At some point in the seventies, pretty much against the already mixed flow of my musical taste that was straddling the Glam singles of T. Rex, The Sweet and Mott The Hoople, the Rock LP sound of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep with the softer sounds of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young and Roy Harper and the spacey sounds of Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, I found myself falling in love with Janis Joplin.
It wasn’t a poster on my wall, my walls were full of posters already from the middle of Sounds magazine (all thrown away by my family when I moved out, along with my Michael Moorcock books and my complete set of World Cup football star coins collected from the petrol station). I saw that magical woman on the inside of the double In Concert album released in 1972, two years after her death, with concerts from San Francisco, Detroit, Toronto and Calgary. Side 1&2 were with Big Brother And Holding Company and Sides 3&4 with Full Tilt Boogie Band. Her voice and her picture captivated me. When I heard her sing Summertime I was completely mesmerized, enchanted, under her spell. I listened to that album so many times, studied the bangles around her wrist and marvelled at her straw hair. Also inside the gatefold were the sleeve notes written by Clive Davis who signed her to CBS records and who would later sign the ex band to Arista. If you think I just cut and pasted this from the net, no, I didn’t, I typed them out myself with my dodgy typing technique of error and fix later. I can’t find them online anywhere, it seems like a service to Rock ‘n’ Roll that needed to be done…so here they are:
I first saw Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967. She was then an unknown, being given the opportunity to perform on the same stage with the reigning greats of the popular music world. Janis instinctively sensed this was her moment because she was never more vibrant, more electric or more triumphant. Seeing her for the first time was an experience I’ll never forget. She tore at your insides and tingled every nerve. Her raw power and electricity was awesome. From Monterey Janis went on to become a world wide phenomenon. A tough and earthy exterior hid a vulnerable, sensitive ego, with both fighting and interacting all the time. “Piece Of My Heart” and “Summertime” – “Ball and Chain” and “Me and Bobby McGee” – each was a different part of a tremendously unique person and performer.
Janis lived like a flame in the wind – always at her most intense. The flame was, of course, her brilliant talent, itself a living thing always visible and audible in performance. Not a quiet talent but a robust, vigorous, bursting flare of creativity. She honored it and fed it with every last ounce of physical and emotional energy at her command. The result, the effect, was undeniable – a force so compelling it rode down fatigue, strain, endurance, to the very limits of human capacity.
But she was human, a human being. Given a gentler time, she might have lived more years. But she also might have burned less brightly, less intensely. The wind into which she sang was the wind of the 60s, a time of unprecedented cross-currents. The air of the time was a wind that blew away cobwebs and prejudices by the thousands, but was cruelest to those who stood exposed and did not try to hide.
Janis sang in the eye of the hurricane. She didn’t simply “sing” a song – she ravaged it, tore it to shreds, exploded it. And yet, at the right moment, she could be incredibly gentle. Caressing each word with tenderness and understanding. The energy of a lifetime she put into a few short years. Janis “live” could sing down the wind. Or start it up again if it fell silent. Her records – recordings of these “live” performances – are her testament. Hearing them now, they inspire not so much mere admiration and applause – but awe. We are awed that one human being – yes, greatly gifted and talented but still one person – could give so much.
Clive Davis (President CBS Records)
Some years ago whilst staying at the Highland Gardens Hotel in Los Angeles I discovered that this hotel used to be called The Landmark Motor Hotel and this was the place where Janis Joplin died. I asked reception if I could visit her room (Room 105) and they said yes. I wound my way around the corridors until I came to the door. I let myself in and closed the door behind me. I just stood there. The room didn’t seem to have changed much since that fateful day on October 4th 1970. There was an old wooden closet of some kind that seemed like it had been there since the sixties. I just closed my eyes and thought about her. There was no ghost, nothing left, just that voice resonating through my brain.
As you might have guessed, music tonight has been exclusively Janis Joplin, In Concert from 1972 that I mentioned at the beginning featuring two of her bands, Big Brother And The Holding Company and the Full Tilt Boogie Band. Next came Pearl that was released three months after her death in 1970 reaching No.1 in the US Charts and featuring her classic vocal performance on the Kris Kristofferson penned song, Me And Bobby McGee, a No.1 US single and who can’t love her a cappella Mercedes Benz and irreverent sense of humour.
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother And The Holding Company was the other album that I played to death starting with Combination Of The Two. I never knew which of the two guitarists, James Gurley or Sam Andrew, was playing all those mad solos, I loved the wild approach. Joplin’s voice on this album is so amazing. Somehow she sings low gruff and soft sensitive high notes at the same time. This is my favourite album by Janis and especially great with this raw band, it also reached No.1 on the US charts in 1968. For some reason I never got the first Big Brother album with Janis, something I have to fix.
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama (1969) with the Kozmic Blues Band was the band and album between Cheap Thrills and Pearl. At this point she had left Big Brother under pressure to work with studio musicians. This was a step away from the Psychedelic Blues Rock of Cheap Thrills and headed more in a Soul direction with brass, Janis took Sam Andrew with her for this album with a new band. It also featured Mike Bloomfield from Electric Flag on guitar who also played with the controversial electric band that Dylan brought to the Newport Folk Festival.
Go love Janis, she’s amazing.
Song Of The Day today is Janis Joplin live singing Summertime at Gröna Lund in Stockholm with Full Tilt Boogie Band in 1969.