“I had never signed anybody before, but watching Janis at Monterey, I had this spine-tingling feeling that I was witnessing a musical, cultural and social revolution. I had nothing to do with causing the revolution whatsoever, but I was fortunate that I was there to act on it, to get an epiphany that would forever change my life.”- Clive Davis, President of CBS Records
“Janis Joplin sings the blues as hard as any black person.” – B. B. King
“The intensity with which Janis Joplin sings, you simply can’t find a singer like that. It’s almost scary the amount of emotion and energy and passion she puts into her performance.” – Michael Wadleigh (Director/Producer of Woodstock)
“A devastatingly original voice” – Tom Moon (Music Historian)
“An overpowering and deeply vulnerable performer.” – John Pareles (New York Times)
Little Girl Blue. Ah, Janis Joplin. The Pearl herself, who sang with an unprecedented vengeance and cavorted with all the stars of the day, before succumbing to the mysterious allure of heroin at the too tender age of 27. Hippie icon. Feminist trailblazer. Raucous party girl with the appetite for destruction wired deep into her inner being. On Earth for our entertainment, really, a troubled soul, an extraordinary performer seeking peace among her faithful. A truly bright and blazing comet that so shone brightly and died out far too early.
Janis At Monterey
Here, in this beautiful setting in Northern California, the Monterey pop festival was her big chance to shake the foundation of the entertainment world. She had been influenced by an array of splendid ladies and gentlemen: Bessie Smith, Odetta, Big Mama Thornton, Leadbelly, and Billie Holiday. And shake everything up she damn well did. Her performance of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball & Chain is a soulful performance for the ages. Transcendent. Electrifying. Out-of-this world. Epoch shattering. Janis unleashed a cultural earthquake those fateful two days that would resonate until the current age. To this day, it is the performance which sets the standard for all others which come along. Top this, Janis seems to be saying. Try and forget this one, ladies and gents! Go to Youtube and give yourself a life altering experience. Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain (Monterey pop festival) 1967. This woman kicks out the jams in a unique and unforgettable way. It seems as if most performers have only this tiny window to make their unique mark on the world. With Elvis, it was one night at Sun Studios in Memphis, when he merged country, gospel and hillbilly music with the Blues and helped create rock ‘n’ roll on an unsuspecting world. When you think of Super Bowl performers, you think of Prince’s electric performance in Miami as the rain poured down with Purple Rain. James Brown blew the roof off the Santa Monica auditorium at the T.A.M.I show with his incredible dance moves and dramatic vocal style. The Rolling Stones, at their peak and full of their trademark swagger, conquered Madison Square Garden like few others before or since. Hendrix is still playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, which I believe was the perfect coda for the Vietnam War. The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan show, people all over the world freaked out, and the British Invasion was on. There are many more examples, but you get my drift. Now, these stars above played many thankless gigs and endured many dire and painful disappointments to get to that exalted pinnacle. “No thanks” is a term heard by most artists who are trying to break through. Janis at Monterey was her seminal moment and she brought all her talent and drive to the fore.
The Cosmic Blues
“Driven by the music, Janis Joplin, more than any performer of her day, symbolized the mood of the decade that molded her genius; out of its theatricalities, its eye-popping colors, its peaks, its overdrive sex, it’s impatience, its excitements and its dangers, she made of herself a complete and darling original.” – Myra Friedman
Pioneer woman. The first of her kind, Janis was the first woman to go into battle during the halcyon days of the sixties and seventies. Yes, there had been other forerunners of female stars in music, but she was the first cosmic woman on the scene who was imperfect as she was dynamic on the stage. The woman was a firebrand in the mold of many who had come before. A true and original dynamo. She was a combination of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Bessie Smith, Loretta Lynn, and Billie Holiday.
The Queen Of Rock ‘N’ Roll
Her publicist Myra Friedman writes; “Joplin’s artistry was brash and daring, but it moved things forward, and it burned. In the face of great personal difficulties, she was a disciplined artist, an improvisational singer who worked to perfect interpretations she could re-create in the studio. Yet her sheer musicality propelled an onstage immediacy of expression; what she did was always different from the time before. If subtlety wasn’t her greatest gift, she created nuance with flawless timing and in the skillful arcing of every phrase. Her recorded output was relatively limited, and surely she had moments of musical excess that could grate on some ears. But she had a message, and she glowed with gutsiness as she put it out.”
“I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news. She just smiled and turned away.” – Don McClean (American Pie)
The moment you hear that song you know the singer is waxing about Janis Joplin. An obscure artist, Don McLean, writes an enigmatic yet incredibly popular classic and yet Janis jumps out of the song as an unforgettable character. That kind of power speaks volume about her impact. It’s the stuff of myth and legends. Which come to think of it, is exactly the way we should think of Janis.
Big Brother and the Holding Company
Yes, it was underground cartoonist Robert Crumb who drew the cover of Janis Joplin’s breakout album, Cheap Thrills, which went to #1 in 1968 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. The album was made to sound like a live album, but in truth, only Ball and Chain was recorded live in Winterland ballroom in San Francisco. It’s hard to imagine how much fun the amazing cover art for Cheap Thrills, which was so unique and fresh at the time, contributed to its amazing popularity. In fact, only the cover art for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band rivals it as a pop-art classic. To listen to this LP for the first time was a truly thrilling experience. Here’s what one very influential critic at the time thought of this masterpiece.
“Nobody had ever heard singing as emotional, as desperate, as determined, or as loud as Joplin’s, and Cheap Thrills was her greatest moment.” – William Ruhlmann for Allmusic
Prepare for Landing
Janis Joplin out of Port Arthur, Texas had a tremendous influence on many of us, not just American Pie author Don McLean.
Inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Has a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated in 2013.
She has a sculpture of her in Port Arthur unveiled in 1988. Janis is the subject of several books and plays, including; Love, Janis by her sister Laura in 1992 which was later made into a successful Broadway play.
On August 8, 2014, the U.S. Postal Service revealed a commemorative stamp honoring Joplin as part of its Music Icons stamp series.
All for the bolt of musical lightning that was Janis Joplin. Never to be forgotten. A woman that did not go quietly into that good night.
Photograph of Janis by Barry Feinstein