Janis Joplin Images, Pictures, Photos:
Detailed Biography of Janis Joplin
Name: Janis Joplin
Real Name / Full Name / Birth Name: Janis Lyn Joplin
Born: 19 January 1943
Place of Birth: Port Arthur, Texas, USA
Died: 4 October 1970 (drug overdose)
Deathplace: Hollywood, California, USA
Family / Parents:
Father: Seth Ward (worked at the Texaco refinery)
Mother: Dorothy (East)
Profession: Rock Singer
Genres / Styles: Blues & Boogie Rock, Oldies, Rock/Pop, Classic Rock, Acid Rock, '60s Oldies, R&B, Soul
Education: After graduating in 1960 from Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Janis took some college courses at Lamar Tech and later attended The University of Texas at Austin.
Sometimes Credited As:
Best Known As: 1960s blues/rock singer of "Me and Bobby McGee". Rock and roll's first female superstar, Janis Joplin showed that women could be rock singers.
Janis was born and raised on the humid gulf coast of Texas, in a Texaco Oil Town called Port Arthur. Like most small communities, nonconformity was frowned upon in Port Arthur. And as a little girl, Seth and Dorothy Joplin's daughter Janis fit in well. She got good grades, colored posters for display at the local library, attended church, and otherwise
stayed well within the limits of local expectations. Janis loved to play with Michael and Laura, her younger brother and sister. There was nothing really too extraordinary about Janis' childhood, until she got to high school.
Janis Joplin's Career: Early Years
As a teenager, Janis suffered from severe acme and weight problems. In high school, other kids began making fun of her because of these problems, a rejection that Janis took hard. A chasm opened between Janis and Port Arthur which she exacerbated by wearing "outrageous" clothes and using abrasive language. She fell in with a small group of rebellious peers who encouraged her to display even more extreme behavior. Janis wholly rejected the prevailing notions of the Port Arthur community, and instead embraced all notions of nonconformity. She refused to accept the traditional role of femininity and norms she felt being thrust upon her, and instead began a slow shift to the opposite extreme. It was the late ‘50s, a relatively quiet time in American history, but for Janis it was a period of alienation and depression. She didn't want to be Port Arthur. She knew that for her, happiness lay somewhere beyond its borders.
Janis graduated from high school in May, 1960. She then enrolled at Lamar College in Beaumont, Texas, where she spent two semesters before venturing out west to Los Angeles for the summer of 1961. In LA, Janis discovered the Venice area, where she immersed herself in the art and bohemian lifestyle of American beat culture, arguably the predecessor of the hippie movement. She reluctantly returned to Texas in the fall, where she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin.
Initially, Janis felt she fit in better in Austin. She became absorbed into the local folk music scene. Janis had a three octave vocal range and in those days, a sweet and naturally emotive singing voice. She would later state that her primary early influences were legendary blues singers Bessie Smith, Odetta and Leadbelly.
Janis began singing and playing autoharp in an Austin-based trio called the Waller Creek Boys, which also featured R. Powell St. John, then a songwriter for the legendary Texas psych/garage band the 13th Floor Elevators (later he'd also be a founding member of Mother Earth with Tracy Nelson). The Waller Creek Boys began playing weekends in the nightclubs of Austin and Houston. It was during this period that Janis' voice first began to develop its trademark bluesy rasp, due primarily to a developing love for alcohol.
Never given to pretensions of femininity, Janis soon gained a reputation as “one of the boys,” drinking and carousing as hard as any man, a lifestyle and an image she would eventually come to personify. As a result, the gulf between Janis and the student body of the University of Texas began to widen, reaching a rather cruel zenith when Janis was nominated "ugliest man on campus," a joke apparently perpetrated by a fraternity and published in the student newspaper. Any acceptance Janis had initially felt at the University of Texas soon disintegrated, and now fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, her depression returned with a vengeance. Janis knew that Texas in the early ‘60s was not the place for her. Together with a friend named Chet Helms, in January of 1963 Janis packed up a few belongings and hitchhiked to San Francisco, California.
In San Francisco, Janis did some sporadic singing in North Beach coffee houses, sometimes solo and sometimes with accompaniment from Roger Perkins or Jorma Kaukonen (later guitarist with Jefferson Airplane & Hot Tuna). She experimented with various drugs, and soon developed an addiction to speed (amphetamine), which helped her lose weight and provided a purer high then alcohol. But it wasn't long before the speed began to take a heavy toll on Janis’ body, and in 1965 she returned home to Port Arthur, exhausted, spiritually and physically depleted, and weighing a mere 88 pounds. The pendulum then swung back to other extreme.
Back in Port Arthur, Janis detoxified and even started seeing a psychiatric social worker on a regular basis. She worked at staying sober, trying in earnest to live in a more regimented, structured manner. She ate balanced meals and dressed more conservatively. She gave up singing altogether, and likewise avoided parties - situations which might result in her drinking or drugging. In the jargon of sobriety, she had changed playmates and playgrounds. She soon gained back the lost weight and began to feel herself once again. She enrolled in college once again. She even made marriage plans, but her chosen was a Methedrine addict whom she had met while in San Francisco. He never showed up.
Janis tried hard to fit within the norms of Port Arthur during this period, but perhaps predictably, she soon became as unhappy as ever. Her therapist counselor tried to impress upon Janis that she could be happy without having to become like Port Arthur. But Janis simply didn't know how to follow this advice. In the spring of 1966, Janis was invited to join the 13th Floor Elevators. She was about to accept the offer when her old Austin friend Chet Helms called her and requested she return to San Francisco to audition as the singer for a band he was then managing called Big Brother & the Holding Company. Janis chose San Francisco, where the pendulum swung back to the other extreme.
Chet Helms was part of an urban hippie commune called the Family Dog. San Francisco in 1966 was ground zero of a thriving psychedelic art and music scene, which was on the verge of exploding nationally. At the heart of the scene was a drug called LSD, as well as bands such as the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Country Joe McDonald & the Fish. Chet Helms was on his way to becoming a force on the Bay Area music scene who'd be rivaled only by the legendary Bill Graham. Helms owned a venue called the Avalon Ballroom. The house band at the Avalon was Big Brother & the Holding Company, an all-male band that had formed in late 1965, and was then known for its extended psychedelic rock instrumental improvisations.
Chet Helms introduced Big Brother & the Holding Company to Janis Joplin, who debuted with Big Brother on June 10, 1966, at the Avalon Ballroom. Janis soon became a hit with the audiences, and Big Brother restructured several, but not all, of their songs to accommodate a female vocalist. Big Brother personnel then included Sam Andrew (vocals, guitar); James Gurley (guitar); Peter Albin (bass); and David Getz (drums). There was resistance at first within Big Brother, to allowing Janis Joplin to become the focal point of the band. The resistance would be short-lived of course. Big Brother & the Holding Company was developing into a good band before Janis came along. But with Janis on board they became a great band.
In August, during a stint at a Chicago, Illinois venue called Mother Blues, a mere two months after Janis had joined Big Brother & the Holding Company, the band signed a recording contract with a small independent label called Mainstream Records.
Big Brother went into the studio almost immediately and recorded what would eventually become their self-titled debut album. The sessions were rushed and under-financed the album's release would be delayed by almost a year. For all its faults, Big Brother's debut is a worthy snapshot of the band - and of early Janis of course - and is certainly worth owning. But its long delay ultimately failed to help Big Brother gain any significant national attention. In fact, the LP may never have been released at all if not for another event which would prove to be the springboard Big Brother needed.
While waiting for their debut album to be released, Big Brother toured constantly, earning themselves not only a fervent left coast fan-base but also an invitation to play at the Monterey International Pop Festival in California the summer of 1967 (June 16-18). Their performance the first night of the festival would become the stuff of legend. The festival was captured by master documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker to become a feature-length film called MONTEREY POP. The film also shined a national spotlight on some other relatively unknown acts such the Who, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix, and features many established acts such as the Mamas & the Papas. As such, this classic rock film provides viewers with vivid snapshots of a number of rock legends who sadly are no longer with us.
A highlight of MONTEREY POP is Janis' heart-stopping and utterly astonishing performance of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorton's song, "Ball and Chain." It is, without qualification, universally regarded as one of the finest rock performances ever captured on film. Janis was reportedly extremely nervous before taking the stage at Monterey, but she turned that nervousness into a vibrating train wreck of energy that she transmitted to the electrified crowd of nearly 200,000. Like a rock version of Edith Piaf, Janis didn't just sing her songs, she became a thunderous, explosive part of them.
Following the Monterey Pop Festival, Big Brother & the Holding Company found itself in high demand by the majors. Renowned business manager Albert Grossman (who also represented Bob Dylan), soon signed the band to a management deal that would lead to a recording deal with Columbia Records.
Mainstream Records finally released the group's debut album in August of 1967 with little promotion. It would peak at #60 on the US Billboard Album Chart. Columbia eventually bought the rights to the album and re-released it in 1971.
Big Brother was now a major concert draw, and in February of '68 they toured the East Coast for the first time. Following the band's first NYC gig at the Anderson Theater in Manhattan, the Village Voice review (2/22/68), praised the band - and Janis in particular:
"...Although not beautiful in the usual sense, she sure projects. Janis is a sex symbol in an unlikely package. Her belting, grooving style combines Bessie Smith's soul with the finesses of Aretha Franklin covered all over with a James Brown drive. She jumps and runs and pounces, vibrating the audience with solid sound. The range of her earthy dynamic voice seems almost without limits. At times, she seemed to be singing harmony with herself."
In March of '68, Columbia Records bought the group's Mainstream contract and booked the band into the label's Studio E in New York to record a new album.
Originally entitled Dope, Sex and Cheap Thrills, the band decided to go with the safer, shortened title. Cheap Thrills topped the Billboard album chart on October 12, 1968, where it stayed for 8 weeks (nonconsecutive), eventually being vanquished from the number one position by the likes of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and the Beatles’ White Album.
The hippie movement was coming into its own. 1968 was a time of turmoil and riots in the streets of America. There was a revolution of social conscious revolving around Civil Rights issues and The Draft and the anti-Vietnam War Movement. The desire for change was reverberating through youth culture, manifesting itself perhaps most passionately and visibly on college campuses throughout the country. By year's end, human beings were reading from the Bible while orbiting the moon. American society itself was immersed in alienation, outrage and self-examination. Progressive rock music reflected a sense of change and albums such as Cheap Thrills, Electric Lady Land, Bookends, The White Album, Waiting For the Sun, Wheels of Fire, and Crown of Creation provided the soundtrack for an entire generation motivated by a desire to change the world.
Even before Cheap Thrills had dropped from its lofty perch atop the charts, Janis and guitarist Sam Andrew left Big Brother and formed a new band with a horn section and a Southern Soul feel. The band, originally called Janis & the Joplinaires, was eventually christened Janis Joplin & Her Kozmic Blues Band. This band would stay together (with a few personnel changes along the way) for only a year. But it was this band that accompanied Janis on her first and only tour of Europe, which was highlighted by an April 21, 1969 date at London's Royal Albert Hall. During the summer of 1969, Janis and her band performed before over a million people, playing at the Newport 69 Pop Festival, the Texas International Festival, the Atlanta Pop Festival, the New Orleans Pop Festival, and at the legendary Woodstock Festival.
In October of '69, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, peaked at #5 on the Billboard Album Chart. On November 15, Janis was arrested following a gig in Tampa, Florida, on charges of disorderly conduct involving "bad-mouthing a policeman." The charges were eventually dropped, as the court ruled her conduct to be a justifiable exercise of free speech. But Janis was spiraling downward, abusing heroin and alcohol as a way of coping with her essential loneliness and what would most likely today be diagnosed as clinical depression. She was surrounded by plenty of "cheerleaders" in her self-destructive life-style, as fans and the media applauded her hard-living, free-spirited and free-loving image.
Death of Janis Joplin
On October 4th, 1970, after a short night of drinking at Barney's Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, Janis Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Hotel at 7047 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, California. She had fresh needle marks in her arm. Released shortly after her death, the album Pearl was Janis' final studio effort, and perhaps her most mature, diverse and fully realized recording, even though it was not fully completed. Pearl topped the album charts at #1 for 9 straight weeks (February 27, 1971), following its posthumous release. It also yielded Janis' only #1 single, the Kris Kristofferson penned "Me and Bobby McGee" (March 20, 1971). The song “Buried Alive in the Blues” is an instrumental only because Janis died the night before she’d planned to record the vocal track. On July 20, 2000, Pearl was honored for sales of four times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), meaning that 4 million copies of Pearl have been sold in the US alone.