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Janis Joplin

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American blues-influenced rock singer and occasional songwriter with a highly distinctive voice. Joplin released four albums as the frontwoman for several bands from 1967 to a posthumous release in 1971.

Background information
Birth name Janis Lyn Joplin
Born January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, USA
Died October 4, 1970 in Los Angeles, California, USA
Genre(s) Blues-rock
Hard rock
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, arranger
Instrument(s) Guitar
Label(s) Columbia
Big Brother & the Holding Company


Janis Joplin was born at St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur, Texas, the daughter of Seth Ward Joplin and Dorothy Bonita East.[1] Her father was an engineer at Texaco. Janis had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. As a teenager, she befriended a group of outcasts, including Jim Langdon and Grant Lyons, the latter of whom played her the blues for the first time. She began listening to musicians such as Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, Odetta, and Big Mama Thornton and singing in the local choir. While at Thomas Jefferson High School, she was mostly shunned. Among her high school classmates was another individual destined for stardom: future college and NFL coach Jimmy Johnson. In a 1992 Sports Illustrated profile of his career, Johnson claimed that he gave Janis the high school nickname of “beat weeds.” Primarily a painter, it was in high school that she first began singing blues and folk music with friends. Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended the University of Texas in Austin, though she never attained a degree. One persistent story is of her being nominated in a Fraternity contest “The Ugliest Man on Campus.” She lived in a building commonly refered to as “The Ghetto” which was located at 2812 1/2 Nueces Street. The building has since been torn down and replaced with new apartment buildings. The rent was a mere $40 a month when she lived there.

Cultivating a rebellious manner that could be viewed as “liberated” — the women’s liberation movement was still in its infancy at this time — Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines, and in part after the beat poets. She left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, lived in North Beach and in Haight-Ashbury as well as Corte Madera. On 25 June 1964 Janis and Jefferson Airplane guitar player Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards at Jorma’s Mother’s House in San Jose, CA , further accompanied by Margaretta Kaukonen on typewriter (as percussion instrument). These lo-fi sessions included seven tracks: “Typewriter Talk”, “Trouble In Mind”, “Kansas City Blues”, “Hesitation Blues”, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” and “Long Black Train Blues”, and were later released as the Bootleg Album The Typewriter Tape.

Around this time her drug use began to increase, and she acquired a reputation as a “speed freak” and occasional heroin user. She also used other intoxicants. She was a heavy drinker throughout her career, and her trademark beverage was Southern Comfort.

Like many other female singers of the era, Joplin’s feisty public image was at odds with her real personality. The book Love, Janis, written by her sister, has done much to further the reassessment of her life and work and reveals the private Joplin to have been a highly intelligent, articulate, shy and sensitive woman who was devoted to her family.

Big Brother and the Holding Company

Joplin again moved to San Francisco in 1966, where her bluesy vocal style saw her join Big Brother and The Holding Company, a band that was gaining some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. The band signed a deal with independent Mainstream Records and recorded an eponymously titled album in 1967. However, the lack of success of their early singles led to the album being withheld until after their subsequent success.

The band’s big break came with their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, which included a version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” and featured a barnstorming vocal by Joplin. (The D.A. Pennebaker documentary Monterey Pop captured Cass Elliot in the crowd silently mouthing “Wow, that’s really heavy” during Joplin’s performance.) Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills featured more raw emotional performances and together with the Monterey performance, it made Joplin into one of the leading musical stars of the late Sixties. It also produced Joplin’s breakthrough hit single, “Piece of My Heart”, whose chorus would be borrowed two years later by Alive N Kickin”s one-hit wonder “Tighter, Tighter”. Cheap Thrills sold over one million copies in its first month of release. Live at Winterland ’68, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968 shows Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company at the height of their mutual career working through an inspired selection of tracks from their studio albums.

Solo career and Woodstock

After splitting from Big Brother in December of 1968, she formed a new backup group, modelled on the classic soul revue bands, named the Kozmic Blues Band, which backed her on I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969: the year she played at Woodstock). The band contained a horn section and many reviewers felt the horns competed with her. The album was certified gold later that year but was a more modest success than Cheap Thrills. The group was indifferently received and soon broke up after a year, and Joplin then formed The Full Tilt Boogie Band. The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971). It became the biggest selling album of her short career and featured her biggest hit single, the definitive version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee”, as well as the wry social commentary of the a cappella “Mercedes Benz”, written by Joplin and beat poet Michael McClure.

Among her last public appearances were two broadcasts of The Dick Cavett Show on June 25 and August 3, 1970. On the June 25 show she announced that she would attend her ten-year high school Class reunion, although she admitted that when in high school she had been “laughed out of class, out of school, out of town, out of the state”. She made it there, but it would be one of the last decisions of her life and it reportedly proved to be a rather unhappy experience for her.


During the fall 1970 recording sessions for the Pearl album with The Doors and Phil Ochs producer Paul A. Rothchild, Joplin died, aged 27. Her death was caused by an overdose of heroin on October 4, 1970. The last recordings she completed were “Mercedes Benz” and a birthday greeting for John Lennon on October 1, 1970; Lennon later told Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his New York home after her death.

She was cremated in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. The album Pearl, released six weeks after her death, included a version of Nick Gravenites’ song “Buried Alive In The Blues”, which was left as an instrumental because Joplin had died before she was able to record her vocal over the backing track.


Joplin is now remembered best for her powerful, and distinctive voice — her rasping, overtone-rich sound was significantly divergent from the soft folk and jazz-influenced styles that were common among many white artists at the time — as well as for her lyrical themes of pain and loss. To many, she personified that period of the Sixties when the San Francisco sound, along with (then considered) outlandish dress and life style jolted the country. Many Joplin fans remember her appearance on the Dick Cavett show with an obviously delighted Dick Cavett. She is mentioned in the book, “Small Steps”, a sequel to the hit novel, “Holes”. [1] The genuineness of her personality always came across in press interviews, for better or worse.

Joplin’s contributions to the rock idiom were long overlooked[citation needed], but her importance is now becoming more widely appreciated, thanks in part to the recent release of the long-unreleased documentary film Festival Express, which captured her at her very best. Janis’s vocal style, her flamboyant dress, her outspokenness and sense of humour, her liberated stance (politically and sexually) and her strident, hard-living “one of the boys” image all combined to create an entirely new kind of female persona in rock.

It can be argued that, prior to Joplin, there was a tendency for solo, white female pop performers to be pigeonholed in to a few broadly defined roles — the gentle, guitar-strumming ‘folkie’ (e.g. Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell), the virginal ‘pop goddess’ (e.g. Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney) or the cool, elegantly dressed chanteuse (e.g. Dusty Springfield)[citation needed] who, in fact, included a version of “Piece Of My Heart” on her 1968 album “Dusty…Definitely”, released within a few months of Joplin’s studio version. As one of the first women to front a fully-fledged rock band, Joplin followed the precedent set by her white, male counterparts in adopting the image, repertoire and performance style of African American blues and rhythm and blues artists, both male and female. In so doing, Joplin was pivotal in redefining what was possible for white female singers in mainstream American popular music.

Not recognized by her hometown during her life, she was remembered much later. In 1988, her life and achievements were showcased and recognized in Port Arthur by the dedication of the Janis Joplin Memorial, with an original bronze, multi-image sculpture of Joplin by Douglas Clark.

Alongside Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, she pioneered an entirely new range of expression for white women in the previously male-dominated world of post-Beatles rock. It is also notable that, in a very short time, she transcended the role of “chick singer” fronting an all-male band, to being an internationally famous solo star in her own right.

Joplin is also notable as one of the few female performers of her day to regularly wear pants (or slacks), rather than skirts or dresses.[citation needed] Her body decoration with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, is taken as a seminal moment in the tattoo revolution and was an early moment in the popular culture’s acceptance of tattoos as art.[2]. Another trademark was her flamboyant hair styles, often including colored streaks and accessories such as scarves, beads and feathers, a style strikingly at odds with the ‘regulation’ perms or wigs sported by most female singers of the day.[citation needed] It is especially notable that she is probably the only major female pop-rock star of the period who never wore makeup — something that was very striking at a time when the wearing of makeup was de rigueur for female performers.

People have drawn comparisons between Joplin and her close contemporary Jimi Hendrix (with whom it was rumored that she had a tryst in a bathroom stall)[citation needed], who similarly was catapulted to fame by his appearance at Monterey, had a brief, successful career, and who also died from drug-related causes within weeks of Joplin, also at the age of twenty-seven.

Joplin also has been compared with Jim Morrison, another contemporary who died at twenty-seven after a successful and drug-fueled career. She and Morrison also reportedly had an affair.

The 1979 film The Rose was loosely based on Joplin’s life. The lead role earned Bette Midler an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress (Joplin had gone to see Midler perform several times at the Continental Baths at the Ansonia Hotel in New York, when Midler was first starting out). In the late 1990s, a musical based on “Love, Janis,” was launched, with an aim to take it to Off-Broadway. Opening there in the summer of 2001 and scheduled for only a few weeks of performances, the show won acclaim and packed houses and was held over several times, the demanding role of the singing Janis attracting rock vocalists from relative unknowns to pop stars Laura Branigan and Beth Hart. A national tour followed. Gospel According to Janis, a biographical film starring Zooey Deschanel as Joplin as currently in production and scheduled for a 2008 release.

Contemporary singer P!nk has cited Janis Joplin as one of her first idols. During her 2004 Try This Tour, P!nk performed a three song acoustic medley of: Summertime/Me and Bobby McGee/Piece of My Heart


December 10, 2006 Posted by | Janis Joplin, Music, OLDIES, Rock | Leave a comment