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Jefferson Airplane founder Marty Balin shares music, artwork in Tarpon

TARPON SPRINGS — Hand-painted portraits of some of the world's greatest musicians hung on the walls of Studio 212 Arts Guild.

There were John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, the Beatles and Sam Cooke, to name a few.

The artist? None other than Marty Balin, the founder of the Woodstock-era and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member band Jefferson Airplane, which later became Jefferson Starship.

He was at the downtown Tarpon Springs art studio Saturday night for a special preview of his original artwork and to perform.

Balin didn't disappoint with his paintings or his performance.

"His voice was really amazing," said Becky Dempsey, a Tarpon Springs resident who grew up listening to her older cousins' Jefferson Airplane albums. "Sometimes, we go see guys from that era sing and their voices don't hold up. But he (Balin) sounded great. And his art is just amazing."

While Balin, 68, was singing, someone yelled from the crowd: "Your voice has never changed, Marty!"

Balin took the crowd of about 75 people on a musical journey of his hit songs.

For the last decade or so, Balin has lived in Tampa. His wife, local musician Karen Dean, died last month. He is raising their 15-year-old daughter, Balin said. In the last year, he has recorded three new albums at the Big3 Studios in St. Petersburg. The first album, Blue Highway, was released a couple of weeks ago, he said.

"I think I sound a lot better now that I'm not drinking anymore and doing drugs like I did in the old days," Balin said, with a laugh. "Some of those recordings were done under drug-ress."

Saturday's performance in Tarpon Springs was his first visit to the city known for its Greek culture and Sponge Docks. Art advocates say that Balin's presence is another example of the city's ever-growing and thriving arts community.

"It's taken a beautiful and exciting turn," said Sue Geier, 54, who co-owns Studio 212 with her husband, Larry, and sister, Donna Wendler. "And not just downtown, but all of Tarpon is pulling together cohesively, and it's drawing people to the whole community."

City Commissioner Robin Saenger agrees. An artist herself, she has worked to highlight the importance of a strong arts community. She points to the city's 2007 passage of a public arts ordinance.

"Tarpon has always been an arts community, but the ordinance showed the city's commitment," Saenger said.

Balin said the big homes and old buildings reminded him of San Francisco, where he got his musical start.

"It's a nice community," he said.

As for his art, Balin said he has been painting for as long as he can remember. He even went to San Francisco State University initially to be a painter.

Everyone paints well known artists, Balin said, but he likes to paint musicians he's had contact with. He even jots down notes of those encounters. A book might be forthcoming, he said.

"I had so many great times with Janis Joplin, hanging out with drinking sessions being recording sessions," Balin sad. "She's fun to do and easy to do, because she has a wonderful smile and curves.

"Jim Morrison (the late lead singer of the Doors), we were drinking buddies and had some wild times together. Jerry Garcia (the late lead singer of the Grateful Dead), those people are so iconic in music, it's easy to do those people."

Ursula Vassiliou drove over from St. Augustine for Saturday's art show and concert and remained in Tarpon for the weekend. And while she too enjoyed the art, it was Balin's music that took her to another place.

"It was just a fun time," said Vassiliou, 55. "I've always loved Jefferson Airplane. It's just so exciting to be here, and he sounded exactly the same 43 years ago."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at or (727) 445-4174.

If you go

In Tampa

Upcoming performances of Marty Balin, the founder of Jefferson Airplane.

What: A benefit, "Celebrating the Life of Karen Dean," Balin's wife who died last month. A portion of the proceeds benefit Lifepath Hospice

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa.

Admission: $10

For more information: Call (813) 971-0666

In Tarpon Springs

What: Balin will perform and his original art collection will be on display.

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 8

Where: Studio 212 Arts Guild, 204 Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs.

Admission: $20.

For more information: Call (727) 944-2237

On the Web

For more information about Marty Balin, visit

Jefferson Airplane founder Marty Balin shares music, artwork in Tarpon 12/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 7:58pm]
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