About Janice Joplin

anis Joplin, one of the most powerful singers of her generation, found her voice as a hard-living, blues-loving diva on the psychedelic San Francisco scene. She sang with feverish power over the high-adrenaline music of Big Brother and the Holding Company, finding a release in their psychedelic blues-rock. Joplin's tenure with Big Brother was brief (1966-1968), but it yielded two albums, including the raucous classic Cheap Thrills, featuring "Ball and Chain" and "Piece of My Heart," and memories of a shattering performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. In the words of associate and biographer Myra Friedman, "It wasn't only her voice that thrilled, with its amazing range and strength and awesome wails. To see her was to be sucked into a maelstrom of feeling that words can barely suggest." 

Joplin was born in 1943 in Port Arthur, an oil-refining town on the Texas coast. As an adolescent, she was a social outcast whose loneliness drew her to the purest musical source material - Odetta, Leadbelly and Bessie Smith on the blues side, Otis Redding and Tina Turner on the soul side. She sang acoustic folk blues on the coffeehouse circuit in Texas and San Francisco before joining Big Brother - an already existing band consisting of guitarists James Gurley and Sam Andrew, bassist Peter Albin and drummer David Getz - at the suggestion of Chet Helms in 1966. Helms, one of the group of dance and concert organizers who called themselves the Family Dog, booked Big Brother at some of the earliest events on the nascent San Francisco scene, and the group became regulars at his Avalon Ballroom in the late Sixties. It was at the Avalon where much of Cheap Thrills - an album that sat at the top of the album charts for eight weeks in 1968 - was recorded.  

Joplin left Big Brother for a solo career, releasing I've Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! in 1969 and touring extensively with her Kozmic Blues Band. She was working on her second album with a superb new band, Full-Tilt Boogie, when she was found dead of a heroin overdose in a hotel room on October 4, 1970. The posthumously released album, entitled Pearl (after her nickname), became her biggest seller, holding down the #1 position for nine weeks in 1971. Subsequently, Joplin has passed into the realm of legend: a brash and self-destructive personality who nonetheless scaled the heights of artistry as a soul-baring blues singer. 

Her legacy has had as much to do with her persona as her singing. As music journalist Ellen Wills has stated: "Joplin belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music. Among American rock performers, she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator-recorder-embodiment of her generation's mythology."  

"I only saw Janis Joplin one time--on a hot summer day in San Jose, California, at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds...She was extraordinary. She had a connection with the audience that I had not seen before, and when she left the stage--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.                                                         --Stevie Nicks

"The thing about Janis is that she just looked so unique, an ugly duckling dressed as a princess, fearlessly so. Seeing her live (Blossom Music Center, Richfield, Ohio 1970) was like watching a boxing match. Her performance was so in your face and electrifying that it really put you right there in the moment. There you were living your nice little life in the suburbs and suddenly there was this train wreck, and it was Janis."                                                         --Chrissie Hynde

"I remember thinking that Janis Joplin sang like Mae West talked. When I first heard the primal scream in 'Piece Of My Heart,' I was hooked.... During the 'whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa's' in 'Combination Of Two,' I couldn't help but go to the mirror and pretend I was a wild woman like Janis, in a rock band."                                                         --Joan Jett

"Janis Joplin was, and remains, beautiful. Hers will always be that bruised, yet strong voice that to me has no gender. It is so raw that it has gone beyond...."                                                         --Kim Gordon  

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


Title About Janice Joplin Type of Content Contextual Criticism
Criticism Author Criticism Target Sherman Alexie
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jan 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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