October 4, 1970 – Janis Lyn Joplin was truly one of the most remarkable rock and blues performers of the 1960s and the decades following. Born in Port Arthur Texas, she escaped the small town prejudices and took off for the San Francisco counter culture, dominated by Love and Peace and Alcohol and Drugs. Janis unfortunately became a member of the 27 Club as she passed on October 4, 1970, just a short 3 weeks after her former love interest and famous 27 Club member Jimi Hendrix.
Her Texas upbringing put Joplin under the sway of Leadbelly, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton in her teens, and the authenticity of these voices strongly influenced her decision to become a singer. A self-described “misfit” in high school, she suffered virtual ostracism, but dabbled in folk music with her friends and painted. She briefly attended college in Beaumont and Austin but was more drawn to blues legends and beat poetry than her studies; soon she dropped out and, in 1963, headed for San Francisco, eventually finding herself in the notoriously drug-fueled Haight Ashbury neighborhood. She met up with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (later of the legendary San Francisco rock outfit Jefferson Airplane) and the pair recorded a suite of songs with Jorma’s wife, Margareta, providing the beat on her typewriter. These tracks – including blues standards like “Trouble in Mind” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – would later surface as the infamous “Typewriter Tapes” bootleg.
She returned to Texas to escape the excesses of the Haight, enrolling as a sociology student at Lamar University, adopting a beehive hairdo and living a generally “straight” life despite occasional forays to perform in Austin. But California drew her back into its glittering embrace in 1966, when she joined the Haight-based psychedelic-rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her adoption of a wild sartorial style – with granny glasses, frizzed-out hair and extravagant attire that winked, hippie-style, at the burlesque era – further spiked her burgeoning reputation.
The band’s increasingly high-profile shows earned them a devoted fan base and serious industry attention; they signed with Columbia Records and released their major-label debut in 1967. Of course, it was Joplin’s seismic presence that caused all the commotion, as evidenced by her shattering performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was captured for posterity by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker; in the film, fellow pop star Mama Cass can be seen mouthing the word “Wow” as Joplin tears her way through “Ball and Chain.”
Big Brother’s “Piece of My Heart,” on 1968’s Cheap Thrills LP, shot to the #1 spot, the album sold a million copies in a month, and Joplin became a sensation – earning rapturous praise from Time and Vogue, appearing on The Dick Cavett Show and capturing the imagination of audiences that had never experienced such fiery intensity in a female rock singer. Her departure from Big Brother and emergence as a solo star were inevitable; she put together her own outfit, the Kozmic Blues Band, and in 1969 released I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, which went gold. That year also saw her perform at the Woodstock festival.
Joplin assembled a new backup group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, in 1970; she also joined the Grateful Dead, the Band and other artists for the “Festival Express” railroad tour through Canada. Her musical evolution followed the earthier, rootsier direction of the new decade, as reflected in her final studio album, the landmark Pearl. Embracing material such as Kris Kristofferson’s gorgeous country ballad “Me and Bobby McGee” and her own a cappella plaint, “Mercedes Benz,” the disc showcased Joplin’s mastery of virtually all pop genres. The latter song was, along with a phone-message birthday greeting for John Lennon, the last thing she recorded; she died on October 4 of 1970, and Pearl was released posthumously the following year. The quadruple-platinum set became the top-selling release of Joplin’s career and, in 2003, was ranked #122 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and the Kris Kristofferson written Me and Bobby McGee her most memorable song ever.
Kristofferson had been Joplin’s lover not long before her death. Janis lived fast and died young, an American icon and souvenir of the 1960s (Tragically died at the Landmark Hotel, Hollywood, after what must have been an accidental heroin overdose)
In the years since, Janis Joplin’s recordings and filmed performances have cemented her status as an icon, inspiring countless imitators and musical devotees. Myriad hit collections, live anthologies and other repackaged releases have kept her legend alive, as have one-woman shows such as the hit Love, Janis (which Joplin’s sister, Laura, helped create) and 2009’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe “Best Solo Performance” nominee Janis. A documentary film, produced by Jeff Jampol in tandem with Spitfire Films, is currently in development. In 1988, the Janis Joplin Memorial, featuring a bronze sculpture by artist Douglas Clark, was unveiled in Port Arthur.
Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and posthumously given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. But such honors only made official what rock fans already knew: that she was among the greatest, most powerful singers the form had ever known – and that she’d opened the door for countless artists across the musical spectrum. – See more at: http://officialjanis.com/janis.php#sthash.w6P3T5nv.dpuf
Ten Things to Know About Janis
1. Before she became famous, Janis once walked up to Bob Dylan and told him she was going to be famous one day.
He responded, “Yeah, we all gonna be famous.”
2. She wasn’t afraid to admit that she liked to be around men.
During an interview, Howard Smith (The Smith Tapes) asked her why she didn’t have women in any of her groups.
“You show me a good drummer and I’ll hire one,” she responded. “Show me a good chick — besides I don’t want chicks on the road with me. I got enough competition, man.”
3. She demanded to be different, growing up.
According to Janis’ siblings and childhood friends, Janis was the first one in the family to find out that “if you were rocking the boat, you might get noticed. She liked rocking the boat.”
“She was pushing the limits and women weren’t supposed to swear, and women were supposed to be demure and not know that anything existed below their waistlines,” said Dave Moriaty, one of Joplin’s childhood friends.
4. She never had formal vocal training.
Janis’ parents had wanted her to be a school teacher. But she started singing when she was 17 and never turned back. She was completely self-taught, learning from listening to many great musicians.
“I discovered I had this incredibly loud voice. So I started singing blues because that was always what I liked,” Janis said in Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue. “I got in a bluegrass band and played hillbilly music in Austin, TX for free beer. I used to sing in folk clubs just for a goof.”
5. She was free about her sexuality, dating both women and men.
“I don’t think she was with girls to shock people. I think she was with girls because that’s what she felt at the moment,” said Jae Whittaker, Janis’ former girlfriend.
6. The main inspiration for her singing style was Otis Redding.
Janis was incredibly inspired by Otis Redding when she first saw him at the Fillmore. “Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, they are so subtle, they could milk you, with two notes. They could go no farther than from an A to a B and they could make you feel like they told you the whole universe. And Otis, my man. I think maybe if I keep singin’, maybe I’ll get it.”
7. She once airlifted a friend into Woodstock.
When Janis learned that her friend and sometimes lover Peggy Caserta was stuck in traffic and wouldn’t be able to make it to Woodstock, where Janis was performing, she sent a helicopter to fetch her friend.
8. Her talents brought Kris Kristofferson to tears.
Kris Kristofferson didn’t get to hear Janis’ rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee” — a song that he wrote — until after her death.
“I didn’t hear [it] until she was gone. And it was very emotional for me. I could just see her saying, ‘wait till that son of a b***h hears this,’ you know?” said Kris Kristofferson.
Janis’ “Me and Bobby McGee” became the number one single in the U.S. in 1971.
9. She was unapologetic about defying gender roles at the time.
During an interview, Howard Smith told Janis that “it seems to bother a lot of women’s lib people that you’re kind of so upfront sexually.”
To which she confidently answered: “I’m representing everything they want, you know? It’s sort of like you are what you settle for…you are only as much as you settle for,” she said. “I’m just doing what I want to, and what feels right, and not settling for bulls*** and it works. How can they be mad at that?”
10. She put her friends’ happiness above all else.
“Pearl,” the name of her last album, was also what her friends used to call her. In her will, Janis left more than $1,500 to her friends to throw a big party: “The drinks are on pearl.”