A look back

By Tom MacIntosh

Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970), died from a drug overdose 47 years ago, at 27, joining a long list of musicians who also died of some ‘misadventure’ at the same age, forming the infamous  27 Club, including people like Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain. Joplin was an often misunderstood artist, a troubled genius, a victim of her own doing, some say, with the liquor and drugs, she was just another ‘messed up’ singer in a band. However, as brief as her career was, (just 3 records), it was a brilliant run, like a meteor shrieking across the black sky, only to silently crash and burn. But her flame still flickers, and has a branded place among the truly great performers of all time.

Today we want to look back on some of her best live performances. Legendary artifacts of rock history, beginning with the Monterey Pop Festival , where she fronted a little known psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. This was their first big breakthrough and their rendition of Big Mama Thornton's Ball and Chain which was one of two songs filmed that day, and appears in the film Monterey Pop.  As the camera pans the audience, we can see Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, in sunglasses looking on in awe, and when the songs finishes, she simply says,”Wow”. 

After recording Cheap Thrills, the second album of BBHC, and reached #1 on Billboard 200 two months later, she set out on a solo career and hooked up with The Kozmic Blues Band and cut just one record, I Got Dem ‘Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama!. The record was not loved by critics, but it was more along her style of blues, with a wind section and back up vocals for a much funkier sound and groove, which differed from the psychedelic rock from before.  Perhaps the album’s best two songs are the Bee Gees To Love Somebody, and Try(Just a Little Bit Harder). In the video gallery is her live gutsy performance of the latter in Frankfurt, Germany (1969).  

In May of 1970 she formed a new band, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, made up of mostly young Canadian players, ex-members of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, without the wind section and toured Canada on the Festival Express train. This was a band she put together and had control over the material, saying, “This is my band, finally it’s my band.”. The tour was with an all star lineup, including Buddy Guy, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Ten Years After, The Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Eric Andersen, and Ian and Sylvia.They played in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary and Joplin jammed with the others on the trip in performances that were considered the best in her career. On their last night in Calgary, she lit up a 2-hour set with Tell Mama, and as you can see, she was on fire. 

One performance that cannot be forgotten is her appearance with Tom Jones on his TV variety show This Is Tom Jones. A show that had a young audience, and featured acts such as The Who, Joe Cocker, and The Hollies, to name a few. On December 4, 1969, he sang a duet, Raise Your Hand with Joplin which is unforgettable. The energy and mutual admiration flows through this fabulous number; just two of the best screamers funking it out and having fun. 

Among her many remarkable live shows, her appearance at the legendary rock festival in Woodstock is iconic. She came on after Creedence Clearwater Revival, at 2 a.m. after a 10-hour delay, and had been into the booze and heroin, so by the time they performed, she wasn’t in top shape. Pete Townshend later said, “...she wasn’t her best, but even Janis on an off night was incredible..”. It was an historical event, and she was a headliner! Take a look at the video gallery. 

Janis Joplin was the first female rock star. The first ‘girl’ Elvis? She changed the way people saw women, her clothing and attire onstage was fresh and was not unseen by fashion designers, and hasn’t it come back in full colour?. Her voice was her currency, her flamboyance her presence, and her sheer will to make it continues to inspire. 

Evolution baby!