Janis Joplin

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Janis Joplin Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


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When I was drawing Janis Joplin, the temptation was almost overbearing to sweep her cascading hair aside and reveal her face completely. Initially, I drew some nondescript strands falling across her right eye, but eventually opted to complete the portrait as she truly was – a gifted singer intent on distracting attention from her self perceived “ugly duckling” image.

Janis Joplin, solo star and singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company, died on Oct. 4, 1970 of a heroin overdose. Rumours persist that she was the victim of some dodgy smack but if truth be told, she had endured a long history of drug and alcohol problems. Self destructive by nature, the law of probability was not on her side. Just 27, she was close to completing a new album that would be posthumously issued the following year.

When it was all over, friends were able to reflect on her turbulent times. In any final analysis, all would be consistent in their recollections. Neither her voice, nor her health, could stand the demands she made upon them, on stage and off. Some people just aren’t built for longevity.

In November 2014, Deadline reported that after years of false starts, Amy Adams would finally have her rock-‘n’-roll moment. The five-time Academy Award nominee was set to portray the legendary singer in a long-stalled biopic that was finally inching closer to production. Adams, 40, had been signed on to play the “Piece of My Heart” singer way back in 2010, but the project hit numerous roadblocks over the years as it struggled to find a director and writing team.

Recommended listening

Pearl (1971)

In her last year, Joplin would make a solo album worthy of her Texas blues-mama wail. Whether singing hippie gospel or country soul, she never sounded more intimate and assured. “Me and Bobby McGee” was a Number One single, but Joplin didn’t get to enjoy her triumph. She died of a drug overdose before the album was finished.

Cheap Thrills (1968)

“Four gentlemen and one great, great broad … Big Brother & the Holding Company.” Bill Graham utters these words at the very start of the San Francisco band’s classic ‘Cheap Thrills’ album, introducing the band — not just Janis Joplin and a bunch of guys who wandered onstage to back her up.
Released on Aug. 12, 1968, ‘Cheap Thrills’ was Big Brother’s second album, but in a way it’s their first real statement. The band’s self-titled debut from the previous year was released after its breakthrough performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival. But it didn’t sell well and couldn’t capture the group’s dynamic stage presence. They would fix all that with ‘Cheap Thrills.’
The album was supposed to be called ‘Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills,’ but Big Brother’s label nixed it. But the rest of the record — produced by John Simon — defined the group with its vibrant blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll. The breakout star was undoubtedly Joplin, one of the most dynamic singers of her generation who set the template for anyone standing behind a microphone. Just ask Robert Plant where he got part of his banshee wail.

This is West Coast psychedelia at its best – and recorded live. Janis belts them out but don’t underestimate the power of those twin guitars from Sam Andrew and Jim Gurley. They’re transendental at time, climactic at others – hammering away as the perfect foil for those screaming rasping vocals. It’s improvised at times but everyone knows where each other is and where they’re going. Then it all comes back together behind Dave’s drums right on cue and into the next section. The bonus tracks are a bonus too – certainly not just fillers. Okay, so ‘Piece of my Heart’ and ‘Ball and Chain’ are the stand out tracks but I love ‘Sweet Mary’- partly because Janis doesn’t have the feature vocal but mainly for the soaring meandering guitar work and the oh so archetypal sixties hippy sound.

Rest your soul Janis. When I listen to this and the early stuff I gotta believe your happiest years were when you were in a gigging band. The later stuff’s good but it’s orchestrated and produced and somehow lacking. This is raw, earthy, full of passion, a sense of being and togetherness. Big Brother are still gigging and play an excellent set if you see them on tour. Certainly worth checking out as they’re usually at affordable and intimate venues. Seminal stuff.

Things kick off with the driving ‘The Combination of the Two,’ which boils over at times thanks to James Gurly’s blistering guitar. Joplin and guitarist Sam Andrew share vocals, but she ably steals the spotlight. The band’s celebrated cover of the Gershwins’ ‘Summertime’ ranks as one of the finest takes on this often-covered standard. Joplin delivers a near-fragile performance while the swirling guitars provide a solid web surrounding. Gurly and Andrew’s fuzz-drenched solos in the middle of the song are electric-guitar poetry.
Side one ends with the band’s cover of Erma Franklin’s (Aretha’s sister) ‘Piece of My Heart,’ which hit No. 12 and became the group’s signature song. Joplin’s soulful performance made her a star. ‘Turtle Blues,’ on the other hand, is pure blues, with just acoustic guitar, piano and vocal steering it. The haunting rocker ‘Oh Sweet Mary’ follows, slithering along with mighty fine guitar work anchoring one of the most blatantly psychedelic songs in Big Brother’s catalog.
It all leads up to the album’s tour de force, ‘Ball and Chain,’ a highlight of the band’s live sets (including the career-making one at Monterey), Big Brother take on Big Mama Thornton’s song and turn it inside out, making it their own. Once again, vicious guitars weave in and out of Joplin’s fiery performance. The 10-second pause at the start of the song remains one of the most spine-chilling moments of the era.
‘Cheap Thrills’ — which wasn’t quite the live album it claimed to be, since studio recordings and overdubs make up a bulk of the tracks — was a huge hit, staying at No. 1 for eight weeks. Engineer Fred Catero remembered the sessions as being frustrating. “Janis always sounded good, take after take,” he told Mix On Line. ”But it was hard to get the band to play in tune and in time. They just weren’t very good musicians.” Even though they may not have been virtuosos, the members of Big Brother & the Holding Company gave ‘Cheap Thrills’ a certain ragged glory. The album ended up being the band’s last album with Joplin, who left by the end of the year to launch a solo career.

Read More: 45 Years Ago: Big Brother & the Holding Company Release ‘Cheap Thrills’ | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/big-brother-holding-company-cheap-thrills/?trackback=tsmclip

Recommended viewing

The Dick Cavett Show (August 3, 1970)

Joplin’s last live Tv appearance with her band ‘Full Tilt Boogie,’ recorded a mere two months before her untimely death.

It was the singer’s third appearance on the the show in little over a year, and she clearly gelled with her genial host in front of a television audience. The veteran actress Gloria Swanson also appears, and as incongruous a pair as they might have been, Joplin appears keen to establish some form of sisterly bond.

They discuss female fashions and the need for youthful individuality. The veteran actress never failed to relate to younger stars. Her neighbour John Lennon was an avid fan of her husband’s book “Sugar Blues,” and she would later testify on his behalf as a character witness at his final immigration hearing in July 1976.

For all her conviviality, Janis was not above shocking Cavett’s middle aged audience, pulling out a bottle of her favourite tipple Southern Comfort, and taking a large swig. Unfortunately this wasn’t caught on tape!


Janis Joplin - Official Site