1943 – Janis Joplin is born in Port Arthur, Texas….

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin

1943 – Janis Joplin is born in Port Arthur, Texas.

Janis Lyn 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 number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.


Early life

Janis Joplin was born to Seth (1910-1987) and Dorothy (1913-1998) (née East) Joplin in Port Arthur, Texas .

As a teenager, she befriended a group of outcasts, one of whom had albums by African-American blues artists Bessie Smith and Leadbelly, whom Joplin later credited with influencing her decision to become a singer. 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. While at Thomas Jefferson High School, she stated that she was mostly shunned.

Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas during the summer.


Early efforts

Cultivating a rebellious manner, Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines and, in part, after the Beat poets. Her very first song recorded on tape, at the home of a fellow student in December 1962, was “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do”. 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.

Around this time her drug use increased, and she acquired a reputation as a “speed freak” and occasional heroin user. She also used other intoxicants and was a heavy drinker throughout her career; her trademark beverage was Southern Comfort.

In the spring of 1965, Joplin’s friends, noticing the physical effects of her amphetamine habit (she was described as “skeletal”

Big Brother and The Holding Company

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. A San Francisco concert from that summer was recorded and released in the 1984 album Cheaper Thrills.

On August 23, 1966, 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. It was there that Joplin relapsed into hard drugs.

In early 1967, Joplin met Country Joe McDonald of the group, Country Joe and the Fish. The pair lived together as a couple for a few months.

The band’s debut album was 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. “Combination of the Two” and a version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” appeared in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Monterey Pop. The film 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, 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. 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,”

Time magazine called Joplin “probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement,” and Richard Goldstein, in Vogue magazine, wrote that Joplin was “the most staggering leading woman in rock… she slinks like tar, scowls like war… clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave… Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener.”

Big Brother’s second album, Cheap Thrills, featured a cover design by counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb. Although Cheap Thrills sounded as if it was mostly “live,” only one track (“Ball and Chain”) was actually recorded live; the rest of the tracks were studio recordings.

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. Live at Winterland ’68, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968, featured 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.

Solo career

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 1960s, 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.

By early 1969, Joplin was addicted to heroin, allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day,

The Kozmic Blues album, released in September 1969, was certified gold later that year but did not match the success of Cheap Thrills. Other reviewers, such as reporter Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post generally ignored the flaws and devoted entire articles to celebrating the singer’s magic.

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. Joplin’s performance was not included in the documentary film Woodstock although the 25th anniversary director’s cut of Woodstock includes her performance of Work Me, Lord.

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.

Full Tilt Boogie Band

In February 1970, Joplin traveled to Brazil, where she stopped her drug and alcohol use. She was accompanied on vacation there by her friend Linda Gravenites, who had designed the singer’s stage costumes from 1966 to 1969. Joplin was romanced by an American schoolteacher named David (George) Niehaus, who was traveling around the world. They were photographed by the press at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Joplin began using heroin again when she returned to the United States. Her relationship with Niehaus soon ended because of the drugs, her relationship with Peggy Caserta and refusal to take some time off work and travel the world with him.

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.

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. 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.

In the “Tell Mama” video shown on MTV in the 1980s, Joplin wore a psychedelically colored loose-fitting costume and feathers in her hair. This was her standard stage costume in the spring and summer of 1970. She chose the new costumes after her friend and designer, Linda Gravenites (whom Joplin had praised in the May 1968 issue of Vogue), cut ties with Joplin shortly after their return from Brazil, due largely to Joplin’s continued use of heroin.

During the Festival Express tour, Joplin was accompanied by Rolling Stone writer David Dalton, who would later write several articles and a book on Joplin. She told Dalton:
“     I’m a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything…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 to make that feeling work for me. I’m full of emotion and I want a release, and 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.     ”


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 had been 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, road manager John Cooke, and her sister Laura, but it reportedly proved to be a rather unhappy experience for her.

Joplin’s last public performance, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, took place on August 12, 1970 at the Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts. A positive review appeared on the front page of the Harvard Crimson newspaper despite the fact that Full Tilt Boogie performed with makeshift sound amplifiers after their regular equipment was stolen in Boston.
The single cover of “Me & Bobby McGee”

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 Also included was the social commentary of the a cappella “Mercedes Benz”, written by Joplin, close friend and song writer Bob Neuwirth and beat poet Michael McClure. In 2003, Pearl was ranked #122 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

During the recording sessions for Pearl, Joplin began seeing Seth Morgan, a 21 year-old Berkeley student, cocaine dealer and future novelist; and Joplin threw herself into the recording of songs for her new album.


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. Lennon, whose birthday was October 9, later told Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her death. 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. The only funeral service was held at Pierce Brothers and attended by Joplin’s parents and maternal aunt.

Joplin’s Porsche in “Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era” (Whitney Museum, New York)

Joplin was a pioneer in the male-dominated rock music scene of the late 1960s, influencing generations of musicians to come. Stevie Nicks commented that after seeing Joplin perform, “I knew that a little bit of my destiny had changed. I would search to find that connection that I had seen between Janis and her audience. In a blink of an eye she changed my life.”

Joplin’s body decoration, with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, is taken as a seminal moment in the tattoo revolution and was an early moment in the popular culture’s acceptance of tattoos as art. Another trademark was her flamboyant hair styles, often including colored streaks and accessories such as scarves, beads and feathers.

The 1979 film The Rose was loosely based on Joplin’s life. Bette Midler earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her performance.

In the late 1990s, the musical play Love, Janis was created with input from Janis’ younger sister Laura plus Big Brother guitarist Sam Andrew, with an aim to take it to Off-Broadway.

In 1988, the Janis Joplin Memorial, with an original bronze, multi-image sculpture of Joplin by Douglas Clark, was dedicated in Port Arthur, Texas.

Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Among the artifacts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Exhibition are Joplin’s scarf and necklaces, her 1965 Cabriolet Porsche with psychedelically-designed painting, and an acid sheet designed by Robert Crumb, designer of the Cheap Thrills cover.

Joplin in film and song

* The Mamas & the Papas wrote a song about Janis Joplin entitled “Pearl”, and released it as part of their 1971 album, People Like Us.
* The Righteous Brothers included a tribute to Janis Joplin in their 1974 reunion Top-10 single “Rock and Roll Heaven”. The lyrics of the first verse begin with the lines “Jimmy gave us rainbows, and Janis took a piece of our hearts…”
* Joplin’s premature death is the subject of Dory Previn’s song “A Stone for Bessie Smith”, which appears on Previn’s 1971 album Mythical Kings and Iguanas. The lyric sheet of this record refers to a televised conversation between Joplin and actress Gloria Swanson.
* In the 2007 movie Across the Universe, a Joplin-like character is portrayed as Sadie, played by Dana Fuchs.
* Janis Joplin is a prominent character in the TV episode “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” from Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King.
* “In the Quiet Morning” recorded by Joan Baez and written by her sister, Mimi Farina, recounts the moment Farina heard the news about Joplin’s death.
* Leonard Cohen’s song “Chelsea Hotel #2”, with the line “You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception”, was inspired by his brief affair with Joplin.
* The Grateful Dead wrote “Bird Song” inspired by Joplin. The first two lines are “All I know is something like a bird within her sang. All I know she sang a little while and then flew on”. The song’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, included the dedication “…for Janis” with the lyric in his book “Box of Rain”.
* Don McLean is widely believed to allude to Janis Joplin in his song “American Pie” with the lines “I met a girl who sang the blues / And I asked her for some happy news, / But she just smiled and turned away”.


Big Brother and the Holding Company
Title Release date Label Notes
Big Brother & the Holding Company 1967 Mainstream Records
Big Brother & the Holding Company 1967? Columbia Contains 2 extra single tracks
Big Brother & the Holding Company 1967, CD 1999 Columbia Legacy CK66425 Contains 2 extra single tracks
Cheap Thrills 1968 Columbia 2x Multi-Platinum RIAA
Cheap Thrills 1968, CD 1999 Legacy CK65784 Contains 4 extra tracks
Live at Winterland ’68 1998 Columbia Legacy ASIN: B000007TSP
Kozmic Blues Band
Title Release date Label Notes
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! 1969 Columbia Platinum RIAA
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! 1969, CD 1999 Legacy CK65785 Contains 3 extra tracks
Full Tilt Boogie
Title Release date Label Notes
Pearl 1971 Columbia posthumous, 4x Multi-Platinum RIAA
Pearl 1971, CD unknown date Columbia CD64188
Pearl 1971, CD 1999 Legacy CK65786 Contains 4 extra tracks
Pearl 1971, 2CD 2005 Legacy COL 515134 2 CD1 – 6 other extra tracks
CD2 – full selection from The Festival Express Tour, 3 venues
Big Brother & the Holding Company / Full Tilt Boogie
Title Release date Label Notes
Joplin: In Concert 1972 Legacy CK65786 ASIN: B0000024Y7
Later collections
Title Release date Label Notes
Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits 1973 Columbia ASIN B00000K2W1, 7x Multi-Platinum RIAA
Janis 1975 CBS 2 discs, Gold RIAA
Anthology 1980 2 discs
Farewell Song 1983 Columbia Records ASIN: B000W44S8E
Cheaper Thrills 1984 Fan Club ASIN: B000LYA9X8
Janis 1993 Columbia Legacy 3 discs – ASIN: B00000286P
18 Essential Songs 1995 Columbia Legacy ASIN: B000002B1A, Gold RIAA
The Collection 1995 3 Discs ASIN: B000BM6ATW
Live at Woodstock: August 19, 1969 1999
Box of Pearls 1999 Sony Legacy 5 Discs – ASIN: B0009YNSK6
Super Hits 2000 Sony ASIN: B00004T1E6
Love, Janis 2001 Sony ASIN: B00005EBIN
Essential Janis Joplin 2003 Sony ASIN: B00007MB6Y
Very Best of Janis Joplin 2007 Import ASIN: B000026A35
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