Who was Janis Joplin?

“But when I sing, I feel, oh I feel, well, like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex, I know that. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, like when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience”

– Janis Joplin

She rose to stardom in the late 1960’s and became known for her gravely voice and powerful, blues-inspired vocals. The hard talking musician who broke female stereotypes was dead at 27, but has left a lasting impression which can only get stronger with time.

Her name was Janis Joplin.

Jamis Lyn Joplin was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Port Arthur, Texas on January 19, 1943. Her father Seth was a cannery worker and her mother was a registrar for a business college. “My father was like a secret intellectual, a book reader, a talker, and a thinker. He was very important to me, because he made me think. He’s the reason I am like I am, I guess” Janis said in a July 1970 interview (http://www.digitalspy.com/) Janis was six when her sister Laura was born and four years later a brother Michael joined them. She grew up in a small Texas town and developed a love of music from an early age, singing in the church choir and showing early promise “Texas is OK if you want to settle down and do your own thing quietly, but it’s not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous” Joplin would later say (http://www.likesuccess.com/) One of Joplin’s biggest influences was blues singer Bessie Smith. Later she and Juanita Green (who had dome housework for Smith as a child) paid for a proper tombstone to be erected on Smith’s graveside. Billie Holiday and Leadbelly also heavily influenced Janis, According to friend Richard Hundgen, she carried Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings The Blues around with her like a Bible.

It was while she was at high school that Janis discovered the blues and it was around this time she began signing with friends. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, she attended Lamar State College and the University of Texas, but left at the end of the semester. Feminism was in it’s infancy when Janis had rejected the female fashions of the day for men’s shirts or tights and short skirts. She earned herself the title Ugliest Man on Campus in 1963. “I got treated very badly in Texas. They don’t treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they’d never seen one and neither had I” Joplin later recalled (www.davearcher.com/)

Janis left Texas for San Francisco and worked occasionally as a folk singer and it was around this time that she began to take drugs. Her drug of choice was speed, but she also took heroin and other intoxicants. Janis was also a heavy drinker with a taste for Southern Comfort. Later her sister would write a book called Love which revealed the private Janis to be sensitive, perceptive, intelligent and articulate. “She was really a good person” her bandmate and one-time lover Sam Andrew said of Joplin.

“Guess what, I might be the first hippie pinup girl.” Janis once wrote on a poster of herself (http://www.likesuccess.com/) Joplin was not conventionally beautiful. She had an unruly mane of frizzy brown hair and struggled with adult acne for much of her life. With her tattoos and unorthodox garb she was likened by a Rolling Stone journalist in the 1960’s, to a “Babylonian whore” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/) But Janis had an undeniable earthy sexiness. “On the one hand people wanted her to be a sex symbol and on the other hand she wasn’t the conventional sex symbol in any kind of way. Her bone structure was wrong, the way she acted was wrong … Yet, she was a real woman and people kept treating her like one of the guys”said her one-time lover Country Joe McDonald (http://www.digitalspy.com/)

Although Janis liked men and had several lovers and numerous one – night stands, she was essentially a lonely young woman “On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people, then I go home alone.” (http://www.izquotes.com/)

Janis returned briefly to Port Arthur but was back in San Francisco by 1966 and joined the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band was managed by a friend of Joplin’s, Chet Helms and consisted of James Gurley, Dave Getz, Peter Albin and Sam Andrew. Big Brother and the Holding Company subsequently signed a record deal with independent Mainstream Records, and their big break came with a performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Their 1967 debut album was delayed while the band garnered some success but it was their1968 album Cheap Thrills which defined Janis Joplin as one of the leading musicians of the late ’60’s. Joplin gave an unforgettable performance at Woodstock in 1969, confessing she was “three sheets to the wind” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)

After leaving the band, she formed the Kozmic Blues Band which was not well received but with The Full Tilt Boogie Band, she arguably found her best backing group. They would posthumously release Pearl (1971) which would go on to become the biggest selling album of her career.

It was during the recording of Pearl in 1970, with Doors and Phil Ochs producer Paul A. Rothchild that Janis died of an accidental overdose of pure heroin and alcohol on October 4, 1970 at the Landmark Motor Hotel located at 7047 Franklin Ave, room #105 in Hollywood, California. Joplin was 27. She had been clean for some time before she died. Joplin ha died in the early hours of the morning. “Exactly what happened that night is something that can’t be known, really,” says Sam Andrew. “But probably she just got a really strong batch of heroin, which is easy to do. There were some other heroin overdoses in Los Angeles that weekend” (http://www.popmatters.com/) Her death occurred 16 days after Jimi Hendrix died chocking on his own vomit at the same age.

Written by Alex Karas

Edited by Mel Green

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