Janis Joplin – Summertime
Janis Lyn Joplin (/’d???pl?n/; January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American singer-songwriter who first rose to fame in the late 1960s as the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist with her own backing groups, The Kozmic Blues Band and The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Her first ever large scale public performance was at the Monterey Pop Festival; this led her to becoming very popular and one of the major attractions at the Woodstock festival and the Festival Express train tour. Joplin charted five singles; other popular songs include: “Down on Me”; “Summertime”; “Piece of My Heart”; “Ball ‘n’ Chain”; “Maybe”; “To Love Somebody”; “Kozmic Blues”; “Work Me, Lord”; “Cry Baby”; “Mercedes Benz”; and her only number one hit, “Me and Bobby McGee”.
Joplin was well known for her performing abilities. Her fans referred to her stage presence as “electric”; at the height of her career, she was known as “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul”. Known as “Pearl” among her friends, she was also a painter, dancer and music arranger. Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004, and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Singing career: 1962–1965
Cultivating a rebellious manner, Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines and, in part, after the Beat poets. Her first song recorded on tape, at the home of a fellow University of Texas student in December 1962, was “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do”.
She left Texas for San Francisco (“just to get away from Texas”, she said, “because my head was in a much different place”) in January 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 a 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. Around this time, her drug use increased, and she acquired a reputation as a “speed freak” and occasional heroin user. She also used other psychoactive drugs and was a heavy drinker throughout her career; her favorite beverage was Southern Comfort.
In early 1965, Joplin’s friends in San Francisco, noticing the physical effects of her intravenous methamphetamine habit (she was described as “skeletal” and “emaciated”), persuaded her to return to Port Arthur, Texas. In May 1965, Joplin’s friends threw her a bus-fare party so she could return home.
Five years later, Joplin told Rolling Stone magazine writer David Dalton the following about her first stint in San Francisco: “I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t like the ones I had.”
For at least six months after she returned to her parents’ home in Port Arthur, she regularly corresponded by mail with Peter de Blanc, with whom she had been romantically involved in San Francisco. De Blanc, a year and ten months her junior, was a well-educated New Yorker.[Shortly after he and Joplin both moved away from San Francisco and their beatnik lifestyle, de Blanc was hired by IBM to work with computers at the company’s location in East Fishkill, New York, and Joplin’s letters reached him at his New York home.
Back in Texas
Back in Port Arthur in the spring of 1965, Joplin changed her lifestyle. She avoided drugs and alcohol, adopted a beehive hairdo, and enrolled as an anthropology major at Lamar University in nearby Beaumont, Texas. During her time at Lamar University, she commuted to Austin to perform solo, accompanying herself on guitar. One of her performances was at a benefit by local musicians for Texas bluesman, Mance Lipscomb, who was suffering from major health problems. Another of her performances was reviewed in the Austin American-Statesman.
Joplin became engaged to Peter de Blanc in the fall of 1965. Now living in New York where he worked with IBM computers, he visited her, wearing a blue serge suit, to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Joplin and her mother began planning the wedding. De Blanc, who traveled frequently, terminated plans for the marriage soon afterwards.
Just prior to joining Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin recorded seven studio tracks in 1965. Among the songs she recorded was her original composition for her song “Turtle Blues” and an alternate version of “Cod’ine” by Buffy Sainte-Marie. These tracks were later issued as a new album in 1995 entitled This is Janis Joplin 1965 by James Gurley.
Kozmic Blues Band
After splitting from Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin formed a new backup group, the Kozmic Blues Band, composed of session musicians as well as Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist Sam Andrew and future Full Tilt Boogie Band bassist Brad Campbell. The band was influenced by the Stax-Volt rhythm and blues (R&B) bands of the 1960s, as exemplified by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays. 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. By early 1969, Joplin was allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day, ($2500 in 2014 dollars) although efforts were made to keep her clean during the recording of I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!. Gabriel Mekler, who produced the Kozmic Blues, told publicist-turned-biographer Myra Friedman after Joplin’s death that the singer had lived in his house during the June 1969 recording sessions at his insistence so he could keep her away from drugs and her drug-using friends. Joplin’s appearances with the Kozmic Blues Band in Europe were released in cinemas in the documentary Janis, which was reviewed by the Washington Post on March 21, 1975. The film shows Joplin arriving in Frankfurt by plane and waiting inside a bus next to the Frankfurt venue while an American fan who is visiting Germany expresses enthusiasm to the camera.
No security was used in Frankfurt so by the end of the concert the stage was so packed with people that the band members could not see each other. Another film was made of the band’s performance in Stockholm featuring Joplin’s interpretation of “Summertime”. The Janis documentary also includes interviews with her in Stockholm and from her visit to London for her gig at Royal Albert Hall. After appearing on German television, the Kozmic Blues Band performed on several American television shows with Joplin. On the Tom Jones television show, they performed “Little Girl Blue” and “Raise Your Hand”, the latter with Jones singing a duet with Joplin. On one episode of The Dick Cavett Show, they performed “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” as well as “To Love Somebody”, As Dick Cavett interviewed Joplin, she admitted that she had a terrible time touring in Europe, claiming that audiences there are very uptight and don’t get down. She also revealed that she was a big fan of Tina Turner, saying that she was an incredible singer, dancer and show woman. Joplin and Turner also performed together on at least one occasion at Madison Square Garden.
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
The Kozmic Blues album, released in September 1969, was certified gold later that year, but did not match the success of Cheap Thrills. Reviews of the new group were mixed. However, the recording quality and engineering of the record as well as the musicianship were considered superior to her previous releases, and some music critics argued that the band was working in a much more constructive way to support Joplin’s sensational vocal talents. Joplin wanted a horn section similar to that featured in the Chicago Transit Authority; her voice had the dynamic qualities and range not to be overpowered by the brighter horn sound.
Some music critics, including Ralph J. Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle, were negative. Gleason wrote that the new band was a “drag” and Joplin should “scrap” her new band and “go right back to being a member of Big Brother…(if they’ll have her).”
Other reviewers, such as reporter Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, generally ignored the band’s flaws and devoted entire articles to celebrating the singer’s magic. In general the press concentrated more on her leaving Big Brother rather than the qualities of the new recording.
Columbia Records released “Kozmic Blues” as a single, which peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100, and a live rendition of “Raise Your Hand” was released in Germany and became a top ten hit there. Containing other hits like “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”, “To Love Somebody”, and “Little Girl Blue”, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 soon after its release.
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