Janis Joplin


Forty-five years ago, I was seven and my hippy uncle came for a visit and brought his albums with him. I was drawn to the artwork of Cheap Thrills. It was the first album by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. It remains one of my favorite albums of all time. She appeared on the rock scene singing blues with a raw power. She claimed she never wrote a song down on paper. Her gift was improvisation on stage as she effortlessly hit the right note and kept up with the rhythm of her band. Her extensive range and ability to roar with soulful belting or whispering moan impressed anyone who heard her.


Her songs are about lost-love, desperation, and loneliness from men who made promises they could not keep. Although these are melancholy topics, Janis did not hold a grudge. She expressed hope and optimism on the stage. She made love to her audience with great passion and tenderness. That kind of intimacy and transcendence made her, in my opinion, a very brave woman. Her personal credence was to be real; success did not change her. She played no games with the media or tried to portray a refined version of herself. As a rock star, she rarely wore makeup or succumbed to materialism. Janis understood your pain, and her geniality added to her potent energy. She was genuine and that made her a sister of mine. What a role model. What a powerful legacy.

If you are curious about her brief career and want to see live footage including her stand-out performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (I love Mama Cass’s wowed expression during “Ball and Chain”), I recommend the 1974 Canadian documentary by Howard Alk called Janis: The Way She Was.


Behind the voice on the edge of the spotlight, Big Brother and the Holding Company kept up with her in style. I love guitarists Sam Andrews and Peter Albin, and drummer David Getz.

While “Piece of My Heart”  and Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” are probably her best known songs, I never tire listening to the guitar or the voice of Joplin in “Summertime” from Cole Porter’s Porgy and Bess. It’s a perfect example showing the wide range of sounds you get from listening to her songs.

On October 4, 1970, at the age of 27, Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin. She would have been 72 this October. For me, she never died.

39 thoughts on “Janis Joplin

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  1. One of the greats, and like so many, died in her 20s. The cover art for the ‘Cheap Thrills’ album was by Robert Crumb, who also drew the outrageous ‘Fritz The Cat’ cartoon strip and film, both favourites of mine back then.
    I agree with all you say about Janis, and have featured her on my blog too.
    Best wishes from England. Pete.


    1. Sweet! Glad we share a ♥ for Janis. Thanks for the addendum on the cover by Robert Crumb. It’s a shame she has to be lumped in with other 20s rock stars whose experimentation helped them as artists but not so with their bodies. Thanks, Pete.


    1. Hi Allen! After watching the documentary, I was surprised to learn she just picked up the mike at age 14 and listened to her favorites like Tina Turner and Otis Redding and just sang. No training. Just pure talent. She could make the raspy-raw sound beautiful. That’s quite a trick.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Superb album distinctly of its time, Cindy!

    This is the vinyl that got me hooked on Janis. Initiating a mystery as to how a woman could reach down inside and bring forth suck loud, wailing, gut wrenching emotion.

    Here for a short time. But that time was magnificent!

    Only the melancholy late, great Eva Cassidy came close to Janis’ range.


  3. Janis was my girl!

    I was 14 or 15 when she died and at the time was devastated. I loved her raw, whiskey-warm voice, her driving force with a song, and the sometimes broken down tenderness she evinced in her sweetest songs. How taken with her was I? One of my friends used to call me JJ because my hair sometimes had a frizzy, Janis-like look and because I was such an enthusiast. If you love the blues, you can’t help but love Janis.

    An amazing talent and gone much, much too soon. Thank you for this, Cindy.


  4. Oh my! One of your commenters mentioned Eva Cassidy. Another superb artist who died too soon. My sister’s friend turned me on to Eva – her rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is a killer.

    Sorry for going off topic. I love music and get excited when others share my enthusiasm for favorite artists.


  5. A great artist, and such a shame she didn’t leave more behind. One of my all-time favourite songs, Chelsea Hotel #2 by Leonard Cohen, is about Janis, although Cohen always regretted the fact he linked her to the song. I’ll try and make time to watch the documentary you mention. I haven’t seen it.


    1. I suspect her ability to “transcend” and give it all on stage had to do with shots of bravery before/during a gig. I am surprised she could sing evenly. It seemed to relax her and put her in a zone. A hefty price to pay. I wonder if she would have done it differently had she another chance?


  6. Cheap Thrills was the seond album by janis and Big Brother. another must-see documentary is ‘festival Express”, featueing janis, the Band, the Grateful Dead and more on a rock festival train tour across Canada.


  7. Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Nico & The Velvet Underground, Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, et al. That was some era of great musicians, the Hippie’s and serious Feminism. Love the 60’s & 70’s.
    Pity most succumbed to drugs.
    In more recent times, post Madonna & Michael Jackson, I can’t think of anyone, that has had that kind of impact in the music industry, internationally.
    These singers live on through their great music.


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