R.I.P. Karen Deal Balin of The Mod Squad, Marty Balin Group

Keyboard player Karen Deal passed away early Friday morning, November 19th.

It was on August 12th in a tribute piece to my dear friend Bobby Hebb I wrote this quote: “Jerry Garcia said on the passing of Janis Joplin: “Death only matters to the person that’s dying. The rest of us are going to live without that voice. For those of us for whom she was a person, we’ll have to do without the person.” Three and a half months after losing Bobby, another close friend who spent just about as much time on the phone with me as Mr. Hebb did, Karen Deal Balin, is also gone. Garcia’s quote is heartfelt, but not entirely accurate, at least from my perspective. Their absence in my life now matters to me.

It is a huge void that is both sad yet filled with beautiful memories of fun conversations – sharing of secrets and of personal thoughts.

Karen toured with the reunited Jefferson Airplane videotaping the event in documentary form in 1989. We were discussing the release of that footage if all the parties could come to an agreement…it was a long-term project so the thought of her passing on just was not in the equation. In 1992, when I was A & R for Wayne Green’s record label, a spin-off of CD Review Magazine, there was the release of the Marty Balin CD, Better Generation, which featured Karen Deal on keyboards and vocals. Karen toured with Marty and guitarist Kerry Kearney to promote the disc and footage from that promotional tour – concerts and TV shows – can be found by just putting Better Generation into YouTube.

While the phone won’t ring with Karen’s voice on it anymore, her spirit lives on in the world of YouTube, just put Tampa’s Mod Squad into the search on that site to find her band performing “Hang On Sloopy”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “Come On Down To My Boat”, “Little Wing”, “Secret Agent Man”, Savoy Brown’s “Tell Mama”, Spirit’s “Nature’s Way”.

The group opened for Peter Noone, Savoy Brown,Spirit (which would also sign with CD Review in 1992) and, of course, Marty Balin, among others. Joey Donovan’s voice and guitar, Rodger Stephan’s drums and Karen’s keyboard lines and joyous personality all pour through on the YouTube videos. Karen told me she enjoyed having those performances up on the web for the world to see…it was a proficient trio, and the on-target playing shows a more-than-capable and highly entertaining unit. Some internet immortality, the thirty-five year old young lady looking quite beautiful on these 1988 Tampa Florida videotapes.

Losing two close friends in a quarter of a year is a tough experience, and certainly not a welcome one. And dwelling on the personal aspect of the loss is no disrespect to the immediate family…my thoughts and prayers are with daughter Delaney, with Marty, with Karen’s mom, dad, brother and sisters…but it does point out that Garcia wasn’t speaking for all of us. As with the passing of Bobby Hebb, Karen Deal’s death doesn’t only matter to Karen…it matters to me.

Rest in peace my good friend.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.