25 March 2011

TGIF Rock-n-Roll Oldies: Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company- 1967


Big Brother and the Holding Company came together in 1960's San Francisco, springing from the same historic Bay-area scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and others.

While the band was formed before Joplin came along, they became famous shortly after absorbing her as lead singer.  The chemistry worked, and soon they released what many consider to be a truly epic rock-n-roll record, the US #1 Cheap Thrills...

Janis Joplin (1.19.43 - 10.4.70) herself was of course an American singer, songwriter and arranger. After dying far too young, Joplin lives on in in our collective memory as a star-crossed member of the "27 club". She first rose to prominence in the late 1960s first as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, then briefly as as a solo artist before her untimely passing.

As a teen, Janis Joplin was known as an eccentric around her native Port Arthur, Texas, where her father was a white-shirted engineer at Texaco. Her mom once remarked "She was unhappy and unsatisfied without (receiving a lot of attention). The normal rapport wasn't adequate."

Her friends were other local misfits who introduced her to the music of blues artists such as Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. Joplin joined the church choir to hone her skills locally while listening to blues singers such as Big Mama Thornton. Primarily an aspiring painter while still in school, among her high school classmates was future Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. 


Fusing a style of part blues-rebel, part beatnick proto-hippie, Janis Joplin adopted the sound and moves of female blues divas of the 30s and 40s. Her very first song recorded on tape -done at the home of a friend in 1962- was "What Good Can Drinkin' Do". 

Joplin soon left the Lone Star State for the SF Bay area in '63, moving into North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. The next year Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards, further accompanied by Margareta Kaukonen on typewriter, employed as a percussion instrument (!).

Unfortunately a narrative which was to eventually claim her life -heavy drinking and drug use- came to be a major factor already at this time, with Joplin abusing 'speed' and then later on to heroin.  She also experimented with LSD and other psychoactive drugs, and her affection for Southern Comfort was legendary. 

But you have to wonder if those who consider Lady Gaga to be really something special have ever heard a truly powerful female performer the likes of Tina Turner or Janis Joplin- and power is the word.

With Joplin, this is what really catches the imagination... how this shy, odd duck who seemed so very uncomfortable expressing herself in most other ways could get on stage and just shred it like she did in her prime- incredible. One famous clip from Alamont had Grace Jones sitting in the front row with jaw dropped at the spectacle of Janis Joplin's live performance... an intense, talented, and emotional person was inside, always yearning to burst-on-out... and on stage, it did.

Note this live cut's opening seconds below, where you can hear that meek, faint voice in the background informing the rhythm guitarist that he's "been hitting the wrong chord all night"... right  before she fires up the pipes and rolls right into it:


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

How I miss her talent, voice, and God given ability. A true natural.

Anonymous said...

Janis truly was indeed a lost soul with tremendous ability. But that was the nature of the country at that time. So many things had changed culturally that no one was really prepared and as such she was a pioneer. She demonstrated the strength a woman could possess during a time when most women wore cotton house dresses and their main concern was child rearing and meal planning. I will miss her always.

Red said...

LOVE IT! Great post! Glad you picked her! You should post on Tina next Friday :-D

Reaganite Republican said...

Thank you kindly, Red

As for Tina... been there:

Ike and Tina Turner - 1973

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