Janis Lyn Joplin was born in 1943 in the oil town, Port Arthur, Texas. Janis had a happy childhood in this town, however as she reached womanhood, she encountered difficulty fitting in with her classmates because of her appearance and rowdy personality. In high school, she developed an interest in the Beat Poets, along with singing and painting. Her musica linterests focust on Blues and R & B, idolizing Otis Redding, Bessie Smith and Odetta. Joplin made her debut performance in December, 1961 at Houston's Purple Onion Club.
After high school graduation Janis attended Lamar State College in Beaumont, Texas and joined the Austin-based blues/rock act, the Waller Creek Boys, for one year. Janis then moved to San Francisco on the advice of her friend, Chet Helms in 1963.
In San Francisco, Janis became a regular attraction at the North Star Beach Coffee Gallery, and lived in the North Beach Beat community. Many of the famous Beat writers, inclulding Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Neal Cassady lived there, as well.
To support herself she also began to deal speed, a drug that she soon became addicted to. Her addiction was becoming serious, and Janis moved back to Texas in 1965 to sober up and to resume her college studies at the University of Texas in Art.
However, as she recovered, Janis returned to music and to San Francisco as the front woman of the band, Big Brother and The Holding Company in 1966. This improvisational blues band allowed Janis to fully explore her full-throated vocal style. Their first album gained local popularity and a contract with Mainstream Records.
The following year at the Monterey Pop Festival, the local popularity of the group expanded to nation wide recognition as Janis delivered a powerful, emotional, heart-stomping performance. Columbia Records bought out the band's contract from Mainstream Records and the group's platinum-selling album, "Cheap Thrills", was released in 1968. It included such classic songs as the cover of Irma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart" and Willie Mae Thornton's "Ball and Chain". All the attention, however, heightened internal tensions that had emerged within the band, which resulted in Janis leaving in November, 1968 to pursue a solo career.
Janis returned with a backup band called the Kozmic Blues Band. The first album with this group, "I Got Dem O' Kozmic Blues Again Mama", was considered a let down by many Americans. The album was received much more enthusiastically in Europe. The album included Joplin vocals such as "Try," "Maybe," and "Little Girl Blue."
At this point in her career, Janis struggled with her addiction of amphetamines and a dependence on alcohol. Janis also began to experiment with heroin. Her performances were becoming unpredictable, which led her to dissolve the band altogether. Janis sought medical attention and tried to give up the drugs entirely. In May 1970, Janis returned with a new backup band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The ensemble spent the month of July touring with the Grateful Dead before beginning to work on their debut album.
Janis often passed out from excessive alcohol consumption before her shows though when it was her turn to perform, she would amazingly wake up and sing her heart out. She often drank heavily while on stage, favoring bourbon and Southern Comfort and was once fined (as strange as this must seem now) for using profanity at a concert. Janis eventually returned to experiment with heroin as the band began to record their sessions for the debut album. With the album almost complete, Janis overdosed on an extra pure sample of heroin in her Hollywood hotel room on October 4, 1970 at the age of 27.
Her posthumous album called "Pearl", a name that she often went by, was released and it was to be her most professional, consistent piece of work. The single, "Me and Bobby McGee" became a number 1 hit, which lifted her from a popular blues/rock performer to a rock legend. Other popular songs on that album included "Cry Baby" and "Trust Me." Janis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Janis Joplin's intense and passionate life may not have lasted long, but her internal flame continues to burn through her music. Her hoarse, insistent, and powerful voice projected a raw approach to music that has rarely been equaled.
Page author: L.C. & C.F.