Janis Joplin: A Powerful Voice Gone Too Soon

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin

Today would have been the 73rd birthday of singer-songwriter Janis Joplin.

Here are some things you may not have known about her.

She was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Her mother worked at a business college and her father was an engineer for Texaco. As a teenager, she sang in a local choir and began listening to blues records. She said she was an outcast in high school, partly because of her artistic interests, partly because she was overweight and partly because she had bad acne. She graduated in 1960 and enrolled at what is now Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She later transferred to the University of Texas, but did not graduate.

In 1963, she moved to San Francisco, where she recorded a few blues standards. A year later, she had developed a methamphetamine and heroin problem. Her friends convinced her to move back to Port Arthur. During her time in Texas, she enrolled again at Lamar University and began performing solo with her guitar. In 1966 she was recruited to return to San Francisco and join the rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She stayed sober for about a year before first falling back into alcohol use and then intravenous drugs.

In June 1967, Big Brother and the Holding Company performed twice during the Monterey Pop Festival, which was essentially Joplin’s large-scale debut. Her rendition of “Ball ’n’ Chain” was one of the festival’s signature moments. The band was signed to Columbia Records on the basis of this performance.Their debut album was released just months after their Monterey shows. A year later, their album “Cheap Thrills” was released, which spawned the hits “Summertime” and “Piece of my Heart.” Initially, “Cheap Thrills” was not well-regarded by critics, who felt the production left something to be desired. Those reviews didn’t stop the album from hitting No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, and reaching double-platinum status.

After “Cheap Thrills,” Joplin left Big Brother and the Holding Company for a solo career backed by the Kozmic Blues Band and releasing an album that topped out at No. 5 on the American charts. In August 1969, Joplin played the Woodstock festival. She played at about 2 a.m., following Creedence Clearwater Revival. Arriving 10 hours before her performance, Joplin took heroin and drank heavily. Her voice during the performance was hoarse. She asked to not be included in the documentary or the soundtrack. Her performances became more unpredictable, eventually forcing a break-up with her band at the end of the year.

After spending several months in South America, where she avoided drug use, Joplin returned to the U.S., where she picked up her old habits again. Around this time, she formed her final group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. This was the band with which she performed on the Festival Express train tour of Canada. In August 1970, she debuted her song “Mercedes Benz,” after writing it earlier that day in a bar next door. She and her band headed to Los Angeles to record a new album, which would be called “Pearl,” and feature her biggest hit “Me and Bobby McGee.”

During the recording of “Pearl,” Joplin failed to show up for a recording session on October 4, 1970. The band’s road manager drove to the motel where she was staying, and found her dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. She was 27 years old. Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995

Our question, who wrote the song “Me and Bobby McGee”?

Today is National Popcorn Day, and Tin Can Day. It’s the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, Gypsy Rose Lee and Dolly Parton.

20 years ago in 1996, the top song on the U.S. Alternative Charts was “Wonderwall” by Oasis; the No. 1 movie was “12 Monkeys,” while “The Road Ahead” by Bill Gates topped the New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers list.


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