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Big Brother & The Holding Company

Big Brother & The Holding Company/Janis Joplin

Hailing from Port Arthur, Texas, Joplin had a lot of hurt and resentment. She was, through her youth, seen as different or crazy by the locals. At age seventeen she fled. Joplin had taken an interest in poetry and Folk singing. Along the way she picked up an appreciation for Blues and was influenced by Bessie Smith. Later as a Rock star, Joplin bought a proper marker for Smith's grave. Nice gesture. Drugs ruined both lives, but they had a stronger connection, Joplin and Smith lived and died exactly the same, alone.

Like many people looking for a better life, Janis found herself in California. She wandered around the coast in '66 singing her combination of Folk/Blues. It just so happened there was a band looking for a lead singer but Joplin's quiet, introspective and sincere coffeehouse music approach didn't compliment the overblown guitars of Big Brother & The Holding Company. So she decided to Rock.

The band was invited to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in '67 (The Who & Jimi Hendrix were also on the bill). Their performance was raunchy, out of tune and loud. Joplin, however, was incredibly forceful. Her style and emotion got the group signed to a major label record deal. Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, had gone to Monterey looking for talent to make his record label more contemporary.

The first Columbia album (there had been an indie release) was entitled "Cheap Thrills" (the group wanted "Sex, Drugs & Cheap Thrills" but their label nixed the idea and shortened the title) with cover art by R. Crumb. The record begins with an introduction by the Fillmore's Bill Graham. "Four gentlemen and one great, great broad, Big Brother and the Holding Company." They kick into "Combination Of The Two." However, the songs that stand out most are "Piece Of My Heart" and "Ball And Chain." Both show Joplin and her most expressive and dynamic.

It's expected that lead singers are the focal point of a group. However, in some cases the singer's talent and popularity eclipses the rest of the group. This is exactly what happened to Big Brother. The band had always been rapped as sloppy and not up to Joplin's level in terms of talent or performance. So Janis left. Her first backing band, Kozmic Blues Band didn't work but the second, Full Tilt, did much better and produced the LP "Pearl" which featured Joplin's best known solo song, "Me And Bobby McGee," written by Kris Kristofferson. There should be more to the story but there isn't. Janis died of a drug overdose on October 4th, 1970 (age: 27). You could say she was a lonely girl who became a lonely woman but had an ability to connect with her audience in a way few performers have, or will.

Big Brother & The Holding Company Discography


1966 Big Brother & The Holding Company: Live In San Francisco 1966
1967 Big Brother & the Holding Company
1968 Cheap Thrills) US #1

Post-Joplin: Studio/Live/Compilations

1970 Be A Brother
1971 How Hard It Is
1972 In Concert - Janis Joplin
1984 Cheaper Thrills Recorded 1966-1967
1997 Can't Go Home Again
1998 Live At Winterland '68
1999 Do What You Love
2006 Hold Me
2008 The Lost Tapes
2012 Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968

The self-titled debut of Big Brother and the Holding Company is a fairly routine effort. Not inspired but at least hinting of things to come. "Cheap Thrills," with several tracks recorded live, is a true classic. "Combination of the Two" features a duet of Joplin and guitarist Sam Houston Andrew. Then Joplin steps out on "Piece of My Heart," "Ball and Chain" and "I Need A Man To Love." It's easy to understand why and how Joplin got all the attention. She sang like an unleashed animal: fierce, violent, wounded and always passionate. She was simply the most individualist and distinctive singer of her generation - male or female.

After "Cheap Thrills" Joplin ditched Big Brother and went on a largely disastrous solo career.

Monterey International Pop Festival 1967

The human soul is a scary thing. To see someone pour themselves into a song is both frightening and captivating. That was Janis Joplin's stock in trade. Her records, whether with Big Brother and the Holding Co. or solo, really don't capture the soul of this love-starved wailer. On stage, Joplin knew no peer in her day for the tempest she laid out. It was emotionally charged with her foot stomping the beat but almost disconnected from the wreathing pain emanating from the upper half of her torso. The look on her face, the emotion, was incredible. Along with Hendrix she emerged as the major new talent from Monterey. Her performance here is simply one of the best and most riveting filmed.


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