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Janis Joplin Remembered

Recollections of Janis
Seen Through the Eyes of Big Brother

by Sam Andrew
Summer 2000

Janis Joplin spent her childhood in Port Arthur, Texas. That town and indeed all of Texas east of Houston is bayou country, swampy, fetid, really more Louisiana than Texas. Why, the Buffalo Bayou runs right through Houston, home of Lightning Hopkins, a real, genuine blues bard. There is a steamy sexuality palpable in the atmosphere in that part of the bayou jungle.

This love-blues delta can be a weird world but in the 1950s when Janis became aware of its precious blues heritage, it was an even stranger place. Very removed in many ways from the monochromatic, well-modulated, suburban pink-and-gray land of Eisenhowerism, the blues sneaked into Janis' consciousness at the same time as her sexuality did - and that is no coincidence. The blues and rhythm and blues were the soundtrack for backseat explorations. I remember hearing Laverne Baker sing "Jim Dandy" while learning the soul kiss and thrilling to Mickey and Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" during hours of lovemaking. We did the "dirty bop" to Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker while teenagers in other parts of town listened to Johnny Mathis. Texas blues permeated towns like San Antonio, Houston and Port Arthur. This wonderful music was subversive in a way that Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggert could never imagine. The blues helped us understand what the big men never knew.

Janis and I often talked of this understanding. Realizing that the elders of the tribe were wrong in their prejudices about "the devil's music" made a whole generation question the all of the beliefs it had inherited. If the blues was forbidden and it turned out to be so good then what about sex in all of its many forms? What about cheap thrills, dope, living high?

If it feels good, do it. That was the shibboleth. We listened gratefully to Mance Lipscomb play his beautiful Texas style guitar, a style that embraced the blues, Mexican music, "country and western", church hymns, ragtime and any other music that came through the Texas crossroads. Mr. Lipscomb's music as a salvation, a way out, and we knew it right away.

When I first met Janis she was not a stranger to me at all. Her accent, her attitudes, even her clothes made her seem like a sister or cousin from my mother's side of the family who were all from the same part of Texas as Janis was. When she came to sing with us that first beautiful June afternoon in 1966 when we were rehearsing on Henry Street, in San Francisco, she was wearing shorts that ties at the side, a thin cotton blouse with no sleeves and she had her hair up in a bun. It was my mother's mode of dress and it was disarming. Janis had a tough, no nonsense approach to life that also made me remember home.

When Janis came to town, Big Brother was already a well known band with a progressive-regressive hurricane blues style. We were playing some of John Lee Hooker's things and "That's How Strong My Love Is" by Otis Redding. We did "Hall Of The Mountain King" from the Peer Gynt suite by Greig who wrote this simple hypnotic piece in only two chords, B minor and F# dominant seventh. We played the melody in E minor and did not even bother to go to the five chord. After stating the theme once or twice (each time we played it was different) we began a series of blues oriented variations wringing every ounce of meaning out of the material and often surprising things would happen. Later when she joined us, Janis would sometimes sing a sort of blues obligato over the top of this very guitar oriented piece.

Her voice was high and edgy like the scratching of an old Victrola spinning out a Bessie Smith tune. She seemed to be on fast forward, with very quick reflexes, and she had definitely done her homework. She understood the blues tradition intellectually and she had absorbed the blues feeling by osmosis growing up in Texas and listening to a lot of Ma Rainey. Janis had a very authentic sound in her voice that was naturally there.

We talked for hours into the night, every night about 'God and the Universe', a favorite phrase of hers, about how to bring the essence of the blues into what we were playing without being purists - and yet without diluting the power of that beautiful music. We talked about what a different drumbeat would do here or a guitar chord there - it was absorbing and useful. After we completed a song we would polish the arrangement until it was just right, but we always tried to keep it loose in style and to keep a freedom of choice at every moment. This liberating improvisatory feeling was a direct legacy of the blues.

"Summertime" was a particularly effective tune for Big Brother because it was a change from our usual harum scarum romp and it gave Janis a chance to show what she could do with a classic tune that had been done in so many different styles. It was the only standard ballad that we allowed ourselves for some time. I had been fascinated by this minor key tuning with its major sixth since high school. One of my favorite versions was a long ruminating read of it by Nina Simone.
Another major influence on my arrangement of "Summertime" was the prelude in C minor at the beginning of "The Well Tempered Clavier" by Bach. I was listening to a lot of Bach, Telemann, Schuetz, and other eighteenth century musicians that summer when Big Brother was getting together. I played the theme of this prelude at half tempo and it was the perfect starting point and central motif for "Summertime".

What Janis did with the tune was wonderful. When I listen to it now I realize even more what an achievement it was for her. She did the song at a white-hot intensity. It was as if molten metal had been poured into the rather conventional form of the song. Her voice was so high in emotional content that it split into two lines under the stress of so much passion. It was not a chord we hear in her voice ƒ nothing so ordinary .. but rather one modal line accompanying another at an exotic distance which we felt rather than heard.

"Summertime" showed what Janis could do with a consonant. It is one thing to stretch out a vowel but elongating an 'n' is something else. The mouth is closed and there seems to be nowhere to go with the sound but Janis was not troubled by any such conventional wisdom. In the line "nothing's going to harm you" she bangs on that initial "n". This is a sort of consonantal melisma. N, n, n, nnn, nothing's going to harm you now. When critics began to write that Janis was the queen of melisma she had to take down the dictionary to look the word up and then she would not stop saying it for a week.

Our first booking with Janis was 10 June 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. We boys came out on stage and did our insane, free-jazz, speedy clash jam. It is difficult to exaggerate how fast we played then. Prestissimo. It was much faster than the punk rock which came later. The metronome setting was around Charlie Parker ƒ 300 plus quarter notes per minute ƒ prestissimo! The music as a blur at that fast clip and it took on a different reality rather as a series of visual stills do when they are moved quickly enough to make a motion picture. Then Janis walked on, not creeping, not swaggering, just knowing what she was about with the blues. She sang "Down On Me" and "I Know You Rider". The audience liked what they heard. They didn't go wild nor did they vilify our new singer for spoiling the band's wild anarchic ride as some have said.

It was a very big change for a coffeehouse blues singer like Janis to be in San Francisco singing in concert halls for the new generation of hippies. She had never even been to a rock concert - now she was the rock concert queen. Paradoxically Janis brought a tenderness and soft woman touch to the band. She also caused the music to be more structured since a singer by nature is incapable of just standing there and not knowing what is going to happen next. Vocalists are notorious for being inimical to improvisation. It is awkward for them to wait for their entrances especially if they do not know where they are going to be. If they have any leadership qualities at all, and they usually do, they will want to arrange things so that they know where the "story" of the music is at all times. This naturally introduces a purposefulness into the music that will inhibit free flowing creativity. Big Brother and the Holding Company very quickly moved from a progressive, almost jazz-oriented sound into a more accessible commercial, arranged product. We lost something but we gained a lot.

I remember daily trying to solve some very technical problems with this new amalgamation of a blues voice with a rock and roll band. Obviously there were no reference works anywhere and it was often necessary to play something over and over particularly if it was new, just to hear how it would go with something else. Some very serious weighing and consideration was called for. We had to feel and analyze at the same time. This can be a very difficult juggling act indeed. I would listen very intently to other players to see how they solved certain problems. We were fortunate enough to play with Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King, not once but several times and they were good teachers.

I would ask a lot of questions and get some very surprising answers. Wolf told me once that I had more soul than he had on his shoe. Now how is a long-haired hippie boy supposed to take that? With a big smile and a lot of laughs was my choice. I asked Muddy Waters' guitarist in 1966 what chord he was using to close one very intriguing tune and he refused to tell me. This was the first time I encountered such a proprietary attitude about the elements of the blues and he wasn't smiling. Oh well, I don't blame him. I found out for myself which is the best way to learn anyhow. These giants of the blues were bemused by us but they realized we weren't slavishly copying them and that we were going for a new idea. The blues people were all kind and understanding. B (as Mr. King is often called) was especially fatherly and helpful.

We played with B.B. King at The Generation, in New York, the weekend that Martin Luther King was shot. Emotions were running very high and a lot of cities all around the country were in flames.

Mr. King sat backstage and spoke of the tragedy in a very emotional, calm and beautiful manner. He made us feel the poignancy and dignity of the moment. It was like being in church to hear him talk of the need for understanding and love between the brothers and sisters, oh, yes, all over this world. Then he went onstage to play and sing and it was truly a consecrated moment. Even at his most blase, B could put so much into one note but this weekend with him was an inspirational sermon for all of us.

Janis was going through this same process as a vocalist. When she came to us she had a big open folk blues sound with a country tinge, but staying out in front of a plugged in rock band required a different approach which she was to learn from the masters. Janis was easy to work with: amiable, adventurous and professionalƒ a great combination. Our voices went well together and I loved to sing with her. I had a strong utility voice, was a good backup singer for her, and wrote songs for her very special instrument much as any composer would write to the strengths of a particular singer.

We were earning about $250 a night for the band, $50 a person. In real terms it was probably more money than we earned before or since. We had few ties outside of the band and rent was absurdly low, so that $50 was discretionary income, free and clear, and we earned that three or four times a week. Soon of course, there was more money but with but with it came attorneys, accountants and agitations. Things became much more abstract and we made many mistakes. It is tiresome to think of money matters when you are trying to create something new but you have to. Anyway we were never again quite so carefree and downright wealthy as we were in 1966 in Lagunitas, California. Rehearsing all day, playing or songwriting at night, and thus having no time to spend those big $50 paychecks.

I learned to play several different styles of music (blues, rock, jazz, classical) at the same time and have often combined them whenever possible. One time during rehearsal in Lagunitas, I was playing a blues with a lot of thirteenth chords and connecting minor sevenths that one didn't hear much then, which are commonplace today. Janis listened for awhile, snorted and said, "TV blues." Everyone laughed. I still think of that phrase when I hear abstract, diluted music today. TV blues.

About this time we were booked to perform at Mother Blues, a night club in Old Town in Chicago. When we arrived, Peter, James, Janis, and Dave went out to the suburbs to stay with Peter's cousins. I stayed in downtown Chicago where I could walk the streets and listen to the blues, great blues pouring out of every doorway. What was so extraordinary about Chicago was the blues legends that I had always heard on record and who I thought were in blues heaven by now were right there in tiny little rooms sitting next to the pool table playing their searing, truthful music. It was a very organic scene in its own way. People would be yelling across the player, taking bets on games, and generally behaving as if nothing remarkable was taking place right in front of them. I remember seeing Howlin' Wolf in Big John's one night sitting there in an old wooden chair growling out his message, a very large man with white socks, acromegalous hands and an unbelievably mystical guitar sound.

It was in Chicago that we recorded our first album, Big Brother and the Holding Company, on Mainstream Records, a venerable jazz label that had fallen on hard times and was headed up by Bobby Shad, the master of rather sharp business practices. There was a very old school feeling to our entire experience there. The actual recording itself was smooth enough since we had had ample opportunity to polish that rough Big Brother sound. We were playing five or six sets a night at Mother Blues which actually was the most we would ever play in such a concentrated period. It was so strange to be there at Mainstream recording our folk-rock-ish West Coast songs. That album sound almost acoustic todayƒ so sweet and innocent.

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Janis was in good spirits for the session. She double-tracked her vocals and we were pleased with how that sounded. The guitar sound was elementary 1950s. We were quite disappointed. We didn't really know how to ask for what we wanted and the engineers surely were not going to volunteer any new techniques. They were trying to keep the VU meters from going into the red. Later (and not much later at that) engineers would come to understand that some distortion was built into this new music and they would learn new techniques just as we were.

We were learning new techniques of living too. Many people were and are curious about Janis' sexual orientation, but this sort of thing was not much discussed at the time. People had a very "live and let live" attitude about such matters. It seemed as if there was much less sexual segregation in the '60s than there is now. Was Janis gay, bi, or heterosexual? I think she was pan-sexual. There was phrase at the time: if it moves, fondle it. That about sums it up. I never asked Janis (or anyone else come to think of it) about sexual preferences. There were other questions to answer first.

"Where did she come from?" was the question that Lou Adler asked at Monterey. He kept staring at Janis whose power and feeling startled the Los Angeles people there. Janis was literally a far cry from Mama Cass [Elliott, of the Mamas & Papas] and Grace Slick [Jefferson Airplane] and Monterey was an international debut for Big Brother. We played twice there, once in the day and then again on Sunday night. For the second show Janis wore her brand new gold lam* pantsuit. Se pronounced it lame to rhyme with fame as in, "This outfit is really lame." We were mocking ourselves for grabbing at that brass ring, but we grabbed all the same.

We crossed some invisible but very real line at this point. Janis no longer sounded southern, acoustic and innocent. Her voice and indeed her entire persona took on a larger than life intensity. That second nighttime performance at Monterey was the entrance into a new life for the band. D.A. Pennebaker was filming the entire Festival. He had done the film on Bob Dylan's tour Don't Look Back. We knew he was good and we definitely wanted to be part of this visual documentary of Monterey. Our manager at the time was trying to protect us and refused to sign the release for the filming. Janis and I went to Albert Grossman, Dylan's manager, and he advised us to sign.

The two giants at Monterey were Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. Otis Redding did an amazing and beautiful set there. I have early recordings of him trying to sound like Little Richard and succeeding quite well. When Otis came into his own though he wrote and sang passionate, unusual songs full of real feeling. Janis listened to him closely and learned the energy lesson. In fact, her exposure to that Memphis Stax-Volt sound had a deep effect on her development from coffeehouse chanteuse to stadium diva. Mr. Redding stayed in town awhile to play at the Fillmore and we were down in front for that show. Janis absorbed every syllable, movement and chord change.

The day that Otis died Janis called and asked me to come to her apartment. She was crying when I got there and we played all of his records and had a small wake for him. He gave us so much and he was a humble man, sure of himself but soft-spoken and simple. Jimi was this same way in his private moments as are many performers.

After Monterey, came New York. We had met Albert Grossman at the Festival and he wanted to manage us, as he did Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Band, and Peter, Paul and Mary. We signed with him sometime in November of 1967 and began to spend a lot of time in New York where we now had an office and a highly professional group of people with us. Albert and Janis developed a tender relationship. They touched each other a lot in a very loving and unselfconscious manner. She would give him a massage when there was a lot of stress and he would often have his arm around her. At the end of the day when the New York twilight was soft and calm, Janis and I would often visit Albert at his apartment on Gramercy Park, sit on his sofa looking out the window and plan for the future.

Buy Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills at AMAZON.COM

Albert provided us with a producer for Cheap Thrills but he was not the right person. John Simon was very talented and he had done good work with The Band but he lived in another world from Big Brother. We should have had someone like Todd Rundgren who was actually talked about for the job, and who would have been more sympathetic to our goals. John favored a very controlled approach in his own keyboard music which was a universe away from the Dionysian vocal guitar ecstasy that Big Brother was exploring. At the same time nonetheless he seemed to be disillusioned that Janis would practice a certain vocal lick riff that she liked and that she would sing it the way she had polished it on every take of a given song. "That is not like a blues artist", he would say, "because they are much more spontaneous and not so calculated." This is the sort of opinion, hard and hasty, that we all have when we are young and know so much.

Cheap Thrills was a difficult and lengthy project. It was recorded both live and in the studio and there were a lot of bits of tape to be cobbled together into a reasonably integral artifact. Janis and I and an engineer from Columbia spent thirty-six hours doing a final mix of the album. The second song on the album, "I Need A Man To Love", was one that Janis and I wrote in about five minutes backstage before a concert. We had a tuning amplified there and I started playing a riff that sounded good in that hollow room with its bare walls, a kind of natural echo chamber. Janis began to vocalize and it was like singing in the shower with its natural small room resonance. The entire tune, bridge, background vocals and all just came out. Now we did this sort of backstage improvising many nights so the tune probably had a long subconscious gestation period it still was a surprise and a delight to have a song form so effortlessly.

"Turtle Blues", on Cheap Thrills, has a special meaning for me. It features Peter Albin on the guitar, playing very much as he did when I met him and proposed to him that we start the band that turned out to be Big Brother. Peter is a good bass player but I was always sorry that his guitar talents were not more in evidence. He is a fine guitarist in a sort of country blues tradition with a real natural, loose style. On "Turtle Blues", John Simon the producer is playing the piano. The lyric is pure Janis,about as condensed a philosophy of life as you could wish from her and it dates from her coffeehouse days. Definitely autobiographical, the words are about Janis having reluctantly to maintain a tough exterior when at times she would rather not. Quite often when Janis was surprised or frightened her first impulse would be to lash out quickly and then later soften her stance or at least reconsider the mater.

We wanted some ambient tavern noise for "Turtle Blues" so James Gurley my guitar mate in Big Brother and I took a small Nagra tape recorded down to Barney's Beanery in Hollywood where theelite meet to eat. Our recording of that reality did not come up to expectations so art once more was called upon to imitate nature. We returned to the studio, collected some congenial bons vivants (Bobby Neuwirth, Howard Hessman and John Cooke) and proceeded to get drunk for the microphone. Bobby smashed a Southern Comfort bottle in a trashcan, Janis cackled away over the whole scene and I laughed so hard I was out of breath. This became the background for the "live" version of "Turtle Blues."

"Ball and Chain", the other "blues" tune on Cheap Thrills, was a song we learned from Willie Mae (BigMama) Thornton. A splendid woman who sang "Hound Dog" among many other classic blues tunes. Big Mama did "Ball and Chain" in a major key and a very casual, light shuffle manner. We first heard her perform the song at TheBoth/And, a small jazz club on Divisadero Street in San Francisco and we went backstage and asked her if we could try it. Ms. Thornton was a tough woman with a truck driver style but she assented and went back on to do a superb set of songs.

We put "Ball and Chain" into a minor key including the five chord which is very seldom done. This made for a very heavy, mournful sound that seemed to fit the lyric more closely. James Gurley opens the tune with one of his trademark protometal solos. For Janis, the song became a credo especially in the cadenza at the end where she moaned out her love and life in no uncertain way. On the nights when this piece was correctly done it made you believe that giants walked the earth.

Deciding on the right cover for the album was difficult. One idea suggested by Bob Cato, art director at Columbia Records, was to photograph all of us in bed in a typical hippie pad. Dave Getz and I arrived at the photo session early and were much amused to find a Madison Avenue version of a psychedelic bedroom. It looked like something Peter Max would do, all in pink with fluffy ruffles and frothy light accessories scattered, oh, so lovingly here and thereƒ the complete antithesis (naturally) of the real thing which would be done in dark shades if not totally black. It was just so neat and picture perfect. Dave turned to me and in a tentative tone asked me what I thought. "It'll be interesting to see what Janis says."

When she came it, she took one look and let out a whoop and a Texas cackle, and stomped her foot. "Let's trash it, boys", she cried and we all set to it with a will. Too bad this didn't happen in the video age because the demolition of that bedchamber would have been an artwork in itself. We ripped down some of the froth, hung up some of our own things and scrounged around the studio for other props. Then we took off our clothes, jumped in bed together and smiled for the camera. The shots were interesting and today they have a certain innocent quality but they just did not make it for the cover of Cheap Thrills. As soon as Cheap Thrills was recorded we went out on the road to do the tunes. We played across the country including a July 1968 date at the Fillmore West with Jeff Beck, Richie Havens and Sly and the Family Stone, a typical example of the adventurous booking policy of the period.

Then we returned to New York to play the Fillmore East with the Staples Singers who had to catch a plane that same night. We wanted to jam with them so we brought them on in the middle of our set. Roebuck Staples was the patriarch of this gospel clan and he played a Stratocaster. Seemingly out of place with his distinguished, fatherly mien while his daughter and son sang along with us. We did "Down By The Riverside." It was an incandescent moment. Mavis Staples shared the mike with Janis. They were very different singers. Mavis sings in a very calm, deliberate manner and her voice is deep and richly resonant which made an interesting contrast to Janis' supersonic style.

In Seattle we played at the Eagles Ballroom and then went out to the Black and Tan Club where we saw a blues player named Guitar Shorty. He was an exotic character then and he played flawless blues. He played them with his teeth, his tuchus, his elbow, anything. In the middle of a heartbreakingly beautiful solo he did a forward flip right off the stage, landed on the dance floor and did not miss a beat. Jimi Hendrix learned his art in Seattle, of course, and I could see that he must have paid close attention to Guitar Shorty.

In November, 1968, Cheap Thrills became the number one album in the country. We began to play a lot, sometimes two or three times a day and there was no time for sustained creative thought since we were doing the same songs again and again. We arrived at playing them really well, of course, and blindingly fast but we definitely should have been doing some research and development. A sameness began to set in and because the days and night were so busy it seemed as if a long time was gong by without any progress. Janis began to get restless and tired of going over the same material. She wanted to try something different but wasn't clear about how to proceed. Albert was talking to us also about making some changes and he even proposed one or two that seemed very unpalatable. He was serious about replacing one of the Big Brother people and pushed quite hard but we refused. There was a very conservative element in the band that would not consider adding new personnel, using a horn section, or a keyboard player.

Big Brother and the Holding Company was a prime example of a band where the chemistry was right, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You cannot buy or manufacture the natural feeling that was in that band. Big Brother played from the heart and soul with the goal of achieving a connection with the innermost feelings of the audience. People sense this in a band and they respond to it. The Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band were synthetic amalgamations compared to the pioneering San Francisco bands. I believe that either of those hastily assembled groups (especially Full Tilt) would have found its way given enough time.

Janis had been speaking to me for some time about leaving Big Brother. She confided in me probably because she needed some support for such a drastic step and also because she confided in me about everything. I offered to help her with finding and putting together a band but we really did not speak of me joining her until later. On 18 December, my birthday, we held the first Kozmic Blues Band rehearsal and it was a strange enterprise from the start. Nick Gravenites and Michael Bloomfield were called in to help set up the new band and it was an education getting to know Bloomers. He was a great guitar player but he was also a scholar and a musicologist. Extremely articulate and knowledgeable, Michael's heart was in the right place too. There are many stories, almost unbelievable, about him such as one that Peter Amft, photographer extraordinaire, told us all one day about the Bloomfieldian photographic memory.

Peter had just purchased a banjo and was returning home happily with it when Michael Bloomfield spotted him on the street. He began his usual rapid fire questioning. "Hey man, what is that, what kind is it, oh, man, have you heard Ralph Stanley play that one, let me play it, hey, let's go to your place and try in out right now." This bantering barrage is irresistible and Peter soon found himself at his flat with Michael in tow. The guitar wizard walked into Peter's living room and eyed a bookshelf: "Hey, see those books, have you read those? You have good taste in books, man. Listen, take any one of them down and open it to any page. Okay, now what page is it? 347? Good." And with that Michael quoted exactly the first paragraph on the page and he could do the same with any book there. The mere fact that such a story could be told seriously about Michael and perhaps even believed shows what kind of person we are dealing with here. Clearly a phenomenon on the guitar, he was an intriguing, volcanic personality.

Buy Janis Joplin's Box of Pearls at AMAZON.COM 

In San Francisco where we were launching the Kozmic Blues Band Janis, Michael and I went to a hotel in the Fillmore District, now gentrified Yuppie Land, then a place called "The Cuts". We found D.J. from Houston there in a rundown hotel lobby. "Mr. D.J., I would like two twenty-dollar balloons, please." "White girl, you call me Mister, I'll give you anything." The white or sometimes brown powder was put into small balloons which were then tied up into a watertight little package so that they could be held in the mouth or even swallowed with impunity. It certainly did not help the Kozmic Blues Band that so many of us were buying these balloons when we could have been dreaming up new music to play. On the first day of rehearsals the trumpet player did not even show up after he had flown down from Seattle because he was "trying to cop, man and he just got hung up." When he did arrive, his "works" (hypodermic injection kit) were jammed in the bell of his horn and he could not extricate them.

Janis had reached a peak in her career when she died but there was a lot more down inside her than even she realized. She was intelligent enough and certainly talented enough to have done any number of interesting projects. Janis gave people a sense that they were important, that their lives could matter. She showed them a way to transcend a life that was stifling them and her audience knew instinctively that she was on their side in their struggle to escape mediocrity.

In her singing I feel that she had barely begun to realize her potential. She became famous for the raw edge and the range of her voice and for a certain stance that meant a lot to men and women of the time. She was a powerful guiding star for a growing cadre of courageous women who would become even stronger in the next generation. The song "Women Is Losers" on our first Mainstream album was a strong and humorous blues number about the way things too often are between a man and a woman. Janis was also learning more and more about the craft of singing and she could have gone anywhere once she was more confident of her technique. She wanted to be a technically good singer as well as an inspired one but the pressures of early success and the spirit of that Bacchic era militated against her working to achieve a more solid foundation in what she was doing. Once we were driving down the Hollywood Freeway and she said, "I'll sell out. Just show me where to sign. I mean it, I'll do whatever it takes to become a success."

The tension between that kind of very understandable feeling and the desire to improve her technique, to show what she could really do when the party was over must have been very difficult to sustain and endure. Janis knew that she was as loved and respected for reshaping contemporary culture as she was for her singing and this kind of adulation can be a two-edged sword. Her art was too important to her to see it pushed into the background by her Hot Mama persona. She was a major force in showing women a new way of performing but she was also and perhaps mainly a superb musician and she wanted people to know that. Janis would have preferred to be remembered as a blues singer and she was arguably the best blues singer of her generation. She will forever remain one of the all time greats.

Sam Andrew is a founding member of Big Brother & The Holding Company

Reprinted with permission from Sam Andrew

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