Janis Joplin was a rock and roll woman down to her toes, a blues singer of unparalleled passion and the greatest female performer to emerge from the tempest of the late 1960s. Ecstatic on stage and sexually sublime, she went through life like a superbly visible comet streaking across the sky; quick, brilliant and gone.
Janis Lyn Joplin was born January 19, 1943 to a middle class family in the Texas oil refinery town of Port Arthur. Her passionate affair with the blues began in the backwoods Louisiana roadhouses and bars, just across the Neches River from Port Arthur. She was most influenced by the great blues Divas, Bessie Smith, Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. She called that music, “Swamp Rock.”
Infuriated, incensed, frustrated and angered by being voted Ugliest Man on Campus by the Student Body at University of Texas in 1963, Janis and her friend Chet Helms, left Austin and drove fifty-five hours – straight through- to San Francisco. Weary and crusted with filth from the road, they went straight to North Beach.
The intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco became the center of the hippie movement of the 1960s. The Haight-Ashbury credo: Get stoned! Get laid! Do it now! There’s no tomorrow!
The San Francisco Sound was blues, amplified and transformed by the screaming colors and inward messages of acid. With a shattering electricity to burn the mind, it was screeching and pounding, hemorrhaging into a bleeding dazzle of strobes, posters, slides and lights that whipped right back to the center of the sound.
Chet Helms organized a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. They needed a lead vocalist and Chet thought Janis would fill the bill. It was an inspired thought. Janis and Big Brother hit it off.
“Dope, Sex and Cheap Thrills”… Somewhere along the way to their sky-rocketing fame in the 1960s, the band picked that phrase as their unofficial motto. They became the city’s most off-the-wall band and released their first album with the same name.
“Cheap Thrills” debuted on the Billboard Album chart on August 3, 1968, reaching the number one position and holding that spot for 8 weeks. The album stayed on the charts for a total of 66 weeks. ‘Piece of My Heart” debuted on the Billboard Top 100 chart on August 31, 1968, where it peaked at Number 12. It stayed on the charts for 12 weeks.
National fame and superstardom came when Big Brother and the Holding Company took the stage at the Monterrey International Pop Festival in June, 1967. While the musicians fumbled with their instruments, Janis bounced on stage, gleaming in a silver-white pantsuit made of sleek lame. She snaked in a small circle in back of the mike. She seized it, as if by impulse. A desperate foot stamped down on the platform that shook with more energy than the rest of the entire festival. For the whole country, the era of acid rock began at Monterrey.
1969 was the year of the outdoor rock festival. Janis and her new band Kozmic Blues played at festivals from Atlanta to Dallas, Tanglewood to New Orleans. They played with her at Woodstock. When the album was released, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama’ went to Number 5 on the album charts.
The Kozmic Blues disbanded at the end of 1969. Early 1970: Janis assembled a new group of musicians; bass, lead guitar, drums, piano and organ. Before they played their first gig, they were christened with a name that expressed all the hopes Janis had for the new band: The Full Tilt Boogie.
Even before their tour began, Janis was comfortable enough with the band to consult with them about a nickname for herself. She wanted a name that emphasized the aspect of her personality that wore gold hooker pumps and picked up pretty boys in bars. “ What about Rose? Or Ruby? Or Pearl?” she asked. As soon as Janis voiced the name “Pearl” the band nodded in complete agreement. To her delight, Pearl became the nickname that those closest to her used when they were speaking to her with special love and affection.
Janis and the band came out to Los Angeles in September, 1970 to begin recording an album. Four weeks into the session, Janis died suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. The cause of her death was an accidental overdose of heroin boosted by too much booze. She was 27 years old. From that moment, there would be no other title for the album but “Pearl.” The band members worked for weeks, day and night, constructing entirely new instrumental tracks behind Janis’s existing vocals. “Pearl” is a testimonial to Janis and her band’s mutual admiration and love. Janis’s joy in the Full Tilt Boogie Band, in her life, comes through in every song.
Kim Borchardt Taylor absolutely dazzles the audience with her gritty and heartfelt performance of Janis Joplin.
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