Tag Archives: Janis Joplin

Remembering Janis

Janis Jopin- 1/19/43 - 10/4/70

This is the Janis I want to remember. The laughing, smiling, giggling Janis. The, life is good and I’m going to ride it to the sky like a winged Pegasus until I fly too close to the sun, Janis. The– I can sing the blues till the sun comes up, sip on a bottle of Wild Turkey and do it all over again that night–Janis.

To say she was unique is like saying sand is gritty or water is wet. There was no mold to build a Janis Joplin from. She grew from a little girl in Port Arthur, Tx, to become the preeminent blues singer of the sixties. She had barbed wire for vocal cords and when she took the stage magic happened. She became part of the music. It’s not like you just went to see Janis. In some ways it was like an out of body event. To use words like awe and wonder minimizes the whole experience.

And then she was gone. In the wake of her tragic death a generation mourned and in many ways it would never be the same again. The Summer of Love turned into the Autumn of Absence. Jimi Hendrix and two weeks later Janis Joplin was more than I could bear and I wept like many others, grieving a life lost we only knew in song. I felt a hole in my soul where the cold wind blows.

“Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers. You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely. All you really have that really matters are feelings. That’s what music is to me.”

Rock and Roll Saturday – Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin - January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970

October 4 of ’70 was one of those bad days in rock and roll. I openly wept.

Janis was gone. Never would her gravely voice penetrate a microphone with the soul and passion only Janis could provide. Never before or since has there been someone to match her style and substance. She had the heart of a Delta blues singer and the voice of an angel with barbed-wire for vocal cords. She could take the stage and own it like no other. Her kick-ass vocals and stage presence were unlike anyone else in the business.

“When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills.” – Janis Joplin

Born in 1943, Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin grew up in a strict home guided by the teachings of the Church and a firm handed father, an engineer at Texaco. She went on to be somewhat of an outcast at Port Arthur High School where her classmates included actor  G. W. Bailey and future Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

Joplin left Port Arthur in 1960 for a short stint at the University of Texas in Austin where she began cultivating her style and forging her personality as a white hippie blues singer. Her heroes and inspiration were blues greats such as Bessie SmithLeadbellyOdetta and Big Mama Thornton.

Disillusioned with Texas and her prospects for acceptance, Joplin fled to San Francisco in search of a freedom of expression nearly non-existent in Texas. She found like minded musical friends in the Haight-Ashbury district. People like future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded with Janis during her short stint in the district. (The Typewriter Tapes)


Joplin’s  amphetamine abuse during this period caused great concern to her friends and under much urging from those who loved her she returned to Port Arthur to clean up her act and go back to school. She got one of those beehive hairdos and was merely a shadow of her California self.

Her clean time was short lived. An up and coming California rock band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, recruited her as their female lead. Joplin was 23 years-old and on the cusp of greatness. She returned to San Francisco and joined Big Brother in June of ’66. Within months she would return to her old Haight-Ashbury ways and go on the occasional alcohol binge.

Big Brother’s breakthrough appearance in June at the Monterey Pop Festival catapulted Joplin and the band onto the national stage. Her version of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain is an epic classic rock performance where those fortunate enough to hear up close were simply blown away.

In the documentary film, Monterey PopCass Elliot, singer in The Mamas and the Papas, can be seen silently mouthing, “Wow! That’s really heavy!” during Joplin’s performance.

Cheap Thrills, Joplin’s first major release launched on August 12, 1968, and shot straight to the top of the album charts within eight weeks and held the #1 spot for another four weeks. (Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland knocked Cheap Thrills from the top spot.)

Janis at WoodstockWithin weeks of charting Thrills Joplin announced her intention to leave Big Brother for a solo career. Her last gig with the band was at a Family Dog benefit on December 1, 1968. Big Brother guitarist Sam Andrew followed and joined Joplin in the Kozmic Blues Band.

Their summer 1969 tour included the Woodstock festival which was not a great performance for the singer. In her own words Joplin was – three sheets to the wind. After about nine months and one album together, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, Sam Andrew returned to Big Brother -the Kozmic Blues were no more.

By this time Joplin was reportedly using a lot of heroin and becoming increasingly distant. In February of 1970 she took a geographical cure and fled to Brazil in an attempt to get off drugs and turn things around. She was accompanied by long time friend and wardrobe designer, Linda Gravenites. While there she met and had a short fling with American tourist, David (George) Niehaus. A Joplin biography written by her sister Laura said, “David was an upper-middle-class Cincinnati kid who had studied communications at Notre Dame… He tried law school, but when he met Janis he was taking time off.” Laura Joplin went on to say that Niehaus was good for Janis at this time because he didn’t do drugs and she was trying to stop using.

The Niehaus relationship quickly ran it’s course after they returned to California and the singer relapsed on heroin. Without the stability of Niehaus to help anchor her life she got progressively worse.

By May of ’70 she formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band and things were looking up. She assured friends she was drug-free but continued to hit the Southern Comfort like it was Colorado spring water. Much has been written of her six-month plunge towards oblivion and I won’t rehash it here.

Joplin died of a heroin overdose on October 4th, 1970 at the Landmark Hotel in  Hollywood Heights at the age of 27. She had been spending a lot of time in the studio recording new material with Full Tilt Boogie for a new album. In 1971 Pearl was posthumously released. The album went on to be the biggest seller of her brief career.

In the years since I can’t hear a Joplin song playing on the radio or a cover of something she did without thinking… What music did we not get to hear? What songs did she carry with her to the grave. What could have been? I can say with confidence that Janis Joplin was the most influential female singer of the sixties.

For those of you that don’t already know… I call my motorcycle… Pearl.

On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people, then I go home alone.
– Janis Joplin


Woodstock Nation

In August 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place on a dairy farm in Bethel, NY. Half a million people made the trek to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm to hear the leading and emerging performers of the time play over the course of four days (August 15-18).

Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Who, Janis Joplin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were among the line-up. Woodstock is known as one of the greatest happenings of all time and –perhaps- the most pivotal moment in music history.

Over the month of August I will be dedicating my Rock and Roll Saturdays to Woodstock and some of the Artists who performed there.

Saturday – August 6 – The Grateful Dead

Saturday – August 13 – Woodstock

Saturday – August 20 – The Who

Saturday – August 27 – Janis Joplin

Forty years after the legendary festival in Bethel, N.Y., a photo of two lovebirds taken at Woodstock has become an iconic symbol of love. Having only met three months prior, the picture captures a young couple — Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, both now 60 — embracing underneath a dirty blanket, surrounded by exhausted concertgoers.

Winehouse Joins the Exclusive, Forever 27 Club

No group has been more prone to tragedy than young music icons.

The death of Amy Winehouse this past Saturday, as shocking as it was, came as no surprise to many people. Her continued spiral into excessive drug binges had only two possible conclusions and she showed no sign of cleaning up anytime in the near future.

Her death at age 27 puts her with an extraordinary group of music stars, Hendrix, Joplin, Kobain, Jim Morrison and even the legendary Robert Johnson, all died at 27.

So what is it about music, fame and fortune, and the age 27 that claims these young icons long before their time?

I think it’s about that same emotion, turmoil and inner demons that came out through their music. When Janis sang you could wring the sadness from her voice. When Hendrix twisted guitar strings into a stretched symphony of feedback and noise the emotion dripped from his fingers as the pain of his childhood played out in his music. When Morrison penned songs and he talked about death, pain and a ‘killer on the road – his brain is squirming like a toad,’ you knew his mind went places nobody else did.

I believe the same thing that drove their success drove their death. It was that “all or nothing” thing. It was that, “I want what I want and I want it now,” thing. It was that “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead,” thing. The common thread between the members of the 27 club is the success, the tragedy and the age.

From Janis to Amy it hasn’t gotten any easier.