: Well okay, then.

Michelle: Who are the people that have inspired you most?

Marty: My father—he’s 93 and the smartest guy I know. We’ve always been friends, and I’ve traveled around the world with him on concert tours. He recently saw me play with Jefferson Starship in New York.

When it comes to musicians, there are many that inspire me. When I was younger, I used to hang out with Muddy Waters and Otis Redding. In the 60’s, I was good friends with Jim Morrison. We were wild childs in those days! We used to enjoy writing and literature together; we spent time with poets, writers, filmmakers. I also hung out with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia. And promoter, Bill Graham, was a major influence on all of us.

Jefferson Airplane

#146 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" - released 1967 (Marty: back, right)

I have an Avatar from India, Sathya Sai Baba—he helped me change my life. I study the Vendanta philosophy and practice yoga. It’s all about the inner god we all look for and being true to yourself.

Michelle: What’s next for you?

Marty: I’m staying back while Jefferson Starship is on tour now. I had so many songs piled up that I’ve got three new albums! The first one, Blue Highway, will be available this fall. It’s kinetic and ‘real’; we all played together in the studio.

Michelle: Great! Where can we get this new album when it’s available?

Marty: Well I have actually dipped my toe into the electronic waters and I have a website now where you can order my music:

Michelle: You have your own website? I didn’t think you’d ever make that leap!

Marty: Well I did! By the way, there are other websites out there that I have nothing to do with, but this one’s mine.

Michelle: I’m excited to check out the new album! So, as we wrap-up all this talk about joy, what tips or suggestions do you have for readers who want to do a better job of following their joy?

Marty: There’s that little voice inside of you that tells you: “Yes, this is good” or “No, this is not good.” And that little voice is your conscience. That conscience is your soul, and it knows what’s right and wrong for you. It knows how to bring you joy. And if you don’t follow that little voice, you’re crazy. It will never lead you wrong.

Michelle: But when we get lost in the busyness and in the “noise”, it can be hard to hear that voice.

Marty: Yeah, I can hear people saying now: “I can’t find it on my BlackBerry!”

You can read every self-help book in the world and they all say the same thing, whether it’s the Bible or whatever. It all gets down to that little inner voice inside you; it’s your guide. If you follow it, it will tell you. Even if you’re eating too many donuts and the voice says, “Buddy you’re full!”—you should listen to it. Whether it’s about personal relationships, driving too fast, swimming out too far, whatever; something’s always talking to you. There are angels all around us, and you have one inside yourself.

Too many of us look externally or to other people. We want someone to tell us what to do. You don’t need that.


Michelle’s final thoughts: Wow. Marty was the initial inspiration for me to get these blog interviews going. If you haven’t seen how it came about, be sure to see the previous post here. I’ve had it in the back of my mind to interview Marty for four years…and here it is! What a treat. Thank you, Marty—I knew I felt a deep connection with you, and now I understand why.

Feel free to leave your comments for me–or for Marty–below. I’ll be sending him a hard copy of this post via snail mail. Only he and my grandparents get special treatment like that. :)

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15 Responses to “Marty Balin: Singer Following His Joy”

  • Kate Henehan says:

    I LOVED what Marty said about this:

    There’s that little voice inside of you that tells you: “Yes, this is good” or “No, this is not good.” And that little voice is your conscience. That conscience is your soul, and it knows what’s right and wrong for you. It knows how to bring you joy. And if you don’t follow that little voice, you’re crazy. It will never lead you wrong.

    WOW. Isn’t that true? Why do we ignore that little voice and MAKE ourselves do something we don’t want to do because we ‘should’ or ‘it’s the right thing’ or ‘what will they think’? YUCKO!

    Listen to the little voice inside of you — it’s your freakin’ SOUL talking! Geesh! Oy Vey. Cool. Sic (I learned that one from my niece).

    And I love the notion that there are angels all around us — and I believe it myself. But it’s easy to forget in the craziness of every day. Keep it simple and you won’t miss it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Bill says:

    GREAT interview — captures Marty perfectly!

  • Barb says:

    Wow – wow – wow. Loved reading this.

    Thanks for sharing your positive energy!

  • Tunie says:

    Wonderful, uplifting interview, Michelle. You’ve launched the series… hurrah! And what a memorable “first.”

  • Mary says:

    Provocative and enlightening!!!!
    You are an eloquent writer and a skilled interviewer!
    Namaste Michelle!

  • Anna says:

    Congrats Michelle!

  • Footnote: Bill & I both had separate five-minute drives today. And “Miracles” came on the radio for BOTH of us! Don’t think that’s so strange? Check this out:; the synchronicities will blow your mind.

  • @ Kate: I LOVE your comment and I can just feel your energy and enthusiasm leaping off my screen! So glad that the interview resonated with you. It’s the kind of stuff you and I always share back and forth in our conversations, and it’s all good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!

    @ Billy: I know, it’s so fun to see Marty’s spirit come to life in the post. You’ve been my cheering section all along!

    @ Barb, Tunie, Mary, & Anna: Thank you for reading the post and so glad you enjoyed the interview! Appreciate your presence here. :)

  • Dan says:

    Well…working for a self-help book publisher, I’m not sure I’d agree with everything Marty says. Especially if the inner voice inside you tells you things that do not promote good mental and/or physical health. If there truly are angels all around us, and we have one inside ourselves…then there are probably devils too, so we must watch WHICH inner voice we listen to and be wary of the one that tells us: we are not worthy, we are not deserving of love and affection, we need to be perfect, we should be ashamed of our bodies, we must cut ourselves, we should lash out at others, etc. And, if you suffer from borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, or D.I.D.…who’s gonna be your guide then?!

    I know I am taking things to the extreme here, but not everyone can be as well-adjusted as Marty. His advice makes sense for MOST people and his logic is sound enough, but sometimes people need the kind of help their inner voices (or copious amounts of LSD!) simply cannot provide. Sometimes, your conscience/your soul doesn’t know what’s right and wrong for you. It can just as easily bring you pain. And if you follow that little voice (and you ARE “crazy”)…there is a good chance it WILL lead you wrong.

    That said, I enjoyed the interview and I am a huge Jefferson Airplane fan!
    Congratts Michelle! Cheers Marty!

    Jefferson Airplane – “If You Feel”

  • Robyn says:

    Thank you so much Michelle for following your dream of doing these interviews! They are so wonderful, insightful, inspiring, a joy to read!

    Miracles is one of my favorite songs from my childhood! I love all Marty had to say and agree with him 100%. I look forward to future interviews.

  • @ Dan: Nice to have a Jefferson Airplane fan here! I certainly understand your point, and I do believe that Marty was talking about that voice in your “heart”; the one that is fully and wonderfully “you”…not other external voices. You are right–it can be easy at times to not know the difference between all the voices, or which voice to listen to. I see that in my work with clients. The more we are “quiet” and get to know the core of who we are…the more that perfect voice of our essence will show up (and hopefully speak louder than any other voices!). Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

    @ Robyn: Thank you so much! Sooo happy to know you enjoyed the article; I knew that stuff would resonate with you! :)

  • Connie says:

    LOVED it! Simplicity is everything. I try to live that way although it’s difficult with so much technology and ‘noise’ bombarding us all everyday. Keep it simple….great mantra!

  • Bruce says:

    Thanks for posting this wonderful interview, Michelle!
    Marty sounds like one of the most solid, centered, and nicest persons you could ever hope to meet. Great questions, and great answers!

  • Tami says:

    The whole time I was reading this article, I kept thinking to myself that this could be in O, Oprah magazine. Michelle, you are a gifted writer and the interview would resonate with O’s readers. How to get it in there, though? No idea, but I thought I’d throw it out there for you to explore. :)
    Thank you for sharing, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview.

  • @ Connie: Yes, that’s one of my big takeaways from this interview, too–that “simplicity” is such a great foundation for a peaceful and purposeful life. Glad you enjoyed the interview!

    @ Bruce: Thanks for the big smile today! You are right-on about Marty and it was such a joy to have this meaningful conversation with him…and have a lot of fun in the process. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    @ Tami: WOW, thank you!!! I love your idea and never even thought about it before. You’ve definitely given me something fun to think about! Appreciate you being here and sharing your thoughts…you’ve definitely made me smile. :)

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Michelle Stimpson: Editor/Writer

Michelle Stimpson Hi and thanks for visiting - so glad you're here! This blog is especially for cool people who want to experience joy and live a life of purpose. Welcome!

Here you'll find great stories that will inspire you and remind you that life is good, and there's an abundance of joy all around us. Simply put: When you follow the things in life that make you come alive and bring you joy...the magic begins to unfold.

Start by checking out the "Best Of" page and be sure to consider subscribing above. Thank you and cheers to joy!

Michelle Joy Stimpson
Executive Editor & Writer
Life Coach, LifeShine

Bill Stimpson: Partner-In-Crime

Bill Stimpson Hi! Not only will you see me “show up” in many of Michelle’s stories and posts here, but I also serve as Michelle’s editor, helping her clarify intentions and make her posts shine.

One of the great joys in my life is being involved with this blog! It’s a constant reminder for me to focus on the things that bring me joy. It also feels great to be sharing so many of these joys with you - in hopes that you, too, will find ways to focus on your own joyful experiences.

Here's to an abundance of joy in your life!

Bill Stimpson
Hubby & Associate Editor

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