Skip to main content

423 - Janis Joplin zonder Big Brother & The Holding Company in 1969

Elf jaar geleden, in 2010, schreef ik over Janis Joplin (1943-1970)  – op basis van de brieven die de zangeres stuurde naar haar moeder, woonachtig in de oliestad Port Arthur (Texas). In een tweede artikel wil ik de nadruk leggen op de solo-carrière van Janis, toen ze eind 1968 uit Big Brother and The Holding Company stapte. Het album ‘Cheap Thrills’ van de groep uit San Francisco had kort daarvoor juist voor een doorbraak gezorgd.
423 1 Cheap Thrills

Wat Laura Joplin schreef
Geld speelde een niet-onbelangrijke rol. Laura Joplin schreef in de biografie die ze van haar oudere zus publiceerde: “Janis’s life became ever more tied to the East Coast, away from the anti-bourgeois scene of the West Coast. New York held Janis’s business influences – Albert Grossman, her manager, Clive Davis, the head of CBS Records, and the bulk of the national press. Together, their influence seemed to undermine her relationship with the band”.
    Ze voegde eraan toe: “People were whispering in Janis’s ear, ‘You’re better than the guys in the band. You should leave them. They’re holding you back. They’re going to ruin your career and you’ll be penniless again’.
    Janis believed her press clippings, and in spite of her guidepost of ‘being true to herself’, she started thinking that others knew what was best”.
Een van die anderen was haar manager Albert Grossman, tevens de zakelijke man achter Bob Dylan. “You love these guys, but I’m more interested in you. I will get you a deal for two million dollars, but only if you get it. I won’t put the money into the other guys’ pockets”, zou hij gezegd hebben.
    Laura Joplin: “That’s the way he was. Janis was only twenty-five years old and forced to decide between band loyalty and a dreamlike financial success that seemed to hinge on leaving the band. All the while, the press was harping that the band was holding her back”. 
Artikel in Hit Parader, februari 1969
In het Amerikaanse maandblad Hit Parader plaatste Jim Delehant (1940-2020) begin 1969 een artikel over haar groep. Dat ving als volgt aan: “Big Brother and the Holding Company exploded on the national scene in the summer of 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival when Janis Joplin seized the microphone and split the air into shockwaves with the first notes that bolted from her astounding throat.
   The following February [in 1968 dus], the group hit New York and the Eastern seaboard for the first time, bursting through the usual complacency of East Coast audiences and critics. Big Brother and the Holding Company went over the edge of being a leading San Francisco rock group to the very top of the mountain.
   Janis Joplin redefines gracefulness, spinning in frenzy, feet stamping, head bobbing, hips jumping with feverish impudence.
   In her warm, tough gentleness, she turns the meaning of beauty counterclockwise. She is unquestionably the most magnificent white blues singer of the decade”.
Over ieder lid van de groep had Delehant wel iets te vertellen. Maar, zoals gebruikelijk, besteedde hij verreweg de meeste aandacht aan de zangeres. 
   “In June of 1966, Janis Joplin, who’d been born in Port Arthur, Texas, had sung country music and blues with an Austin, Texas, bluegrass band, and had kicked around the West Coast singing blues in Frisco bars.
   Port Arthur, Texas, is an oil-refinery town populated by some 60,000 middle-income bracket people who like their drive-in movies, corner drug stores and get-married-to-the-guy-next-door way of life left undisturbed.
   Janis Joplin’s father works for the Texaco Canning Company; her mother is employed as registrar of a business college”.
Een vriend van Chet Helms, leider van de Holding Company, zag en hoorde haar in Austin (Texas) zingen. 
   Janis: “He told me Big Brother was looking for a chick singer, so I thought I’d give it a try. I don’t know what happened. I just exploded. I’d never sung like that before. I’d been into a Bessie Smith-type thing. Big open notes. I stood still, and I sang simple.
   But you can’t sing like that in front of a rock band, all that rhythm and volume going. You have to sing loud and move wild with all that in back of you. I got turned on to Otis Redding, and I just got into it more than ever.
   Now, I don’t know how to perform any other way. I’ve tried cooling myself and not screaming, and I’ve walked off feeling like nothing”.
423 2 Jim Delehant met Ahmet ErtegunJim Delehant (met Ahmet Ertegun)
Janis zong van binnen uit bij Big Brother and the Holding Company”, liet Delehant drukken. “I’m a victim of my own insides”, she says. “There was a time when I wanted to know everything. I read a lot. I guess you’d say I was pretty intellectual. It’s odd. I can’t remember when it changed. It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling.
   I just didn’t know what to do with it, but now, I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me. I’m full of emotion, and I want a release. If you’re on stage and if it’s really working and you’ve got the audience with you, it’s a oneness you feel.
   I’m into me, plus they’re into me. Everything comes together. I just want to feel as much as I can. It’s not always wise, but it’s super-valid. Maybe it’s much wiser. It’s what ‘soul’ is all about”.
Janis Joplin weg bij haar groep
Een aantal maanden eerder was ‘Cheap Thrills’ als een raket omhoog geschoten in de album-hitlijst van Billboard. Op 28 september 1968, vier weken na de release bevond de elpee zich met stip op nummer vier, tussen de producten van de Doors, Rascals, Jose Feliciano, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Rivers, Steppenwolf en Cream.
   Diezelfde dag schreef Janis aan haar familie in Texas: “Off on our final tour. Our last gig together will be Hawaii, the 6th and 7th of December. I told you, you remember, that I was leaving Big Brother and going to do a thing of my own”.
   Janis had zich laten overhalen om aan een solo-carrière te beginnen. “My hardest task begins. I have to find the best musicians in the world and get together and work. There’ll be a whole lot of pressure because of the ‘vibes’ created by my leaving Big Brother and also by just how big I am now.
   A lot of pressure too because of the way it’s to be set up this time – I’m now a corporation called Fantality which will hire all the musicians and pay all the bills – much more responsibility but also much more chance of making money for me as the price goes up, I pocket the extra, or rather Fantality does. Albert Grossman told me – are you ready? – that I should make half a million next year”.
423 3 28 september 196828 september 1968
Reportage tijdens repetitie in San Francisco
Op 23 februari 1969 liet Michael Lydon een interview met de nu zelfstandige artieste afdrukken in de New York Times. Hij zocht haar op in San Francisco. Alvorens zijn reportage te beginnen schreef hij: “As lead singer with Big Brother and The Holding Company, riding the wave of music out of the whole hip movement, Janis had become the biggest female star in rock ’n’ roll. Yet, with her fame still growing, she had quit to go solo”.
   Ook Lydon begreep dat alles draaide om de ‘Yankee dollar’. “The money would be better than with Big Brother, well into five figures for most dates. Her name alone, Janis Joplin, would have top billing. Janis was, by all the rules of show-biz myth, at a truly crucial point in a star’s career”.
   In de nieuwe groep stond Janis centraal. 
Hoe zou het verder gaan? Kon Janis dat aan?
   “Within a month she would be starting the first tour with the new band - warm-ups in Rindge, New Hampshire, and Boston, then the big opening, February 11, at New York’s Fillmore East, and then on across the country. Would the great fan hordes, even those who felt personally betrayed when she quit Big Brother, hang with her? Would they dig what she was doing? Could she do it?”
De journalist trof Joplin aan in een bar. Helemaal nuchter was ze niet. “Her wild brown hair hung in untamed waves down her back and over her lavender silk shirt and blue velvet vest. Gold sandals and bright blue stockings were on her feet, on her wrists dozens of bracelets in flaming acrylic colors; a blue and red kerchief was tied loosely into her immense fur hat; silver Indian bell rings were on every finger, and she was laughing, dancing, and singing, her eyes, mouth, and body never still”.
   Janis had zich omringd met ja-knikkers. In plaats van te repeteren deed ze andere dingen. Zij was immers de ster. “Everyone in the bar roared with laughter, even the guys in her band. Rehearsal should have started a half hour before, but the bar, unlike the dank practice room in a warehouse attic next door, was warm, and Janis was a pleasure to watch”.
423 4 Janis Joplin met sigaret en de flesJanis Joplin met sigaret en fles Southern Comfort
Joplin moet de baas spelen
Het duurde nog enige tijd voor er serieus muziek gemaakt werd.
   “At rehearsal, the groove started to go. It took 10 minutes for everybody to get there, another 15 to get down to work, and even then things were a little too loose.
   ‘Will you guys stop moving around and talking when I’m singing?’ Janis shouted in fury, breaking off the song mid-chorus.
   The band stopped and watched her warily. ‘Hey, Janis, calm’, one of the musicians began.
   ‘Calm? Listen, man, when I’m out there singing, I’m the one, right? I don’t need you guys upstaging. It’s my act. I’m the one they paid to see’.
   ‘Janis, we promise to be good boys’, said the drummer with a broadly mock mollification that made her laugh.
   ‘Okay, man, I’m sorry, too, I don’t wanna be a bitch about it. But you know, we got three’ – she held up three fingers – ‘three weeks before we open in New York, and we don’t have one tune really down’.
   But the tension was seeping out. ‘Let’s start from the top’. Her voice was a bit weary”.
   Omdat het 26-jarige meisje voor de inkomsten zorgde, moesten de muzikanten naar haar pijpen dansen.
Janis Joplin maakte geen zelfverzekerde indruk. “I’m scared. I think, ‘It’s so close, can I make it?’ If I fail, I’ll fail in front of the whole world. If I miss, I’ll never have a second chance on nothing. But I gotta risk it. I never hold back. I’m always on the outer limits of probability’.
   She put down her drink and pointed to a newspaper clipping on her kitchen wall, her answer to a reporter who stopped her to ask, ‘What are you doing with life?’
   ‘Getting stoned, staying happy, and having a good time’, her answer read. ‘I’m doing what I want with my life, enjoying it. I don’t think you can ask more of life than that’”.
   In de New York Times kon je lezen: “My credo”, Janis said laughing and looking suddenly like a little girl. “When I get scared and worried, I tell myself, ‘Janis, just have a good time’. So I juice up real good and that’s just what I have”.
Janis was gewaarschuwd. “I know I might be going too fast. That’s what a doctor said. He looked at me and said my liver is a little big, swollen”.
   De artieste liet zich niet afschrikken door een arts. “I don’t go back to him anymore. I’d rather have 10 years of superhypermost than live to be 70 by sitting in some goddam chair watching TV. Right now is where you are, how can you wait?”
Met die attitude was Joplin een symbool van een nieuwe generatie geworden. “That almost human devotion to the exploration of the moment has made her not just a star, but the ‘shaman mama’ of the hip-rock generation. She is not the symbol of its philosophy, but the thing itself: everything is possible for those who don’t wait. For the millions of kids who know that NOW is more important than the deferred gratification their parents and the system are pushing, Janis is the belle ideal.
   ‘Everybody I know’, Janis says, ‘what they’re good at being is themselves. I’ve been doing it for 26 years, and all the people who were trying to compromise me are now coming to me. You better not compromise yourself, it’s all you got. You don't have to. I’m a goddam living example of that.
   People aren’t supposed to be like me, sing like me, make out like me, drink like me, live like me. They’re paying me $50,000 a year for me to be like me. That’s what I hope I mean to those kids out there”.
Trots en bescheiden
Joplin was trots op haar succes. “See the Playboy poll? Best chick singers: Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, then me. Too much! Flying around in airplanes, kids screaming, a lot of money and people buying me drinks”.
   Janis besefte echter dat ze nog wat te leren had. “I wanna sing now. I’m exciting, but I’m not too subtle yet. Those people who say I’m like Billie Holiday. Man, I’m nowhere near her; hear her once and you know that. But my voice is getting better. People like to say I’m ruining it. Maybe it’s getting rougher, but I still can reach all the notes I ever could. I don’t know how long it will last. As long as I do, probably”.
   Behalve gepraat moest er ook nog geoefend worden voor de komende concerten. Janis nam de leiding op zich. “There was general assent”. Midden in een song hield Janis op met zingen. “She cut it off. Something was wrong, she said, and the others agreed, and they all suggested changes”.
   Janis bleef het laatste woord houden.
New York, februari 1969
423 5 New York 1969

Met haar eigen groep gaf Janis Joplin vier concerten in New York. In een mum van tijd waren ze uitverkocht, gaf Mike Jahn in de New York Times aan. Rolling Stone meldde dat je met enige moeite nog wel een kaartje op de zwarte markt kon kopen. De prijs daarvoor werd in het blad vergeleken met die van een kilo hash.
   Van de Big Brother muziek had ze afstand genomen hoorde Hubert Saar van Newsweek. “That’s past. You can’t go back. That was why I left Big Brother and The Holding Company and started this new band - which hasn’t got a name. We were lying. We were repeating ourselves, not creating”. Het financiële aspect liet ze buiten beschouwing.
   Saar constateerde: “The new six-man band acts simply as Janis’s accompaniment”. In zijn artikel wees de redacteur op het stevig innemen van alcoholica. “Last week, she was drinking her breakfast late one afternoon, an unlovely concoction apparently of woodgrain alcohol and chocolate syrup, and happily displaying a sheepskin coat given her by the distillers of Southern Comfort in recognition of her unwitting efforts on their behalf”.
   Ook nu gaf Janis aan dat ze in het heden wilde leven, niet in de toekomst. In Port Arthur had ze slechte ervaringen. “I went home last year. They kicked me out of a restaurant because my skirt was too short. I’m 26 and all I’m worried about is 26, not 95. I don’t want a return on my investment years later. I want it now”.
Een bewonderaar vertrouwde Paul Nelson van Rolling Stone toe: “I’ve had a hard-on since four o’clock this afternoon waiting for this”.
   Zelf was de redacteur niet heel erg enthousiast. Janis zou ‘incredibly nervous’ geweest zijn. De zangeres was niet in optima forma, gaf hij als zijn mening. “The potential to become a genuinely great rock singer is still there, but so are the infamous and disheartening Joplin tendencies toward vocal overkill. Indeed, Janis doesn’t so much sing a song as to strangle it to death right in front of you. The singing and playing simply failed to mesh, Joplin constantly projecting and the group continually receding. Every moment was stiff and preordained”.
   Het duurde enige tijd voor het publiek reageerde. “The applause was respectful. People seemed to be biding their time, waiting for the big explosion”.
   Het kostte Janis volgens Nelson moeite om goed op gang te komen. “Robin and Barry Gibb’s ‘To Love Somebody’ was rendered needlessly grotesque as Joplin ran through her rapidly depleting bagful of mannerisms in a desperate attempt to inject even more meaningless into the song by almost literally wiping up the floor with it”.
Paul Nelson: “She knows the band isn’t together yet. Haven’t worked together long enough – “Hey, it takes longer than a couple of weeks to get loose, to be really tight, to push. But conceptually I like it, and I think I’m singing better than I ever, ever did”.
   Volgens de redacteur had ook de platenmaatschappij nog bedenkingen. “Clive Davis, president of Columbia records isn’t hassling her to record right away”.
   Janis was het ermee eens. “I want to play a little more, I want to gig a little bit so that the tunes get together before I make a record”.
De wijde wereld in
In een gesprek Mike Gormley (Ottawa Journal, Canada), twee maanden later, uitte Janis Joplin zich nogal teleurgesteld over de minder goede kritieken. Het huilen stond haar nader dan het lachen. Volgens Gormley was ze ‘on the verge of tears’.
   Janis: “Professionals should understand a new band will take a while to get together. They should know there are off nights. A performer can get very tired and a lot of pressure can affect a performance. The New York Times was nice, but I really thought those at Rolling Stone were my friends and were behind me. I guess they’re not. They weren’t really fair”.
423 6 Royal Albert Hall

Bij aankomst in Europa voor een eerste concert was Janis behoorlijk zenuwachtig. “She was obviously nervous – dashing from one cat to another, laughing, shouting and gesticulating wildly, which one might expect from an artist who is expected, as a result of massive publicity and repute, to be a super star”, schreef Mark Williams in de International Times.
   In de New Musical Express kon je lezen hoe blij de artieste was na een toernee door het Verenigd Koninkrijk. “She bursts into the green room of the Royal Albert Hall like the cork from a bottle of Moët et Chandon champagne. Excited, elated and bubbling over Janis Joplin couldn’t have been happier. ‘We did it, we did it! she exclaimed, and a room full of press men ain’t going to bring me down’ Janis added. She had just left the stage after a triumphant British debut which left most of the audience on their feet yelling for more. She hadn’t expected it”.
Terug in de VS
Terug in Amerika waren de recensies minder positief. Over haar optreden tijdens het Woodstock festival liet Mike Jahn aan de lezers van de New York Times weten: “Janis Joplin, who became so popular as a member of Big Brother, sang with her own band, as yet unnamed. The special meaning of this concert for Miss Joplin is that her career was given its biggest push by the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California, the first of these large rock gatherings.
   Her appearance here was less spectacular. She sang hard and loud and was well received but there were problems. Precision was dropped in favor of spontaneity and excitement. Her new band is much less exciting”.
   In Rolling Stone zocht Sheila Weller naar hoe de sterren uit die tijd hun succes verwerkten. Zij concludeerde; “Records, film, press and gossip are collectively ambitious in creating the image of a rock superstar. With Jimi Hendrix - as with Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison - mythology is particularly lavish. Unfortunately, it is also often irreversible - even when it’s ill founded or after the performer himself has gone through changes”.
423 7 Janis Joplin Woodstock festivalJanis Joplin, Woodstock-festival
Niet alle recensies waren kritisch. Aan het eind van het jaar uitte Mike Jahn zich eindelijk vol waardering over een optreden van Janis en haar begeleiders in Madison Square Garden op 19 december. “Janis Joplin, the Texas-born girl who has become one of the leading blues and rock singers over the last two years, gave an excellent performance before a near-capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden last night. 
   Miss Joplin, a shouter of great energy, emerged a year ago as a solo performer with her own six-piece back-up band after first coming to prominence as lead singer for a raucous San Francisco rock group, Big Brother and the Holding Company. 
   When her new band was first heard, its main fault was that energy was being sacrificed for precision. The raw, bursting-out blues of Miss Joplin seemed inhibited by an often colorless group of musicians.
   That criticism did not apply last night. At the Garden, Miss Joplin’s accomplices gave a powerful and spontaneously happy display of brass blues and rock, and she let herself go in a very exciting way.
   Despite some problems with the vocal amplification system early in the set, she sang lustily and loud, on such material as ‘Bo Diddley’, an old rock song, and an original blues of undetermined title written about the experiences of a hip-type in Texas. 
   For this she was joined by guitarist Johnny Winter, another Texan who has come to light lately. They played and sang a long duet, which grew into an informal jam session with Paul Butterfield, whose blues band shared the bill at the Garden with Miss Joplin”.
In Record World uitte Dan Goldberg zich eveneens lyrisch over het concert. “When she urged the crowd to its feet, people surged forward with a magic that Mick Jagger was never able to generate. And she refused to settle for mere applause.
    Janis had a surprise. She pulled out an acoustic guitar, and after a short sound system hassle she began ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, a lovely song which was a country hit for Roger Miller and done by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot in his recent stay in New York”.
423 8 Floridaarrestatie in Florida
In 1970 was er geen echte verbetering in de muzikale loopbaan van Janis Joplin. Het album ‘Kozmic Blues’ verkocht goed maar was geen sensatie. In Florida werd de artieste gearresteerd wegens het uiten van vulgaire taal. In Rolling Stone publiceerde David Dalton een artikel, getiteld ‘If Aretha’s around, who needs Janis?’
   Janis lanceerde een nieuwe groep met begeleiders onder de naam Full Tilt Boogie. Menigeen keek uit naar een volgende album – en hopelijk eindelijk eens een grote hit.
  Dat gebeurde niet. Op 4 oktober 1970 werd Janis Joplin dood aangetroffen op haar hotelkamer. Twee dagen later keek Mike Gormley terug op haar leven. Zijn artikel kreeg als kop mee: ‘Lusty heroine of rock is dead’.
Mike Gormley: “She looked out of place at a Holiday Inn. Janis Joplin, the queen of individualism and the girl who’d learned that following the crowd and frying to maintain your position in Middle America meant giving up your mind and soul, just didn’t look right in the White House of the plastic, unreal world - a Holiday Inn.
   In her room she added a candle and lace doily to ‘make it at least a little bit like home’ she told me. Later on that night in March, 1969, she took a University of Michigan audience in Ann Arbor and let them know who was boss. Before the performance she tore the cork off a bottle of B&B and when only the top came off she rammed a hole through the remains that blocked her off from the bottle’s contents. Then Janis drank it straight, right through the cork.
   That night in Ann Arbor she was introducing her new band to Michigan. It was their first tour together after Janis had left Big Brother and the Holding Company, the group she’d been part of at the Monterey Pop Festival where they started their trek to the top of the music world.
   Later on, Janis and Big Brother released ‘Piece of My Heart’, which established her and the group on an international basis. They split up soon after their one and only hit and just before the ‘Cheap Thrills’ album came out. It went on to sell a million but Big Brother fell apart without their belting sister.
   ‘I love those guys so much’, Janis said when she left them, ‘but it just didn’t work out’.
   Anyway, she got a new group together and they were playing Ann Arbor with plans to visit Detroit a month later. That Ann Arbor weekend had been busy for Janis. Friday night she’d performed at another distant university, then partied.
   Saturday morning, at eight o’clock, the group had started rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan Show which they were to appear on that Sunday evening. With rehearsals suspended they all boarded a plane, and ended up in the Holiday Inn by Detroit’s Metro Airport. A talk with me and a drink, then she rested before going to Ann Arbor and the U. of M. show. After the show she went to the Chessmate. Who knows when she got to bed again, but it couldn’t have been for long once she got there. Because on Sunday afternoon it was back to New York for another rehearsal for the Sullivan show, then the show itself that night. On Saturday she’d talked of plans for a party after the TV show.
   That’s how Janis Joplin lived. At the time someone asked me what I thought of her.
   All I could do was predict she had about two years to live”.
Dit jaar was het 78 jaar geleden dat Janis Joplin in Port Arthur geboren werd. We herinneren ons haar nu vooral van die ene song, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, geschreven door Kris Kristofferson, een van haar vrienden. Dat grote succes heeft ze zelf niet levend meegemaakt.
Harry Knipschild
23 maart 2021
423 9 real rock and rollers

Jim Delehant, ‘Big Brother & The Holding Company: Where They’re At’, Hit Parader, februari 1969
Mike Jahn, ‘Janis Joplin: Fillmore East, New York NY’, New York Times, 12 februari 1969 
Michael Lydon, ‘The Janis Joplin philosophy: Every Moment She Is What She Feels’, New York Times, 23 februari 1969
Hubert Saar, ‘Janis’, Newsweek, 24 februari, 1969 
Paul Nelson, ‘Janis: The Judy Garland of Rock?’, Rolling Stone, 15 maart, 1969
Mike Gormley, ‘Janis Joplin - A Legend in Her Time’, Ottawa Journal, 18 april 1969
‘Janis Breaking Down The Walls In Britain’, New Musical Express, 3 mei, 1969
Mark Williams, ‘Janis’, International Times, 9 mei 1969 
Mike Jahn over Woodstock-festival, New York Times, 18 augustus 1969
Sheila Weller over Janis Joplin, Rolling Stone, 15 november 1969
Mike Jahn, ‘Janis Joplin Gives A Rousing Display of Blues & Rock’, New York Times, 20 december 1969
Dan Goldberg, ‘Getting it together’, Record World, 3 januari 1970
Clayton Riley, ‘If Aretha’s around, who needs Janis?’, New York Times, 8 maart 1970
Mike Gormley, ‘Lusty Heroine of Rock Is Dead’, Detroit Free Press, 6 oktober 1970
Laura Joplin, Love, Janis, New York 1992
Harry Knipschild, ‘De brieven van Janis Joplin aan haar moeder’, 27 februari 2010, op deze website
  • Hits: 4418