Janis Joplin burst onto the public consciousness at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival as lead vocalist of Big Brother and the Holding Company. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Joplin in 1995, called her “the greatest white urban blues and soul singer of her generation.” Joplin, who died in 1970 at age 27 of an accidental drug overdose, remains among the most powerful, earthy singers in rock history.
In the second installment of our new feature, musicians recall “The First Time I Heard Janis Joplin.” (In our debut story, artists looked back at Bob Dylan).
In a few weeks we’ll talk with Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship), Peter Albin (Big Brother and the Holding Company), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), John Kay (Steppenwolf) and other contemporaries of Joplin who share first impressions and personal stories about the iconic singer.
Guitarist Peter Albin performed with Joplin in Big Brother from her 1966 debut with the band until she left to pursue a solo career in 1968. Albin had previously met Joplin at Berkeley’s KPFA radio. The Midnight Special show, says Albin, featured “a folk circle, a circle of chairs and this huge microphone hanging down in the middle of the circle. You’d grab a chair and you’d do one song and it would go to the person to the left. The first time I saw Janis, I was sitting next to her. I looked over at this chick and she was wearing a man’s white shirt … I looked at her chest and her white shirt was kind of open and she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“And then she opened her mouth and I forgot about her tits! [laughs] She was really singing up a storm. She was really talented.”
Marty Balin remained friends with Joplin after she left Big Brother. He recalls an invitation from Joplin after she’d completed her second and final studio album. “She said, ‘Marty, come on over to Columbia, I just finished my new album. You gotta hear it.’ So we went over there and we had a couple of bottles and we sat and we listened to Pearl over and over.
“We were passing the bottle and she was going, “Listen to that! I’m the greatest singer in the world! I’m the fuckin’ greatest singer in the world!’ I said, ‘Yes you are Janis. You’re the fuckin’ greatest singer in the world!”
Watch this space for our full piece, featuring more recollections of Janis Joplin by the musicians who knew and loved her.