From Folk to Acid Rock, How Marty Balin Launched the San Francisco Music Scene | Collectors Weekly

This article was written by Ben Marks and first published in Collectors Weekly

Bill Graham, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia—half a century on, these names still evoke the sound of San Francisco in the late 1960s. To be sure, the city’s greatest concert promoter, singer, and guitarist all deserve their status as cultural icons, but it was another guy whose name you might notimmediately recognize, Marty Balin, who drew the world’s attention to San Francisco in the first place. That’s because in 1965, Balin undertook two inextricably linked projects that together changed rock-music history—he helped open a small but highly influential club called the Matrix, and he founded a new band, Jefferson Airplane, which played its first gig on his club’s opening night.

“You could predict how a show would go according to the drugs lined up on the back of the amps.”

Those two acts would have been enough to secure Balin’s place in music history, but the singer was just getting started. That fall, Balin encouraged an ambitious impresario named Bill Graham to host a benefit concert for a theater group Graham was managing, offering up Jefferson Airplane for the occasion. A second benefit at the Fillmore Auditorium, also featuring the Airplane, followed that December. By February of 1966, Jefferson Airplane was headlining the first non-benefit concert at the Fillmore for Graham—during that year, Balin’s band would play more than 30 dates at the hall.

Top: Marty Balin at Monterey Pop, 1967. Photo by Suki Hill. Above. Jefferson Airplane enjoyed a close relationship with promoter Bill Graham, who booked the band, which he managed during most of 1967, into the Fillmore in San Francisco and beyond.

The following year, 1967, the Airplane performed more than 100 times, including an electrifying appearance at Monterey Pop. In the winter of 1968, Balin and company briefly partnered with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead to produce their own shows at the Carousel Ballroom. And then, in 1969, after performing at Woodstock that summer, the Airplane ended the decade as one of the openers for a free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where Balin was knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel when Balin came to the aid of a fan who was being beaten with pool cues by multiple members of the notorious motorcycle gang.

For Balin and the Airplane, the trajectory to that fateful day had been fast and steep. But like most musicians, Balin’s “overnight” success was years in the making. His first record deal, inked in 1962 when he was just 20, was with Challenge Records of Los Angeles, whose claim to fame had been a catchy single by The Champs called “Tequila.” For Challenge, Balin recorded four songs (only one of which he co-wrote), which were pressed onto a pair of 45s.

Balin recorded his first record in 1962 at age 20. This copy is inscribed to his mother and father.

Like a lot of Johnny Mathis and Paul Anka wannabes cutting records in those days, Balin was given a stage name—he was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald. In the studio, Balin sang with the L.A. music industry’s go-to backup band, the Wrecking Crew. “The lead guitar player at the session was Glen Campbell,” Balin remembers. “He was the hot guy in town at the time.” Also at the session—which his father, Joe Buchwald, paid for—was guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Red Callender, Jack Nitzsche on piano, and Hal Blaine on drums, with the Blossoms providing the backing vocals and Ricky Nelson’s arranger, Jimmie Haskell, conducting the strings. “They put me in a little room with a window and said ‘sing.’” Balin recalls.

Balin sang, although his debut went unnoticed by radio stations and, hence, the public. Still, Balin had his first taste of the music business, and he wanted more. He got it in the summer of 1963, while hanging out one evening in a San Francisco folk-music spot on Union Street called the Drinking Gourd. There, Balin met three other musicians who were looking to form a group. From that chance encounter, the Town Criers were formed. Before long, they were playing the Drinking Gourd and clubs like the hungry i and the Purple Onion, on one occasion opening for the great comedian Dick Gregory—within few years, Gregory would be sharing bills with the Airplane.

Between is solo career and Jefferson Airplane, Balin (top right) sang with a folk outfit called the Town Criers.

The year 1964 was a transitional one for American pop music. By then, the folk revival of the 1950s and early ’60s was feeling the competition from the British Invasion. The Beatles had arrived in February with Little Richard and Chuck Berry numbers in their repertoire. The Rolling Stones followed in June, introducing white American kids to black American blues. And in November, the Animals had an unlikely hit with a traditional American folk song called “The House of the Rising Son.”

By 1965, folk-rock hybrids were popping up all over the place. That spring, The Byrds had a hit with Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was recorded in an L.A. studio with many of the same musicians who had backed Balin for Challenge Records. During the summer, Bob Dylan famously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, a new San Francisco group called the Charlatansperformed for six weeks straight—but not “straight”—at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, and the Lovin’ Spoonful burst on the scene with the release of its first single, “Do You Believe in Magic?”

What San Francisco lacked in 1965 was a reliable performance space for this new genre, which is partly what had sent the Charlatans to Virginia City. “When I was in the Town Criers,” Balin says, “I wanted to use electric guitars and drums, but places like the Drinking Gourd didn’t want that because it was too loud.” Still, Balin performed frequently at the Drinking Gourd, often on “hootenanny” night, accompanying his beseeching tenor with a nylon-string Martin guitar.

This 18-foot wide painting hung in the Matrix when Balin opened the club in 1965. The "JA" in the right panel is a nod to the club's house band, Jefferson Airplane. Years later, Balin found the painting in a gallery in Los Angeles. He purchased it and donated it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where the center three panels are currently on view. Courtesy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

It was a meager act, but Balin played those hootenanny nights for all he was worth, and that passion was enough to earn him a small following. “These nurses would come in and see me,” Balin remembers. “I guess they kind of liked what I did. One night, they brought their boyfriends, and after my set, I joined them at their table. The boyfriends, who were engineers, were talking about how they each had $3,000 to invest and didn’t know what to do with the money. I immediately jumped in and said, ‘Hey, give it to me.’ They said, ‘What would you do with it?’ And I said, “I’d open a nightclub and put a band in it. You can have the nightclub, I’ll keep the band.’”

That may have seemed like a bold proposal coming from a nobody who was still covering Rod McKuen tunes, but Balin was one of those people who had a natural knack for making things happen. “I’m an Energizer Bunny,” he says, “a stimulator. I have ideas and then I get other people to show off their talents and abilities, too.”

The 1965 lineup for the incarnation of Jefferson Airplane that recorded the band's first album was (from left to right) Paul Kantner, Jack Casady, Signe Anderson, Jorma Kaukonen, Marty Balin, and Skip Spence.

Indeed, on that night at the Drinking Gourd, Balin already had some of the pieces for his still-unnamed band in place. In March of 1965, Balin had found his first recruit, Paul Kantner, at one of the Drinking Gourd’s open-mic nights, as Balin told Got a Revolution author Jeff Tamarkin for a 1993 interview published in “Relix Magazine.” “I remember I was standing at the door and he came in and the guy said, ‘No more room, we’re filled up.’ I said, ‘Give him my spot,’ because he looked interesting; he had two guitars, one in each hand, which was rare. Kind of a weird-looking dude. So he came in and he had a 12-string and a six and he came out onstage and tuned up, like he still does, and started to play this song and then stopped. He was embarrassed or something. And he walked off.”

According to Kantner in Got a Revolution, embarrassment had nothing to do with it. “It was a noisy, drinking kind of crowd. So I said, ‘This sucks. I’ve had enough, good-bye.’” For some reason, Balin was smitten. “As I was leaving Marty said, “Hey, you want to start a band?’” Kantner did.

The Matrix was a hit from the day it opened on August 13, 1965.

The Drinking Gourd was also where Balin and Kantner met Bob Harvey, the Airplane’s first bassist, who briefly played an upright before Jack Casady gave the band its signature, and very electric, bottom end. Signe Anderson, the band’s first female vocalist, was also a Drinking Gourd regular, and she sang with the Airplane for more than a year before leaving the group to raise her child, her memory as an original member of Jefferson Airplane all but obliterated by the arrival of Grace Slick, who had been fronting a competing group called the Great Society. The band’s first drummer, Jerry Peloquin, was an acquaintance of Balin’s, although he was quickly replaced by Skip Spence, who was fired less than a year later for disappearing one day to Mexico—Skippy, as friends called him, eventually resurfaced to help form Moby Grape. The last puzzle piece, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, arrived via Kantner, although it was Balin who chased him down. In addition to a blues-infused guitar, Kaukonen also contributed the band’s absurdist name, a shortened version of a nickname Kaukonen had been given by a friend (as a proper name, the words “Jefferson Airplane” are never preceded by “the”).

By 1966, the Matrix was still booking blues musicians like Lightin' Hopkins and the club's house band, Jefferson Airplane.

While all this was going on, the nurses’ three boyfriends—Elliot Sazer, Ted Saunders, and Paul Sedlewicz—were scouting locations, finally settling on a 40-by-80-foot pizza joint called the Syndicate, which was located on Fillmore Street a handful of blocks away from the Drinking Gourd. Renamed the Matrix by Sazer, the club was literally designed for the group Balin was assembling. “I built the stage to fit the band,” Balin says. “It was a little bigger than most stages.” It would have to be to support two guitarists, a pair of singers, and a rhythm section—six pieces in an era when four Beatles or five Stones were the rule.

And then, finally, it was opening night: Friday August 13, 1965. “The Matrix was a going thing from the day it opened,” Balin says. “That first night, representatives from every record company in the world were sitting in the audience. They all gave me their business cards, and I pinned them up in the dressing room. Everybody was going, ‘Oh man, let’s sign, let’s get a record deal!’ We knew about six songs,”—Balin described them to San Francisco Chroniclewriter John L. Wasserman as “social blues”—“and we extended those songs as instrumentals. So even though we didn’t have that many tunes, everybody wanted us.”

In late 1965 (left) and early 1966 (right), the Airplane often shared the bill with the Charlatans, who were on the scene a bit earlier than Jefferson Airplane but were soon eclipsed by the Airplane's fan base and acclaim.

Balin tried to put the brakes on his bandmates’ enthusiasm. “I said, ‘No, no, guys, we’re not going to sign anything until we hear from Phil Spector. And then the second night we played, Phil’s sister, Shirley, was in the audience, and she came up and said, ‘Phil Spector wants you to come to L.A.’ Things happened very fast.”

Although not with Phil Spector. “We didn’t get along with him at all,” Balin says. “He was too crazy for us.” No matter—by November, the band would sign with RCA Records, securing a then-staggering $25,000 advance in the deal.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, the band’s personnel solidified and its sound tightened as its members got in lots of practice at the Matrix, often backing whoever Balin had booked. “Mainly I hired the old blues guys I had played with,” Balin says, “like Lightnin’ Hopkins, J.C Burris, cats like that who would play for 300 or 400 bucks a night. Whoever was in the Airplane at the time would back them. We knew how to play the blues,” he adds, “but some of these guys would play like 15- and 15-and-a-half-bar blues, instead of the standard 12 or 16, and you’d be, like, ‘What the hell, man?’ It was a great education.”

In February of 1966, Jefferson Airplane headlined the first two non-benefit shows at the Fillmore Auditorium for two different promoters—Bill Graham (left) and Chet Helms of the Family Dog (right).

In September and October of 1965, Jefferson Airplane backed both Hopkins and Burris at the Matrix, as well as performing there under its own name. That October, the band also played the first of three Family Dog produced concerts at Longshoremen’s Hall—almost immediately, the San Francisco music scene had outgrown the cozy confines of the Matrix. The Bill Graham benefits followed in November and December, which is also when Jefferson Airplane went to L.A. to record its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” for RCA.

Bill Graham (walking toward camera at center) ran the Fillmore Auditorium from 1966 though the summer of 1968, when he moved operations across town to the Carousel Ballroom, which he renamed the Fillmore West. He was always a hands-on promoter.

By January of 1966, the Airplane, Charlatans, and Family Dog had teamed up for a packed show at California Hall, and while Balin was ready to do more, George Hunter of the Charlatans wasn’t. “The Charlatans were very popular,” Balin remembers. “They were one of my favorite bands, and George and I were good friends.” But Balin didn’t have time to be disappointed. On February 4, Jefferson Airplane was headlining the official opening of the Fillmore Auditorium. Now it was the Fillmore’s turn to be packed. The Airplane was also the top-billed act when Chet Helms and the Family Dog produced their first Fillmore show on February 19. Within six months, Jefferson Airplane had gone from being the house band in a former pizza joint to being the supergroup of San Francisco.

By April, Helms had moved the Family Dog from the Fillmore to the Avalon Ballroom—sharing the Fillmore with a competitor had proved too much for Graham. Although the Airplane had opened the Fillmore for both promoters, the band would only play one subsequent weekend at the Avalon, in no small part because Balin was so comfortable with the way Bill Graham ran the Fillmore.

“Bill was the best promoter ever,” Balin says. “He just took care of every little detail. When you walked out onto his stage, it was ready for you. Everybody was calm, everybody was quiet. There was no rushing around. And Bill would be there, and he’d say, ‘The stage is yours.’ And you’d go out and there and everything would be perfect. It was just the best stage you could ever play.”

Graham helped cement the ritual of New Year's Eve concerts, often tapping Jefferson Airplane to be his headliner.

During most of 1967, Graham and the Airplane had more than a promoter-performer relationship because Graham was now managing the band. Given this close association, it’s perhaps not too surprising that in May of 1967, when Graham’s regular poster printer went out of business, Graham gave the work to Neal, Stratford & Kerr, where Balin’s dad, Joe Buchwald, worked as a pressman. Ironically, this was just a few months before Neal, Stratford & Kerr went bankrupt. Fortunately, its lead pressman, Levon Mosgofian, acquired the company’s presses and other printing hardware to form what would become Tea Lautrec Litho, and just as fortuitously, Buchwald stayed on with Mosgofian.

That almost sounds like Graham decided to hire Balin’s father’s firm for sentimental reasons, but Balin cautions against this kind of thinking. “Bill never did anything out of romance, unless it was for a woman,” he says. “He had a big sign behind his desk that read, ‘Though I walk in the Valley of Death, I am the meanest son of a bitch in that valley.’” So why did Graham go with Tea Lautrec if not because of his father? “Graham probably got a good deal,” Balin says.

From a proof sheet of photos of Marty Balin with his dad, Joe Buchwald. Courtesy Marty and Susan Balin.

In fact, Buchwald had been a part of his son’s professional life since he coughed up the dough for that first Challenge Records session in 1962. Buchwald also helped make the Matrix a reality, putting Balin in the unique position—for those times, anyway—of constantly bumping into one of his parents. “He was in the scene real tight,” Balin says of his dad. “I’d go to these dark, acid parties, and there would be my pops. I remember one time I was really stoned on LSD and found myself at this new thing called a light show. All these blobs of color and music were forming out of the darkness; man, was that crazy. I was coming on to the acid pretty strong when I noticed my dad sitting about two rows in front of me. I said, ‘Hey, Pop, get me out of here. I’m so stoned I can’t even walk!’ And he just said, ‘Relax! Let’s see the rest of the show, then I’ll take you home.’”

Naturally, Buchwald’s participation in the scene expanded when he and Levon Mosgofian began printing Fillmore posters for Bill Graham. As a pressman for San Francisco’s premier printer of psychedelic concert posters, Buchwald worked closely with the best rock-poster artists of the 20th century. These artists held Buchwald’s ability to coax their visions out of Tea Lautrec’s Miehle 29 offset printing presses in high esteem. Consequently, Buchwald was invited to countless concerts, parties, you name it. To hear Balin tell it, his pops rarely declined, which sometimes proved awkward—not for him, but for his pops.

The Airplane's second album, released in 1967, rose to No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Signe Anderson was replaced by Grace Slick (top center), who would provide the album's biggest hit, "White Rabbit." Skip Spence was replaced by Spencer Dryden (bottom right). Herb Greene shot the photo for the album's cover, while Balin is credited with its design.

“He was always backstage when the Airplane played the Fillmore and Winterland,” Balin remembers. “I’d also run into him on the road, be it somewhere in the Midwest or Europe, even. I’d look over to the side of the stage, and there’d be my father with some chickie of his. I’d say, ‘Hey, Pop, how are you doing?’ After the show, though, he’d be gone. He wouldn’t even stick around to say ‘hi.’ He was embarrassed, I guess, because although he was still married to my mom, he had all these girlfriends. But I didn’t get uptight. I told him, ‘I’m not going to judge you. I understand Mom doesn’t want to go out and doesn’t stay up late. You’re a late-night go-getter. I dig it.’ After that, we became closer and friendlier.”

Graham managed Jefferson Airplane until early 1968, when Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden, who were a couple at this point, delivered an ‘either he goes or we go’ ultimatum. Among other reasons for the rupture, Slick and Dryden were tired of Graham’s argumentative style, and Slick in particular felt like Graham was working the band too hard.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead smoking a joint with Marty Balin during a free summer concert at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park, 1967. Courtesy of the Estate of Clay Geerdes.

Balin was more sanguine. He understood where Graham was coming from, and he liked the fringe benefits the band enjoyed thanks to its privileged relationship with the volatile promoter, even after Graham was no longer their manager. These benefits extended beyond regular bookings at Graham’s venues, including the fabled Fillmore East in New York City.

“After we’d played our gig,” Balin says, “we’d go back to his apartment in New York. Bill used to have his security guards take pot away from the audience because it was against the law at the time. So, he had this huge stash of confiscated weed in his apartment, which we’d all smoke after the show. It was great.”

Which is not to say that Balin was unfailingly loyal to Graham. Around the same time Jefferson Airplane decided to drop Bill Graham as their manager, replacing him with an old friend of Balin’s named Bill Thompson, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead agreed to be partners in a venerable San Francisco dance hall called the Carousel Ballroom. There, they would produce their own shows without the help of Bill Graham, Chet Helms, or anyone else.

During the first half of 1968, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead tried to run the Carousel Ballroom themselves, often sharing billing (as seen in this Alton Kelley poster) to keep the enterprise afloat. When Bill Graham took it over in the summer of 1968, he kept the Carousel sign and put one bearing the words "Fillmore West" above it.

“That was great,” Balin says. “We finally had our own ballroom!” Unfortunately, the rent was too high and tons of people got in free. To make ends meet, the bands behind the Carousel were obliged to play it regularly, usually for little or no money, just to keep the enterprise afloat—between January and June of 1968, the Dead or its various members played the Carousel Ballroom almost 20 times, while the Airplane or its personnel put in eight appearances.

Coincidentally, as Graham recalled in Robert Greenfield’s Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out, Graham decided he had to get out of the predominantly African-American neighborhood for which the Fillmore Auditorium was named because the area had gotten too dangerous for his mainly white audience in the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4. Graham had heard that the Carousel had turned into a money pit for the Dead and Airplane, so to secure the lease on the ballroom, Graham flew to Ireland to personally make his case to the building’s owner. After numerous rounds of bourbon, Graham had the Carousel’s lease, which was probably just as well for the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

From 1968 to 1971, Graham also ran a music hall in New York City called, naturally, Fillmore East. The Airplane played numerous gigs there, as seen in this David Byrd poster from 1968.

“We were too scattered, too hippie to run the Carousel,” Balin says. “I don’t know anybody who was as good a businessman as Bill was. Bill was primo, top of the line, a former New Yorker, so he had the hustle.”

Of course, the transfer of the Carousel Ballroom’s lease from two rock bands to Bill Graham was hardly the most important event of 1968, a year when the American public was becoming increasingly impatient with the war in Vietnam. That disenchantment led indirectly to the assassination of yet another major political leader, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who only got into the 1968 presidential race when the incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson, pulled out.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, hard drugs like heroin and speed had flooded former hippie havens such as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, with predictably corrosive results. In addition, the bands themselves were starting to come apart, seen most dramatically in the exit by year’s end of Janis Joplin from Big Brother and the Holding Company. Not surprisingly, Balin played a part in that story, too.

“We were playing a concert down the coast,” Balin begins, referring to the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival held on May 18, 1968, at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. “I was sitting out in the audience, watching Jim Morrison and The Doors. And Janis, who was also performing, came up to me and said, ‘I want to talk to you. Come on.’ So we’re walking along, and we pass Jerry Garcia, and she said, ‘Jerry, come on, I want to talk to you.’ So we got in this old pickup truck and started driving, with Jerry behind the wheel, Janis in the center, and me riding shotgun.”

During the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival in 1968, Janis Joplin confided her conflicted feeling about leaving Big Brother and the Holding Company for a solo career to Marty Balin and Jerry Garcia.

Joplin was distraught because her new manager, Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan, wanted her to leave Big Brother. “He wanted her to have a better band,” Balin says, “but there was something so raw and funky about Big Brother. They just fit her so perfectly, with Jim Gurley on that crazy heroin guitar of his. But that’s what the record companies did to everybody—they always wanted to break the girl away from the band. I’m sure they tried to do that with Grace and the Airplane, saying, ‘Oh, you’re better than they are. We can make you a superstar. You don’t need these people.’ I don’t know, but I’m sure she got the same hassle.

“Anyway, Janis was upset because these were her friends. Big Brother was who she had started out with, so she wanted our advice about whether she should leave her old buddies, or not. We told her to follow her heart, and to follow the path that would be best for her music. In the end,” Balin says, “I don’t know if she made the best decision, but it was tough for her because Grossman was telling her that he was going to make her a big, big star. She didn’t realize,” he adds, “that she was already a big, big star.”

By the summer of 1968, Jefferson Airplane had made the cover of "LIFE" magazine, but the band's members were already starting to break into little independent units, as the art direction of the magazine's cover unwittingly suggests.

Nor was Joplin the only one struggling with success. In 1966, Balin had given Jefferson Airplane its first single, “It’s No Secret,” a rockin’ love song on its debut LP, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.” But when Grace Slick entered the picture in the fall of 1967, she brought “Somebody to Love” with her from the Great Society (her former Great Society bandmate and brother-in-law, Darby Slick, had written it as “Someone to Love”), as well as a song of her own called “White Rabbit.” Both would make it onto the Airplane’s next album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” along with three tracks written by Balin (“Comin’ Back to Me,” “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover”) plus two more Balin co-wrote, including “Today,” one of several tracks on the album featuring Jerry Garcia on lead guitar.

Despite Balin’s prodigious output, Slick’s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” became the songs people remembered most from “Surrealistic Pillow,” which reached No. 3 on the “Billboard” charts. Those two songs and the hype around their singer may be why D. A. Pennebaker, the director of the film version of Monterey Pop, kept his cameras on Grace Slick, even while Marty Balin was singing. Those two songs could also be why the editors of “LIFE” magazine decided to put Jefferson Airplane on the cover of its June 28, 1968, issue, with Grace Slick sitting in the top cube of a plexiglass pyramid. In fact, in the opinion of lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, those two songs are probably why Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

The AIrplane's biggest successes often had little to do with Balin, which left him the odd man out in the band that he'd founded.

By his own admission, Balin struggled at times with Slick’s fame from the 1967 release of “Surrealistic Pillow” until he left the group in 1971—the Airplane lumbered on for another year or so without him. Even after Balin rejoined Kantner and Slick in 1975 for one of the many incarnations of Jefferson Starship, and several of that band’s biggest early hits—“Caroline,” “Miracles”— it was always Slick who got the spotlight. “For a while, the radio stations were playing ‘Miracles’ every hour on the hour,” Balin says, “and every time they played it, they’d say, ‘That was Grace Slick and Jefferson Starship.’ They never said ‘Marty Balin and Jefferson Starship,’ but I got my check, thank God.”

To hear Balin tell it today, Jefferson Starship was your classic rock ’n’ roll nightmare, whose creative sparks were extinguished by egos, drugs, and alcohol. Even before he left the band in 1978, he was so burned out that he turned down the chance to front an up-and-coming group called Journey, leaving the door open for Steve Perry, whose voice was very much in the Balin mold. For its part, the Starship replaced Balin with Mickey Thomas, who, in 1985, would share lead vocals with Grace Slick on “We Built This City,” which “Rolling Stone” readers voted the worst song of the decade and “GQ” magazine labeled “the most detested song in human history.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but Balin had nothing to do with that tune.

Jefferson Airplane's third album, "After Bathing at Baxter's," 1967, featured several tracks that were simply designed to sound good to a listener high on LSD, but the studio indulged the excess because "Surrealistic Pillow" had been such a big hit.

Balin’s Starship experience may have been exhausting, but the unraveling of Jefferson Airplane broke his heart. It wasn’t even that Slick had stolen his spotlight. Rather, Balin hated the way the Airplane had balkanized into discrete units—Kantner and Slick, Kaukonen and Casady—each of which was carving out its own musical niche, and neither of which seemed to want to have much to do with him.

“I’d go to these dark, acid parties, and there would be my pops.”

“When the Airplane became famous, everybody was pretty much into their own little ego. ‘I want to do my thing.’ Well, I always thought it was our thing, or the band thing. Pretty soon, Jorma didn’t want to play with me because the songs I was writing were too square. Grace was off in her own little world, and Paul was doing his massive military-march songs. We used to write together, but after a while, Paul didn’t want to write with me, either. I felt kind of left out because everyone was just separating off into their own little worlds. We came together and did the same old show on stage, but making records and working together became harder and harder.”

Jorma Kaukonen sees the band’s struggles with success a bit differently, as he explained in Got a Revolution. “Marty really had this thing about ‘my band,’ and maybe it started that way. But it really wasn’t anybody’s band. I don’t think Marty’s ever gotten over the fact that we didn’t just back him up and do what he said. We did drive him nuts, but when he left, the Airplane was pretty much without direction.”

The harmonies achieved by Grace Slick and Marty Balin were sublime. Indeed, after Balin left the band in the spring of 1971, Slick insisted that he be replaced with another male singer so that she'd have a male voice to complement her own.

On the other hand, Kaukonen completely cops to being seduced by success, as he explained to Nick Hasted in a 2016 interview published in Uncut. “We became rock stars,” he says of the period in 1967, when Jefferson Airplane was in the studio working on its third album, the very psychedelic “After Bathing at Baxter’s.” “The Beatles had rented this house when they came to L.A., so of course we had to rent it, and it had all kinds of absurd amenities. A pistol range, and a window into the pool underwater. I think we enjoyed being famous and enjoyed having money, and I’m sure some abuses went along with it. It was a nonstop carnival.”

In the same Hasted interview, Jack Casady puts it this way: “Was Marty on the outside by then? It sounds so neat and tidy, [but] at the time I’m not so sure. Marty was dealing with the fact that there was another hugely strong personality in Grace Slick, and you’ve gotta understand, at the time, hardly anyone had seen a woman in a rock band really strong like that. But Marty was opening up his singing style, too, to match the improvisatory style of the way Jorma and I were driving the band. Jorma and I were starting to faction off together as a musical entity, and Marty was left on his own a little bit. ‘Crown Of Creation’ [the band’s fourth album] displayed some of those different directions on the record.”

In 1969, when a free Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Motor Speedway turned violent due to the overly aggressive policing of the show by members of the Hells Angels, who'd been hired as security, Marty Balin (at center, in white hat) stepped into the fray to stop a member of the gang from beating up a fan. He was knocked unconscious for his trouble. Courtesy Robert Altman.

And then there were the drugs. “There was a period after acid when cocaine, methedrine, and all this crap heroin came in,” Balin says. “I wasn’t into that, but it changed everything. It for sure changed my band. When I used to walk out onto the stage, I’d look at the back of the amps and see a pile of cocaine, methedrine, and I don’t even know what. And I’d say to myself, ‘Oh, so this is how we’re going to play tonight,’ and sure enough you could predict how a show would go according to the drugs lined up on the back of the amps. That stuff made everybody crazy.”

By 1969, the bloom was long since off the rose, even before the decade ended in violence at Altamont. But Balin had one more Airplane album in him, “Volunteers,” for which he wrote the lyrics and sang the lead vocal on the title track. After Altamont, in 1970, the band toured only sporadically, kept off the road by drummer Spencer Dryden’s departure, Grace Slick’s pregnancy, and Kaukonen and Casady’s increasing interest in their offshoot project, Hot Tuna, which continues to perform to this day. But it was an event unrelated to the palace intrigue surrounding members of Jefferson Airplane that really caused Marty Balin, in April of 1971, to leave the band he’d founded—the death of his friend Janis Joplin, from an overdose of heroin, on October 4, 1970.

Balin's last album with Jefferson Airplane was "Volunteers," 1969, for which he wrote the lyrics and sang lead vocals on the title track. His band performed on October 4, 1970, the night his good friend Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose, but he did not.

“I remember one night I was at RCA Victor,” Balin says of an evening a few days before Joplin died. “It was late and nobody was there but me. I was listening to some tapes, and in comes Janis, and she says, ‘Marty, I’ve just made the greatest record ever! You’ve got to hear it! ’ So we got a couple bottles, went over to Sunset Sound, got drunk, and enjoyed her record, ‘Pearl,’ over and over and over.

“She would be sitting up there on the mixing board, and I would be sitting in a chair,” Balin recalls, “and after every track, she would go, ‘Listen to that. Am I greatest singer in the world or what?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, Janis, you’re the greatest singer who ever lived. You’re it. You’re the main man.’ And the truth is,” he adds, “she was the greatest singer in the world at the time.” The night of Joplin’s death, Jefferson Airplane would be on stage at Winterland, co-headlining the first of two nights with the Grateful Dead and each band’s offshoot, Hot Tuna and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Balin was too distraught to attend.

(To learn more about Marty Balin, or to purchase a copy of his latest album, “The Greatest Love,” visit his website and Facebook page.)

4 Days in Paris April 2016

13010789_10154161650263179_2662250635074630656_n

Me at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Paris in Springtime. According to the songs that is the time to go. Unfortunately, my trip was a bit early for that and it didn’t really look any different to Leicester apart from the buildings and river etc. I guess you should go there late rather than early April, or maybe even early May. Still, I had a good time over all. You can get special offers on Eurostar for £29 each way and I availed my self of this. From London to Paris takes about two and a half hours on the high speed train. Amazing! In the old days it took about twelve hours on the boat and train. You can get to Paris quicker than you can get to Manchester now and it is very romantic, at least in my imagination.

The good thing about travelling by rail is that you can take a musical instrument with you without paying extra. On my European Musical Trip last year I took my accordion which weighed a ton and nearly wore me out. This time I took my guitar which is a lot lighter but is rather bulky and gets stuck in the doors and exits. Very disconcerting! Also, it proved very embarrassing on the Paris Metro which was very crowded and I managed to annoy several people with the guitar on my back knocking into them. Still, I eventually managed to get to my hotel on the outskirts of Paris and settle in. The view from my window was not what I was expecting but the hotel was very cheap and there was a metro station very close by.

20160411_185334_HDR

View from my hotel room

That night I decided to go to an open mic. That was the main reason I had decided to go to Paris. To check out the live music scene. Because of the problems I’d had with my guitar on the Metro I decided to leave it behind and hope to borrow one when I got there. Maybe take my guitar the next day when I was a bit more confident.

I checked out the possible venues on my phone and found quite a lot of places I could go to. I decided on the Bombardier Pub in the Latin Quarter with a possible back up at The Galway Irish Pub just around the corner and near the Seine. I also planned how I could get back to my hotel. It was quite a way out and the Metro closes just after 12 and taxis are expensive. I found out there was a night bus that went near Bagnolet so I decided I would get this! More about that later!

There was no open mic at the Bombardier but I ended up getting a free burger meal that had been made by mistake. I guess they took pity on me or thought I needed it! Unfortunately, I don’t really like burgers or chips but I thought it would be rude not to eat it! At least it filled me up.

From there I went to the Galway Irish Pub which did have an open mic and I performed and had a really good time. It was a really cosmopolitan crowd with a big American contingent and the standard of the acts was very high. The bar staff were really friendly and told me about another open mic I could go to at a pub called The Highlander Scottish Bar in two days time which, apparently, was the best one in Paris. I noted that down. It was virtually next to the Pont Neuf, a bridge I’d played my guitar under many years ago.

12998742_10154159613393179_3316384320797370038_n

The Galway Irish Bar Open Mic

Getting the night bus was pretty easy but I wasn’t that sure where to get off. It was a strange experience. Most of the passengers were workers returning from a late shift and looked tired and morose. There weren’t any other late night revellers like me! I got off too early and proceeded to have a real problem getting to my hotel. I could see it in the distance but there were about three motorways in between. It took me over an hour to get through. I then found there was a bus stop just outside the hotel. A bit annoying but at least I knew where to go for the rest of the trip!

Next day I decided to go to Pere Lachaise cemetery which was only a couple of stops from my hotel at Bagnolet. It is an incredibly interesting place. Apart from having the tomb of Jim Morrison, which was perhaps my principal reason for going there, it has the graves of luminaries like Colette, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and many others. I took lots of photos there. It is a very evocative place that reminded me in some ways of the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. I find the statuary quite compelling.

13007081_10154161650013179_2982177931504336395_n

Jim Morrison’s Grave

I spent a long time in the cemetery and it was quite tiring. It is very big, so I decided to go and hire one of the public bikes and cycle into the city. As usual it took me a while to sort out how to use it and had to phone the help line. They were a lot better and more helpful than the equivalent in Frankfurt a few months before. I was soon on the road and on my way to the centre. Notre Dame here I come! And yes, I took lots of pictures of the magnificent cathedral all the way  round. I also went around the city centre and into the Latin Quarter. The buildings are amazing and I went into a reverie imagining I was one of the poets and  Existentialists in the 1940s and 50s, talking earnestly in sidewalk cafes.

20160412_161131_HDR

Paris bikes. Easy to use.

The Paris bikes are easy and cheap to use. After an initial charge you get the first half hour for free. If you know where you are going you can use them for virtually nothing, changing over every half hour. There are plenty of cycle tracks but the roads in Paris are quite scary. I abandoned my original plan of cycling back to the hotel and took the metro. That night I was so tired I just fell asleep and didn’t go anywhere. Spent the night in!

Next  day I decided to go to the Philharmonie de Paris where an exhibition of the Velvet Underground was being held. There were amazing posters all over Paris advertising this. I decided to cycle there but unfortunately I went in completely the wrong direction and ended up miles away. My sense of direction seemed to abandon me in Paris. I swallowed my pride and took the metro. I don’t like travelling underground but at least you get where you want. I arrived at the exhibition hall and there was a court yard with an excruciating loud noise going on. I thought it was the beginning of the exhibition and filmed it with my camera. It wasn’t! It was just good old fashioned construction work! What a fool I felt, but it was a noise worthy of the Velvets so I kept the recording.

12985463_10154164527628179_8681864685069837891_n

Philhamonie de Paris. Velvet Underground Exhibition.

I first heard the Velvet Underground in 1968 and they became one of my favourite bands. The exhibition traced their early period from 1965 to 1968. It was very good with lots of film and exhibits that I have never seen before. It really caught the essence of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and Warhol’s Silver Factory. It was a true assault on the senses. I spent a lot of time there and would recommend it to any Velvet Underground fans.

From there I decided to visit Montparnasse. It’s an area of Paris I have not been to before that was associated with artists and Bohemians. I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment. I did get there fairly late but the cemetery was closed and the neighbourhood looked quite ordinary apart from the strange, grotesque and enormous tower. Who put THAT there?? Maybe I just missed the good bits and need to go back, but I did end up in a rather good cocktail bar in the middle of it’s happy hour. Happy I was indeed!

I decided to go straight to the open mic at The Highlander Scottish Pub. By the time I got there it was already full and there was a long list of performers waiting to play. It was a great night though and everyone ends up with three songs which means you can really get into it. Because I was high on the Velvet Underground I decided to do one of their songs Heroin. This could have been a disaster but it wasn’t. It went down a storm! I did my other two songs and from then on I had a room full of new friends and the bar staff kept giving me free drinks! I couldn’t have wished for a better night, and the other acts were brilliant too. I filmed a couple of them with my phone. Again, there was a large American contingent. Like in a lot of European cities the British pubs and Irish bars are the place for live local music and open mics. There is also a receptive listening audience. The Highlander’s music cellar had bags of atmosphere. Definitely worth a visit.

20160414_004502_HDR

Highlander Pub Open Mic

Next day I got the Eurostar back to England. I hadn’t used my guitar once. It only takes two and a half hours to get to London. Paris will become one of my regular haunts I think!

My European Musical Adventure Part 2 October 2015

Frankfurt Station

Frankfurt Station

I arrived in Frankfurt at about 10.30 p.m. It was an easy run and the bus station was next to the railway station, like they are in many European cities. It makes sense. Why don’t they do that in British cities? Mind you, the bus stations have a very different atmosphere. There is a slight air of desperation with people waiting for buses, an atmosphere of uncertainty. And things happen that don’t happen elsewhere. Everyone has a story to tell!

I was a bit nervous when I arrived at Frankfurt. After my experiences with the hostel in Brussels I was afraid that things may go wrong. Also, the reviews of the hotel I was staying in were not great. There was talk of drug addicts and prostitutes hanging about outside the hotel! Well, at least they weren’t inside and, actually, it turned out to be fine! Yes, it was a slightly dodgy area but it was really close to the station and the town centre and it was clean and had a 24 hour reception which meant I wasn’t standing around for hours outside. I had a really good night’s sleep!

I didn’t know what to expect with Frankfurt. When I worked out my itinerary for the trip it was a convenient stop on the way from Brussels to Prague and it’s a place I didn’t really know anything about apart from it was where hot dogs were invented! I certainly wasn’t expecting a major festival to be happening that had taken up most of the town. I eventually found out it was a commemoration of the re-unification of Germany. Things were happening everywhere. I decided that busking was not really going to be feasible. There was noise coming from countless tents and stages. At night there was a major rock concert in the centre of town with thousands of people and a major police presence. Very exciting. Yet again, my busking plans had been thwarted (or was I just bottling out?!).

Festival time in Frankfurt. Stages everywhere!

Festival time in Frankfurt. Stages everywhere!

Anyway, I decided to try and rent a bike from the stands outside the station. This time I had more luck and I managed to get the pay station to accept my credit card. However, it took a long time for me to work out how to actually unlock the bike. The instructions for everything were in German and when I tried to phone the helpline the operator knew nothing about how to hire the bikes. Great helpline!! In the end I worked it out by downloading the Android phone app that was in English and I realised that hiring the bike was easier than I thought. Fantastic! I went cycling off round the city.

Got the bikes to work! Liberation!!

Got the bikes to work! Liberation!!

The city is interesting with a futuristic financial area full off postmodernist buildings and hipster delis. It was so nice not having to walk but still be able to get round and see everything! Bliss!! As expected, there are very few old buildings but it has a good atmosphere and it is very nice down by the river. I had an Indian meal from a market stall which wasn’t that great but it filled me up.

View from Frankfurt Station

View from Frankfurt Station

Frankfurt centre. Many interesting modern buildings.

Frankfurt centre. Many interesting modern buildings.

At night I had a look round for live music venues. There is a street with several jazz clubs and bars down in it and I was heading for these. I had been told about a bar called Club Voltaire that I went to but when I got there it looked a bit dull so I didn’t stay long. I also never got to the jazz clubs. On the way I came across a bike park and decided to do more biking, this time at night. Loved it! What a liberating feeling biking is! Then I went back to the hotel and watched Star Wars Episode 1 on my computer. It was better than I remember it.

Frankfurters everywhere cooked over wood barbecues!

Frankfurters everywhere cooked over wood barbecues!

Next morning I went to the bus station to get the bus to Prague, the next city on my list.The stop I wanted was down a side street. The buses are actually clean and comfortable but the bus station was a complete mess. Rubbish was everywhere. The bins were either overflowing or broken. This is not what I expected in a German city! There was also nowhere for passengers to sit and wait. I was beginning to feel like a second class citizen. It was good experience though and the other passengers were really friendly, and of course it is really cheap! You may think it’s odd me saying it’s a “good” experience but at least part of what I was doing was to see things from a different perspective, and it made me aware of how other people live and survive. It made me a part of things just by being there. There really were shades of the Jack Kerouac zeitgeist in what I was doing. I was on the outside looking in and I saw much that I haven’t seen before.

The trip from Frankfurt to Prague is really good. The scenery is wonderful and there are hundreds of miles of pristine forest. The only stop we made was at Nuremberg which is pretty grim. Glad I wasn’t staying although lots of passengers got off there. You can’t just base opinions on what a place looks like. It’s the people that count and Nuremberg’s history is pretty disturbing what with the carpet bombing and Sovietisation. It makes Coventry look picturesque! I was glad to get back into the beautiful countryside though.

On the bus to Prague

On the bus to Prague

Prague is a beautiful city. I think it was the nicest place I’ve been to on the whole trip. Again, it wasn’t good for busking because of punitive by-laws. You need a licence and can only play for an hour at a time. Some of the buskers on Charles Bridge were brilliant, among the best I’ve ever seen. There were two accordionists playing Bach fugues, perfectly! I decided not to go rogue, and didn’t busk!

Prague at night

Prague at night

Unfortunately, there were no street bikes to hire so I was back on foot. I went all over and was particularly impressed  by the Franz Kafka Museum. It didn’t have many exhibits but it presented itself as a kind of art installation and it gave a real insight into the work of Kafka, especially his novel, The Castle. It’s inspired me to revisit his work.

Franz Kafka Museum, Prague

Franz Kafka Museum, Prague

Kafka's illustrations of The Castle.

Kafka’s illustrations of The Castle.

That night I took my accordion to an open mic at The Red Room bar. This was very good and I made lots of new friends including a couple from San Francisco who were doing a European tour. They did a brilliant version of Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix using acoustic guitar and voice. Check them out: The Jeff Jolly Band.

Red Room Open Mic, Prague. Jeff and Desiree playing.

Red Room Open Mic, Prague. Jeff and Desiree playing.

Statue outside the Kafka Museum, Prague

Hilarious statue outside the Kafka Museum, Prague

Next morning I was up early to get a bus to Berlin. This left at seven in the morning but I made it. It stopped at Dresden which is also a grim East German city that suffered terribly in the War. It made me realise how profoundly affected Europe was by the War, something I hadn’t really realised as a child growing up in Leicester which was relatively unaffected by bombing, although I did know about Coventry which was another beautiful city reduced to rubble! I went there as a child to visit the new Cathedral on a school trip.It was very memorable, especially the statue of Lady Godiva! What a terrible thing war is!

Kurferstendamm Berlin

Kurferstendamm Berlin

Alexanderplatz, Berlin. Full of strange, dislocated people.

Alexanderplatz, Berlin. Full of strange, dislocated people.

Berlin was my last stop and I only stayed there for a day before I went back overnight on the bus to Brussels. I went to a strange bar that night that had an open mic. It had a stream flowing down the bar! The barman didn’t think I was drinking enough beer. He was quite eccentric! It was mainly songwriters and the standard was really high. The atmosphere wasn’t as good as some of the places I’ve been to and I left early to make sure I got the metro back to the hotel before it shut down for the night.

Arcanao Bar Open Mic. Some really great singer/songwriters!

Arcanao Bar Open Mic, Berlin. Some really great singer/songwriters!

I had most of the day in Brussels before I got the train back to London so I decided to go to the Musical Instrument Museum and the Magritte Museum. Both were really interesting, especially the Magritte. I never realised a seminal surrealist could be so conventional and bourgeois! Still, I like his work!

Magritte Museum, Brussels

Magritte Museum, Brussels

Outside, the riot squad are getting restless, they need somewhere to go..

Outside, the riot squad are getting restless, they need somewhere to go..

Got back to London at 7 p.m. Adventure over, but there’ll be another one soon!

My European Musical Adventure Part 1 October 2015

Me in Brussels. Beginning of the trip!

Me in Brussels. Beginning of the trip!

So, here I am on my second travelling adventure of the year. I’ve got the bug now. A bit like a latter day Jack Kerouac in search of kicks and excitement. Well, okay, visiting several European cities in a very short time! In this case, from Tuesday 29th September to Wednesday 7th October 2015. This is a shorter time than my Interail Spanish trip in April but I’m visiting nearly as many cities. I’ve also taken my accordion along for the ride. Am I  mad, it weighs a ton, or seems to after a very short time. Still, the idea is to possibly do a bit of busking on the streets of Europe and also maybe get involved with open mics and jam sessions. I thought the accordion would be more interesting and exotic than a guitar which is lighter but takes up more room, and there are millions of guitarists around. It makes me yawn just thinking about it.

Okay, the train ride to Brussels went very smoothly. Changed at St. Pancras no problem. It’s the first time I’ve been on EuroStar. It’s a bit like taking a plane with all the security checks! I managed to get through without setting any alarms off. I’m getting good at this now! The train wasn’t quite as luxurious as I had expected it to be. There were no electrical sockets or WiFi. This makes the buses I have travelled on so far actually better. In fact, the one I’m travelling on at the moment even has a selection of films you can watch. Now, if only I could speak German! Never mind though, the scenery is gorgeous!
The journey from London to Brussels took only two hours. The train is staggeringly fast although you don’t really notice it. I got to Brussels late afternoon and walked from the station to my hotel, Hotel Francois. For once I found it easily but ended up waiting for over an hour for the person to come to the reception. He never arrived. One of the guests woke up a man who was sleeping in room 1 and told him I was waiting. I’m not one to complain but this hostel is about the worst I’ve ever stayed in. All the rooms were unlocked all the time so there was no security (or key) and I got a bunk bed with no pillow or blanket. To be fair, the place was clean although there was no toilet paper. It was also right in the middle of the beautiful old town. I managed to survive their for two nights though. Brussels is very expensive and the Hotel Francois cost €20 a night. The nearest alternative cost €90 a night. That’s why I stuck it out. By the second night I was getting used to it anyway. 

That night I had a walk round the town and had a tasty kebab supper. I also took some pictures of the city at night and looked where I might do some busking. I went back to the hotel and eventually managed to get to sleep. I was in a room with five people and it was pretty noisy but I must have been tired. Didn’t wake up until 9.30 a.m.

Brussels at night. Beautiful.

Brussels at night. Beautiful.

Brussels. Love the trams!!

Brussels. Love the trams!! Just rode around on them for the hell of it!

Brussels Cathedral

Brussels Cathedral

Busker in Brussels. You need a licence and can only play in certain places.

Busker in Brussels. You need a licence and can only play in certain places.

That morning I decided to try some busking. Unfortunately, there was virtually no one about. The town doesn’t fill up ‘til gone twelve. I decided to put the accordion in Left Luggage at the station (it was beginning to get really heavy) and do the busking later. Then I had a good look round the town. I tried to rent a bike but had the same problem as when I was in Valencia. I couldn’t get it to read my credit card. Very frustrating!! So I got a 24 hour travel pass that I didn’t realise expired at midnight. Okay, as you have probably realised, after a promising start things were not exactly going to plan. Well, that’s part of the adventure. That is my rule. You take and deal with anything that comes, good or bad. And later on it got really good. The busking never happened because of various problems I hadn’t thought of like local laws and regulations. Officially, all buskers need to be licensed and can only play in certain places. What did happen though was a brilliant jam session at the Café Floréo near where I was staying. Had a great time playing all night with some excellent musicians and made a whole load of new friends. Fantastic! I slept well that night!

Cafe Floreo

Cafe Floreo, Brussels. Great live music bar!

Cafe Floreo, Brussels. Great jam night on Wednesdays.

Cafe Floreo, Brussels. Great jam night on Wednesdays.

I got the bus for Frankfurt on Thursday 1st October at 16.30 from the Gard du Nord station, Brussels. Everything went smoothly and I found the bus stand easily and I was in good time. I wasn’t sure I was looking forward to a six hour journey though, but it was an opportunity to have a good rest!

My European Interail Diary Part 2 Wednesday 8th April

Okay, I’m on a train again this time on the way to Madrid. This is the first of my proper trips using the interail pass and it went quite smoothly. The only problem I had was getting out of my hotel. There was no-one in the reception at 8.30 and the whole place was like Fort Knox. It was as hard to get out of as it was to get in what with three different gates to open with three different keys. I was going to leave the money with a note but then realised I couldn’t get out without the key so I couldn’t do that. Nightmare! Eventually, I banged on a door next to the reception and a bleary eyed man staggered out who couldn’t speak a word of English. He tried to overcharge me but eventually I paid the right amount. I tried to explain about the door situation which you couldn’t open without the key but I’m not sure he understood me. He seemed to think I could just push the door open. So going down four floors I tried to follow his instructions and of course it didn’t work just like I thought it wouldn’t. Fortunately, someone with a key came by and let me out so I didn’t have to go back up the four flights of stairs. When it comes to hotels you probably get what you pay for, and I didn’t  pay very much!

Blues Jam Night at the Harlem Jazz Club, Barcelona. Fantastic night every Tuesday!

Barcelona is great. I stayed two nights instead of one. Last night I went to a really good live music venue called the Harlem Jazz Club. It was blues jam night. The band were brilliant and I bought one of their CDs. I also did two numbers with them on piano and voice. I must have done okay because if they don’t like you you only get to do one number. It wasn’t really like a jam that I usually go to but the place was full and it was a really good night of music. The standard of the musicians was awesome.

Chino and the boys. Brilliant band!!

Chino and the Big Beat. Brilliant band!!

During the day I got a travel pass and went round looking at the sights. The old city and Gothic Quarter are lovely but there is a lot of Barcelona that is quite boring and unremarkable. I love the Ramblas though and I went to possibly the best market ever. It’s amazing because in the past I must have visited this area more than five times but it was like I was seeing it for the first time. I never even knew there was a big market there. I suppose it’s the difference between travelling with others and travelling alone. Going solo can be lonely at times but at least you get to do and see what you want. It’s possible to be more spontaneous .They had fruit from everywhere in the world and it was lovely and fresh. I definitely had more than my five a day yesterday.

Fantastic market off the Ramblas, Barcelona

I’ve just stopped at Zaragoza. Will be in Madrid in about an hour.