Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970) was an American singer, songwriter, and music arranger, from Port Arthur, Texas.
She rose to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin #46 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
She died in Los Angeles, California of a drug overdose at the age of 27.
Janis Joplin was born to Seth and Dorothy (East) Joplin; her father was an engineer at Texaco, her mother, registrar at a business college. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. As a teenager, she began singing in the local choir and expanded her listening to blues singers such as Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. Primarily a painter while still in school, she first began singing blues and folk music with friends. Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended the University of Texas at Austin, though she did not complete her studies. The campus newspaper ran a profile of her in 1962 headlined "She Dares To Be Different."
Cultivating a rebellious manner, 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, living in North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. In 1964, Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards, further accompanied by Margareta Kaukonen on typewriter (as percussion instrument). This session 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 was later released as the bootleg album The Typewriter Tape. In May 1965, Joplin's friends threw her a bus-fare party so she could return home. Back in Port Arthur, she changed her entire lifestyle. During her year at Lamar University, she commuted to Austin to perform solo, accompanying herself on guitar. One of her performances was reviewed in the Austin American-Statesman.
In 1966, Joplin's bluesy vocal style attracted the attention of the psychedelic band Big Brother and The Holding Company, a band that had gained some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. She was recruited to join the group by Chet Helms, a promoter who had known her in Texas and who at the time was managing Big Brother. Joplin joined Big Brother on June 4, 1966. Her first public performance with them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. A San Francisco concert was recorded and released in the 1984 album Cheaper Thrills. On August 23, 1966 during a four week engagement in Chicago, the group signed a deal with independent label Mainstream Records. They recorded tracks in a Chicago recording studio. Shortly after the five band members drove from Chicago to Northern California with very little money, they moved with the Grateful Dead to a house in Lagunitas, California. Joplin and Big Brother began playing clubs in San Francisco at the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Avalon Ballroom. They also played at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, as well as in Seattle, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia, the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, Massachusetts and the Golden Bear Club in Huntington Beach, California. The Chicago recordings were released by Columbia Records in August 1967, shortly after the group's breakthrough appearance in June at the Monterey Pop Festival. Two songs from Big Brother's set at Monterey were filmed by D.A. Pennebaker: Combination of the Two and a version of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain." Pennebaker's documentary Monterey Pop captured Cass Elliot in the crowd silently mouthing "Wow!" during Joplin's performance. In November 1967, the group parted ways with Chet Helms and signed with top artist manager Albert Grossman. Up to this point, Big Brother had performed mainly in California, but had gained national prominence with their Monterey performance. On February 16, 1968, the group began its first East Coast tour in Philadelphia, and the following day they gave their first performance in New York City at the Anderson Theater. On April 7, 1968, the last day of their East Coast tour, Joplin and Big Brother performed with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop at the "Wake for Martin Luther King, Jr." concert in New York. During the spring of 1968, Joplin and Big Brother made their nationwide television debut on an ABC daytime variety show hosted by Dick Cavett, but no recording of it exists. Later, she made three appearances on the primetime Cavett program. During this time, the band was billed as "Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company." Joplin had begun receiving massive media coverage. The other members of Big Brother thought that Joplin was on a "star trip;" meanwhile, others were telling Joplin that Big Brother was a terrible band and that she ought to dump them. Big Brother's second album, Cheap Thrills, featured cover design by counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb. The album had a raw quality, including the sound of a cocktail glass breaking and the broken shards being swept away during the song "Turtle Blues." Together with the documentary film Monterey Pop, released in late 1968, the album launched Joplin's very successful, albeit short, musical career in the late Sixties. Cheap Thrills gave the band a breakthrough hit single, "Piece of My Heart," which reached the number one spot on the Billboard charts eight weeks after its release, remaining for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks. The album was certified gold at release and sold over a million copies in the first month of its release. Live at Winterland '68, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968, showed Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company at the height of their mutual career working through a selection of tracks from their albums. The band made another East Coast tour during July-August 1968, performing at the Columbia Records convention in Puerto Rico and the Newport Folk Festival. After returning to San Francisco for two hometown shows at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival on August 31 and September 1, Joplin announced that she would be leaving Big Brother. The group continued touring through the fall and Joplin gave her last official performance with Big Brother at a Family Dog benefit on December 1, 1968.
After splitting from Big Brother, Joplin formed a new backup group, the Kozmic Blues Band. The band was influenced by the Stax-Volt Rhythm and Blues bands of the 1960's, as exemplified by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays, who were major musical influences on Joplin. The Stax-Volt R&B sound was typified by the use of horns and had a more bluesy, funky, soul, pop-oriented sound than most of the hard-rock psychedelic bands of the period. The Kozmic Blues album, released in September of 1969, was certified gold later that year but did not match the success of Cheap Thrills. Reviews of the new group were mixed. Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured North America and Europe throughout 1969, appearing at Woodstock in August. By most accounts, Woodstock was not a happy affair for Joplin. At the end of the year, the group broke up. Their final gig with Joplin was at Madison Square Garden in New York City on the night of December 19-20, 1969.
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In February 1970, Joplin traveled to Brazil. She was accompanied on vacation there by her friend Linda Gravenites, who had designed the singer's stage costumes from 1966 to 1969. She formed her new band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The band was comprised of mostly young Canadian musicians and featured an organ, but no horn section. Joplin took a more active role in putting together the Full Tilt Boogie Band than she did with her prior group. The Full Tilt Boogie Band began touring in May 1970. Joplin remained quite happy with her new group, which received mostly positive feedback from both her fans and the critics. Prior to beginning a summer tour with Full Tilt Boogie, she performed in a reunion with Big Brother at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on April 4, 1970. Recordings from this concert were included in an in-concert album released posthumously in 1972. She again appeared with Big Brother on April 12 at Winterland where she and Big Brother were reported to be in excellent form. From June 28 to July 4, 1970, Joplin and Full Tilt joined the all-star Festival Express tour through Canada, performing alongside the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and The Band, Eric Andersen and Ian and Sylvia. They played concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. Footage of her performance of the song "Tell Mama" in Calgary became an MTV video in the 1980s and was included on the 1982 Farewell Song album. The audio of other Festival Express performances were included on that 1972 Joplin In Concert album. Video of the performances was included on the Festival Express DVD.
During September 1970, Joplin and her band began recording a new album in Los Angeles with producer Paul A. Rothchild, who had produced recordings for The Doors. Although Joplin died before all the tracks were fully completed, there was still enough usable material to compile an LP. "Mercedes Benz" was included despite it being a first take, and the track "Buried Alive In The Blues", to which Joplin had been scheduled to add her vocals on the day she was found dead, was kept as an instrumental. The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971). It became the biggest selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee", as well as the social commentary of the a cappella "Mercedes Benz", written by Joplin, close friend and song writer Bob Neuwirth and beat poet Michael McClure. Among her last public appearances were two broadcasts of The Dick Cavett Show. In the June 25, 1970 appearance, she announced that she would attend her ten-year high school class reunion. When asked if she were popular in school, she admitted that when in high school, her schoolmates "laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state." In the August 3, 1970 Cavett broadcast, Joplin referred to her upcoming performance at the Festival for Peace to be held at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York on August 6, 1970. Joplin attended the reunion on August 14, accompanied by fellow musician and friend Bob Neuwirth and road manager John Cooke. Joplin held a press conference in Port Arthur during her reunion visit. Joplin's last public performance, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, took place on August 12, 1970 at the Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts.
The last recordings Joplin completed were "Mercedes Benz" and a birthday greeting for John Lennon ("Happy Trails", composed by Dale Evans) on October 1, 1970. On Saturday, October 3, Joplin visited the Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles to listen to the instrumental track for Nick Gravenites' song "Buried Alive In The Blues" prior to recording the vocal track, scheduled for the next day. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Motor Hotel (since renamed the Highland Gardens Hotel) where Joplin had been a guest since August 24. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche still in the parking lot. Upon entering her room, he found her dead on the floor. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. Joplin was cremated in the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Mortuary in Los Angeles, and her ashes scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean and along Stinson Beach.
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