Women Music March 2023 – Day 19 Janis Joplin — Featured Writer Max Gower

Janis Joplin top image

On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people,
then I go home alone

Janis Joplin

Max Gower has graciously agreed to put together today’s entry for Women Music March.  Max’s blog: “PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture” is a fabulous place to learn about Pop Culture from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and other places.  The community of commenters are a friendly group that share their musical and pop culture knowledge and insights.  If you haven’t gone there before, I encourage you to check out Max’s blog!  

When I think of female artists…Janis Joplin is the first one that comes to my mind. My top two female singers are Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Both are legends and both unique.

I cannot express how much I love this woman. She had the most powerful voice I have ever heard. She could sing with beauty, grit, and she could sing with a sound like Southern Comfort pouring through razor blades. There was soul, confidence, strength, and vulnerability in her voice that came through in every song. She was a very authentic singer. You can hear the pain in Billie Holiday’s and Bessie Smith’s voice…you can hear pain in Janis, yes it was a different kind but pain all the same. It all started with a Janis Joplin greatest hits album I got when I was 11 and the love affair has never ended.

You really can’t compare her to her female contemporaries. She was not like Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Mama Cass, or even Grace Slick. Janis hit you between the eyes and never looked back. Sweet ballads were not her style, but she could do them. She could hold her own against anyone…she had more in common with Robert Plant than the other female singers. She was also a kind thoughtful lady.

Bessie Smith died in 1937 but a headstone was never bought for her. In August 1970, just two months before Joplin’s own death, she and Juanita Green, who worked in Smith’s house when she was younger and went on to become the president of the North Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, pitched money to buy a proper headstone for Smith. For the epitaph, they chose the following line: “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”

Joplin’s childhood was spent in Port Arthur, Texas. Janis’ mother was a businesswoman, and her father was an engineer, and as the oldest child, she was given all the care she needed but soon discovered that she was different. Being different in Texas at that time was not good.

In high school she was groped and bullied by many of the football team including Jimmy Johnson the football player, coach, and now analyst for Fox Sports. He and his teammates spread rumors that she’d slept with their friends because she “looked and acted weird.” He was a star linebacker on the football team. He said, “Janis looked and acted so weird that when we were around her, mostly in the hallways at school, we would give her a hard time…she ran with the beatnik crowd.” He has continued to occasionally degrade her since she died.

She would go to college in Austin Texas, but Austin wasn’t “weird” yet at the time. Alpha Phi Omega sponsored its “Ugliest Man on Campus” contest as part of an effort to raise money for charities. Fraternities would nominate one of their members and dress them up in old clothes and they would be voted on. Someone nominated Janis and it hurt her deeply. Joplin’s mother, Dorothy Joplin, admitted that her daughter wrote an “anguished letter laying out all the gory details of how the contest had affected her.”

She moved from Texas to San Francisco and became part of the San Francisco music scene with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Her influences were Billy Holiday, Bessie Smith. Big Mama Thornton, Odetta, and Leadbelly.

She played with Big Brother and the Holding Company who were as raw as you could get, and they played at the Monterrey Pop festival and broke through. She went solo with a couple of backing bands. They were The Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band. She later played at Woodstock and traveled in a train to concerts all around Canada with the Grateful Dead and other artists. That unique experience can be seen in the movie The Festival Express.

There are few artists who give everything they have all the time. Bruce Springsteen is one…Janis was one. On film it comes through…she gave everything she had and more. The last recording, she made was a fun birthday message to John Lennon that she did with style. Her nickname was Pearl and that was the name of her last album. That album is a classic. Janis with the help of the producer Paul Rothchild learned how to control her voice and not belt everything out. He wanted her to have a voice when she turned 30. She never did but it worked…it was her most successful album. It showed how great of a voice she had…she wasn’t just a screamer. He taught her how to sing without raising her voice.

Janis would not make 30…she will be 27 for eternity. She died on October 4, 1970, from a heroin overdose after working on her album. She left $2,500 for her wake…. 200 guests were invited with invitations that read” Drinks are on Pearl.” The guests showed up with the Grateful Dead (as she had requested in her will) as the house band. Her body was cremated, and the ashes scattered from an airplane near Stinson Beach.

Her road manager John Cooke was the son of Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke and the great grand-nephew of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I only wished she could have survived and been alive today. Much like Jimi Hendrix, I hate to think what we missed out on.

She was the ultimate take me as I am person.

Joplin on Porshe

Studio Albums solo and with Big Brother: 4
Live Albums: 7 (after her death)
Compilation Albums: 14
Singles solo and with Big Brother: 13

Filmography from Wiki
Monterey Pop (1968)
Petulia (1968)
Janis Joplin Live in Frankfurt (1969)
Janis (1974)
Janis: The Way She Was (1974)
Comin’ Home (1988)
Woodstock – The Lost Performances (1991)
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director’s Cut) (1994)
Festival Express (2003)
Nine Hundred Nights (2004)
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (2005) Shout Factory
Rockin’ at the Red Dog: The Dawn of Psychedelic Rock (2005)
This is Tom Jones (2007) 1969 appearance on TV show
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director’s Cut) 40th Anniversary Edition (2009)
Janis Joplin with Big Brother: Ball and Chain (DVD) Charly (2009)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)

Things to Share
The quantity and more importantly the quality of her work was incredible in a short window of time. In 1995, Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In November 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum honored her as part of its annual American Music Masters Series. In 2014 there was also a commemorative Janis Joplin stamp issued by the US Postal Service.

I’ll close this with a couple of short stories. Janis did not suffer fools gladly. At a party Jim Morrison was getting drunk and became obnoxious, rude, and violent. Morrison saw that Joplin was there and started to hit on her. Joplin had admired Morrison but not on this night. By this point, she shot him down at every turn and eventually tried to leave with Paul Rothschild (her producer) and nearly got away before Jim, wobbling along, followed her to her car and reached in, grabbing Janis by her hair to pull her out. BAD move Jim… Janis then took her bottle of Southern Comfort and cracked him over the head with it, immediately knocking the Lizard King out cold. With normal people, this would have been the end of things…but the next day at rehearsal, Jim was absolutely in love with Janis, begging Paul Rothschild (Doors producer as well) to give him her phone number…he didn’t get it.

Janis also punched Jerry Lee Lewis when Lewis told Laura Joplin (Janis’s sister) something offensive. She had to be pulled off him.

Her road manager John Cooke was the son of Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke and the great grand-nephew of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote a great book about Janis.

Official website: here

This is her on the Dick Cavett show and it says a lot about her. This was in 1969, before the Morrison party.

Thanks again, Max, for being the Featured Guest Writer today!


18 Comments Add yours

  1. That was a good read. I learned some interesting stuff

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Badfinger (Max) says:

      I appreciate it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Phil Strawn says:

    Good read. For a hippie chick that was supposedly so badass, she was a nice person, not at all like she is portrayed in some circles. I knew a fella that knew her in the UT days, and she wasn’t the most beautiful gal, but could sing folk and blues like a pro. Gone too young, but left us with some great music. My wife purchased her greatest hits a few weeks ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. msjadeli says:

      I really think her personality came through on the interview video. She was a real person and had a lot to say. Too back she was cut short in the prime of life. Very cool on your wife buying her greatest hits album. Listeners like her keep Janis’ music alive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Phil Strawn says:

        I had the odd chance to actually meet and talk to her for a few. The Texas International Pop Festival, Lewisville Texas, August 1969, one week after Woodstock. I was in line to buy a hot dog, about three or four back when this gal asked if she could cut in. It was around 10 pm, night and hot as haites. I let her cut and after a moment she turned around to thank me and I realized it was Janis. We chatted for a few minuets, she got her dog, and beat a path back to the tents behind the stage. She came on about an hour later and blew everyone away. Of course she did, it was Janis Joplin. A dumb teenager and a big fan got an A for being in the right place and all the stars aligned and all that stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          Wow, Phil, your story gives me the tingles. You’re right on the stars aligning for that one. SO COOL

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Badfinger (Max) says:

      Thanks Phil…yea I love her voice.,..such a presence.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Badfinger (Max) says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late today! Thanks for posting this Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      No worries, Max. Thank YOU again, for this great write-up. You found some good images to go with it also.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max) says:

        I liked that top one a lot. I found out later…she is in Hawaii

        Liked by 1 person

  4. memadtwo says:

    That comparison with Robert Plant is very apt. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Badfinger (Max) says:

      Thanks…I’ve always thought that.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. randydafoe says:

    Great write up and as always you present some details that I didn’t know. That Jimmy Johnson story is more than a bit disturbing. Janis was a target for ridicule before and after her death it seems. The same went for other women, Amy Winehouse and Cass Elliot come to mind. Some think that women are fair game , the cowards wait until they have died and can no longer defend themselves. Janis clearly knew how to handle idiots! What an incredible talent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Badfinger (Max) says:

      Thank you Randy! Yes it was one thing to pick on her while he was in high school…NOT an excuse but they went way too far plus…but to do it after she died? Come Jimmy…get some class.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post, Max. I agree Janis Joplin truly was a unique artist. Nobody could sing like her. Her intensity was through the roof. Listening to her literally gives me chills.

    It’s very sad Janis became yet another member of the creepy 27 Club, along with Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and so many others. It’s truly mind-boggling how many artists and how much talent got lost!

    Liked by 1 person

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