In the early 1960s, the singer Marty Buchwald signed to Challenge Records, which promoted him as a teen idol under the name of Marty Balin. Having failed to achieve any commercial success, Balin started to work for his father but maintained an interest in music, joining a folk music quartet called The Town Criers. In early 1965, he decided to form a folk-rock group and started auditioning musicians.

Balin recruited guitarist Paul Kantner, who was also part of the San Francisco Bay folk scene. Kantner recommended fellow guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, whom he had met at Santa Clara University. After hearing her sing at the Drinking Gourd nightclub, Balin invited Signe Toly Anderson to join the band as co-vocalist. Bassist Bob Harvey and drummer Jerry Peloquin completed the line-up.

As well as forming a band, Balin had another scheme in the pipeline. With help from his father, he persuaded three lawyers to each invest $3,000 for a 25% share to buy a former pizza parlour on Fillmore Street and convert it into a nightclub called The Matrix. The remaining 25% share was retained by his band, which became known as Jefferson Airplane. The name derived from a nickname given to Kaukonen by his friend Steve Talbot: Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane.

On 13th August 1965, Jefferson Airplane made their first public appearance at the opening night of The Matrix. Later that year, the band signed a recording contract with RCA Victor as a result of glowing reviews of the band in the San Francisco press. Following a number of changes to the line-up (notably the replacement of Anderson with Grace Slick), Jefferson Airplane became a key figure in the psychedelic rock movement of the later 1960s.

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