Janis Joplin

From New World Encyclopedia

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin 1970.JPG
Background information
Birth name Janis Lyn Joplin
Born January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, USA
Died October 4, 1970 in Los Angeles, California, USA
Genre(s) Blues-rock
Hard rock
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, arranger
Instrument(s) Guitar
Label(s) Columbia
Associated acts Big Brother & the Holding Company, Kozmic Blues Band, Full Tilt Boogie Band, Grateful Dead, Kris Kristofferson
Website http://www.officialjanis.com/

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American blues-influenced rock singer and occasional songwriter with a highly distinctive voice. Joplin performed on four music albums recorded between 1966 and 1970. The first two with the San Francisco band, Big Brother and The Holding Company, one with Kozmic Blues Band and her final release with Full Tilt Boogie Band. On each of her recordings, Joplin is listed as lead vocalist. Her highly-charged performances, coupled with a deep understanding of the genres of gospel, blues, as well as rock and roll, paved the way for the significant contributions that women who came after Janis Joplin could make in rock bands. Joplin's music became her spiritual reality within the physical world in which she performed and triumphed. Her personal demons overcame her and claimed her life. Today she is a highly regarded and influential figure in popular music.

Life and career

Early life

Janis Joplin was born at St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur, Texas to Dorothy Bonita East (1913–1998), a registrar at a Port Arthur, Texas business college, and her husband, Seth Ward Joplin (1910–1987), an engineer at Texaco. She was followed by two siblings, a sister, Laura Lee in 1949, and a brother, Michael Ross in 1953. The family belonged to the Churches of Christ denomination.[1] Joplin's childhood was initially conventional. Both parents showered her with attention for her lovely soprano singing voice. As a young woman, Joplin was a standout in the church choir gaining recognition in her hometown. Her intelligence, which allowed her to skip the first grade, was also notable.

However, upon entering high school, everything changed for Joplin. She was no longer recognized as the cute talented girl she had been. Suddenly; weight gain, acne, and her interest in painting left her regarded as an outcast. Joplin however, refused to accept this assignation, and began to associate with a group of older boys, including Jim Langdon and Grant Lyons. Langdon and Lyons introduced her to the beatnik culture. Immersed in this new scene, Joplin changed her wardrobe and language, going so far as to develop a now-famous cackle. The most definitive change came when she abandoned her soprano voice and began singing in the style of Bessie Smith, one of the blues vocalists she discovered during this period along with musicians Leadbelly, Odetta, and Big Mama Thornton. Her irregular behavior led to her being further ostracized by her classmates and earned her a false reputation for being promiscuous.[2]

Early performances

After Joplin graduated from high school in 1960, she attended Lamar Tech where most of her former high school tormentors also attended. After one semester Joplin returned home and made an arrangement with her parents that if she passed a secretarial course at Port Arthur College, they would allow her to move to Los Angeles and live with Dorothy's sisters. Joplin completed the course in the summer of 1961, and moved to Los Angeles, later hitchhiking to San Francisco. She returned home for Christmas and stayed before enrolling as an arts student at the University of Texas in Austin, the following fall. Although she was required to live on campus, she spent most of her time in "The Ghetto," which was home to the arts scene at the time. It was also at this point that she began performing in local bars and was noticed for her talent. Joplin never earned a degree, however, hitchhiking to San Francisco once again at the end of her first semester. It is a widely held belief her decision came after she was nominated as "The Ugliest Man on Campus" by a fraternity.[3]

Furthering a reputation as a singer

Her second move to San Francisco in 1963 led to the cementing of her persona. Her formerly false reputation for promiscuity became true as she began a series of affairs with both men and women. She also began her lifelong struggle with drugs and was introduced to speed and heroine. She also continued to be a heavy drinker, a habit she had adopted while in high school. She was also earning a reputation as a singer, but her attitude and desire to be the leader of a group made it difficult for her to "make it." By the summer of 1964, Joplin had earned enough money to go to New York, where she remained until September before returning to San Francisco. The trip did little for Joplin except increase her dependence on drugs and alcohol. By May 1965, her friends and Joplin agreed that she needed to leave and they raised the bus fare for her to return home.

Performing again

Joplin was determined to go "straight," buying an entirely new wardrobe, abandoning drugs, and attempting to become the daughter her parents had always wanted her to be. This attempt at normalcy was furthered when her boyfriend from San Francisco, Michel Raymond, visited the family and asked permission to marry Joplin. The family was thrilled and busily set about making plans for the wedding, while Raymond left to take care of some "family business" (which turned out to be a pregnant wife and another fiance). Joplin also returned to Lamar Tech and studied for a degree in sociology. She remained "straight"—even dull in the estimation of some friends—for all of 1965, with the exception of one gig she took over Thanksgiving weekend. But, Joplin began performing again in March of 1966, and moved back to Austin that spring with the encouragement of her friend Jim Langdon, who was writing a musical column at the time and always gave her glowing reviews. However, soon after the move, Travis Rivers arrived to offer Joplin the opportunity to audition as the singer for a band her friend, Chet Helms, was managing, Big Brother and the Holding Company. But when Rivers learned that she had kicked her drug habit he decided to return to San Francisco alone. Joplin, however, learned he was in town and, after pretending to tell her parents and going against the council of friends, she had Rivers take her back to San Francisco to see if she could make it with the band.

Big Brother and the Holding Company

Joplin again moved back to San Francisco in 1966, which had become the nascent hippie community of Haight-Ashbury. She joined Big Brother and the Holding Company June 1966, and they made their debut at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, on June 10. The band was an enormous hit, especially the vocal styling of Joplin. The group began earning regular gigs both in San Francisco and throughout California.[4]

By August, the band was doing well but had yet to earn a record contract. They fired Helms and signed a contract with independent label Mainstream Records, and they recorded an eponymously titled album in the fall of 1966. However, the lack of success of their early singles led to the album being withheld until after their subsequent success; it was eventually released in August 1967, shortly after the group's breakthrough appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in mid-June 1967. The Big Brother set included a version of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" and featured a barnstorming vocal by Joplin and, just as with Jimi Hendrix, Joplin's performance at Monterey made her an international star virtually overnight.

The first album, Cheap Thrills

In November 1967, the group signed with top artist manager Albert Grossman, who had become famous in his own right as the manager of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Up to this point, Big Brother had performed primarily in California (mostly in San Francisco), but they had gained national prominence with their Monterey performance. However, after signing with Grossman, the band's national appeal became his major concern and they began their first tour of the East Coast in February 1968. He also convinced Columbia Records President Clive Davis to pay $200,000 to get Janis and Big Brother released from their contract with Mainstream and sign them. The group recorded their first Columbia album, Cheap Thrills later that year, which gave Joplin her standard, "Piece of My Heart." The album was released that August and despite mixed reviews, sold a million copies in its first month. But all of the attention and success of the group had been focused solely on Joplin, causing tension between its members and leaving her with the impression she could be served better by another group. And so on September 1, 1968, Grossman announced that Joplin would be leaving the group at the end of the year.

Solo career

When Joplin split from Big Brother, she lost much of her community fan base in San Francisco. She and her yet-to-be-named new band debuted December 21, 1968, just three weeks after her final show with Big Brother. Their first performance was in Memphis, Tennessee, at the second annual Stax-Volt Yuletide Thing. Originally thought to be a perfect gig, the group soon discovered that they weren't tight enough to perform. They received terrible reviews and it was the first time that Joplin hadn't won over an audience. The band was never received well in the United States where they were always compared to Big Brother, although they did have a fairly well reviewed tour of Europe in April. The band only stayed together a year, recording I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Bules Again Mama! and remaining unnamed until after the break up, at which point they became known as the Kozmic Blues Band, after the title of the album. The album went gold but did not produce any Top Ten singles. Along with her professional problems, Joplin had once again begun drinking and shooting heroin. However, her notable performance at Woodstock occurred in August 1969.

After disbanding Kozmic Blues, Joplin decided to try to break her heroine addiction. Joplin went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for Carnival in February 1969, and spent five weeks hitchhiking across northern Brazil, becoming clean before returning to San Francisco. But after being back for two days she began using again. But by early 1970, Joplin wanted to get back of the road and begin recording again. She put together The Full Tilt Boogie Band and they began to tour in May 1970, to great reviews. During September 1970, Joplin and her band began recording a new album in Los Angeles with renowned producer Paul A. Rothchild, who was famous for his work with The Doors. Although Joplin died before all the tracks were fully completed, there was still enough usable material in the can to compile an LP. The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971), titled after Joplin's nickname, which she was given for her hard and brassy ways. It became the biggest selling album of her short career and featured her biggest hit single, the definitive version of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," as well as the wry social commentary of the a cappella "Mercedes Benz," written by Joplin and beat poet Michael McClure.


Joplin died October 4, 1970, from an overdose of heroin and whiskey. She was cremated in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. The album Pearl, released six weeks after her death, included a version of Nick Gravenites' song "Buried Alive In The Blues," which was left as an instrumental because Joplin had died before she was able to record her vocal over the backing track.


Joplin is now remembered best for her powerful and distinctive voice—her rasping, overtone-rich sound was significantly divergent from the soft folk and jazz-influenced styles that were common among many white artists at the time—as well as for her lyrical themes of pain and loss. To many, she personified that period of the 1960s, when the San Francisco sound, along with (then considered) outlandish dress and life style, jolted the country. Many Joplin fans remember her appearance on the Dick Cavett show with an obviously delighted Dick Cavett. She is mentioned in the book, Small Steps, a sequel to the hit novel, Holes.[5] The genuineness of her personality always came across in press interviews, for better or worse.

Contributions to popular music

Joplin's contributions to the rock idiom were long overlooked, but her importance is now becoming more widely appreciated, thanks in part to the recent release of the long-unreleased documentary film, Festival Express, which captured her at her very best. Janis's vocal style, her flamboyant dress, her outspokenness and sense of humor, her liberated stance (politically and sexually), and her strident, hard-living "one of the boys" image all combined to create an entirely new kind of female persona in rock.

It can be argued that, prior to Joplin, there was a tendency for solo, white female pop performers to be pigeonholed in to a few broadly defined roles—the gentle, guitar-strumming music.

Not recognized by her hometown during her life, she was remembered much later. In 1988, her life and achievements were showcased and recognized in Port Arthur by the dedication of the Janis Joplin Memorial, with an original bronze, multi-image sculpture of Joplin by Douglas Clark. But the tribute was an attempt by the town to revive itself after Federal Law had caused their Texaco plant to cut thousands of jobs. Most of the residents, when asked about Joplin, continue to say that they do not approve of her.

New outlook for Caucasian female singers

Along with her contemporary Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Joplin pioneered an entirely new range of expression for women in the previously male-dominated world of rock. It is also notable that, in a very short time, she transcended the role of "chick singer" fronting an all-male band, to being an internationally famous solo star in her own right.

Joplin is also notable, along with Slick, as one of the few female performers of her day to regularly wear pants (or slacks), rather than skirts or dresses. Her body decoration with a wristlet and a small heart tattooed on her left breast, by the San Francisco 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.[6] Another trademark was her flamboyant hair styles, often including colored streaks and accessories such as scarves, beads, boas and feathers, a style strikingly at odds with the "regulation" perms or wigs sported by most female singers of the day. It is notable that she is probably the only major female pop-rock performer of the period who never wore makeup; something that was very striking at a time when wearing makeup was de rigueur for female performers.

The Rose

The 1979 film, The Rose, was loosely based on Joplin's life. The lead role earned Bette Midler an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress (Joplin had gone to see Midler perform several times at the Continental Baths at the Ansonia Hotel in New York, when Midler was first starting out). In the late 1990s, a musical based on Love, Janis, a memoir by Joplin's sister Laura, was launched, with an aim to take it to Off-Broadway. Opening there in the summer of 2001 and scheduled for only a few weeks of performances, the show won acclaim, packed houses, and was held over several times, the demanding role of the singing Janis attracting rock vocalists from relative unknowns to pop stars Laura Branigan and Beth Hart. A national tour followed. Gospel According to Janis, a biographical film starring Zooey Deschanel as Joplin saw a 2008 release.

Contemporary singer P!nk has cited Janis Joplin as one of her first idols. During her 2004 Try This Tour, Pink performed a three song acoustic medley of: Summertime/Me and Bobby McGee/Piece of My Heart. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Joplin #46 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time].[7]


Janis Joplin & Jorma Kaukonen

  • The Typewriter Tape (1964, bootleg recording)

Big Brother and the Holding Company

  • Big Brother & the Holding Company (1967, Mainstream Records)
  • Cheap Thrills (1968, Columbia)
  • Live at Winterland '68 (1998, Columbia Legacy)

Kozmic Blues Band

  • I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969, Columbia)

Full Tilt Boogie

  • Pearl (posthumous 1971, Columbia)

Big Brother & the Holding Company / Full Tilt Boogie

  • In Concert (1972, Columbia)

Later collections

  • Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits – Columbia 1972
  • Janis – Columbia Legacy 1975—2 discs
  • Anthology—1980
  • Farewell Song—1982
  • Cheaper Thrills—1984
  • Janis—3 discs 1993
  • Essential Songs—Columbia Legacy 1995
  • The Collection—1995
  • Live at Woodstock: August 17, 1969—1999
  • Box of Pearls—Sony Legacy 1999
  • Super Hits—2000


  1. The Religious Affiliation of Singer Janis Joplin Adherents.com. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  2. Laura Joplin, Love, Janis (New York: Villard Books, 1992).
  3. Alice Echols, Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (New York: Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company, 1999).
  4. Ellias Amburn, Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin (New York: Warner Books, 1992). ISBN 0446516406
  5. Dick Cavett. (2005). The Dick Cavett Show - Rock Icons (1969) [DVD]. Shout Factory.
  6. Deb Acord "Who knew: Mommy has a tattoo," Maine Sunday Telegram Nov. 19, 2006
  7. Rolling Stone, The Immortals: The First Fifty.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Amburn, Ellis. Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin: A Biography. New York: Warner Books, 1992. ISBN 0-446-39506-4
  • Dalton, David. Piece of my Heart: A Portrait of Janis Joplin. New York: Da Capo Press, 1991. ISBN 0-306-80446-8
  • Echols, Alice. Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. ISBN 0-805-05394-8
  • Friedman, Myra. Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin. New York: Harmony Books, 1992. ISBN 0-517-58650-9
  • Joplin, Laura. Love, Janis. New York: Villard Books, 1992. ISBN 1-888-35808-4

External links

All links retrieved March 21, 2018.


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