Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American singer, songwriter and music arranger. She rose to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company and later as a solo artist. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004, and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
Early life: 1943–1965Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas on January 19, 1943(1943-01-19), to Dorothy (née East) Joplin (1913–98), a registrar at a business college, and her husband, Seth Joplin (1910–87), an engineer at Texaco. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. The family attended the Church of Christ. The Joplins felt that Janis always needed more attention than their other children, with her mother stating, "She was unhappy and unsatisfied without [receiving a lot of attention]. The normal rapport wasn't adequate."
As a teenager, she befriended a group of outcasts, one of whom had albums by African-American blues artists Bessie Smith and Leadbelly, whom Joplin later credited with influencing her decision to become a singer. She began singing in the local choir and expanded her listening to blues singers such as Odetta and Big Mama Thornton.
Primarily a painter while still in school, she first began singing blues and folk music with friends. While at Thomas Jefferson High School, she stated that she was mostly shunned. Joplin was quoted as saying, "I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I didn't hate niggers." As a teen, she became overweight and her skin broke out so badly she was left with deep scars which required dermabrasion. Other kids at high school would routinely taunt her and call her names like "pig," "freak" or "creep."
Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin, though she did not complete her studies. The campus newspaper ran a profile of her in 1962 headlined "She Dares To Be Different."
Cultivating a rebellious manner, Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines and, in part, after the Beat poets. Her very first song recorded on tape, at the home of a fellow student in December 1962, was "What Good Can Drinkin' Do". She left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, living in North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. In 1964, Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards, further accompanied by Margareta Kaukonen on typewriter (as percussion instrument). This session included seven tracks: "Typewriter Talk," "Trouble In Mind," "Kansas City Blues," "Hesitation Blues", "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" and "Long Black Train Blues," and was later released as the bootleg album The Typewriter Tape.
Around this time her drug use increased, and she acquired a reputation as a "speed freak" and occasional heroin user. She also used other psychoactive drugs and was a heavy drinker throughout her career; her favorite beverage was Southern Comfort.
In the spring of 1965, Joplin's friends, noticing the physical effects of her amphetamine habit (she was described as "skeletal" and "emaciated"), persuaded her to return to Port Arthur, Texas. In May 1965, Joplin's friends threw her a bus-fare party so she could return home. Back in Port Arthur, she changed her lifestyle. She avoided drugs and alcohol, began wearing relatively modest dresses, adopted a beehive hairdo, and enrolled as a sociology major at Lamar University in nearby Beaumont, Texas. During her year at Lamar University, she commuted to Austin to perform solo, accompanying herself on guitar. One of her performances was reviewed in the Austin American-Statesman. Joplin became engaged to a man who visited her, wearing a blue serge suit, to ask her father for her hand in marriage, but the man terminated plans for the marriage soon after.
Big Brother and the Holding Company: 1966–1968In 1966, Joplin's bluesy vocal style attracted the attention of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band that had gained some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. She was recruited to join the group by Chet Helms, a promoter who had known her in Texas and who at the time was managing Big Brother. Joplin joined Big Brother on June 4, 1966. Her first public performance with them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Due to persistent persuading by keyboardist and close friend Stephen Ryder, Joplin avoided drug use for several weeks, enjoining bandmate Dave Getz to promise that using needles would not be allowed in their rehearsal space or in the communal apartment where they lived. When a visitor to the apartment injected drugs in front of Joplin, she angrily reminded Getz that he had broken his promise. A San Francisco concert from that summer was recorded and released in the 1984 album Cheaper Thrills.
On August 23, 1966, during a four week engagement in Chicago, the group signed a deal with independent label Mainstream Records. They recorded tracks in a Chicago recording studio, but the label owner Bob Shad refused to pay their airfare back to San Francisco. Shortly after the five band members drove from Chicago to Northern California with very little money, they moved with the Grateful Dead to a house in Lagunitas, California. It was there that Joplin relapsed into hard drugs.
In early 1967, Joplin met Country Joe McDonald of the group Country Joe and the Fish. The pair lived together as a couple for a few months. Joplin and Big Brother began playing clubs in San Francisco, at the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Avalon Ballroom. They also played at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, as well as in Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, Massachusetts and the Golden Bear Club in Huntington Beach, California.
The band's debut album was released by Columbia Records in August 1967, shortly after the group's breakthrough appearance in June at the Monterey Pop Festival. Two songs from Big Brother's set at Monterey were filmed. "Combination of the Two" and a version of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" appeared in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Monterey Pop. The film captured Cass Elliot in the crowd silently mouthing "Wow! That's really heavy!" during Joplin's performance.
In November 1967, the group parted ways with Chet Helms and signed with top artist manager Albert Grossman. Up to this point, Big Brother had performed mainly in California, but had gained national prominence with their Monterey performance. On February 16, 1968, the group began its first East Coast tour in Philadelphia, and the following day gave their first performance in New York City at the Anderson Theater. On April 7, 1968, the last day of their East Coast tour, Joplin and Big Brother performed with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop at the "Wake for Martin Luther King, Jr." concert in New York.
During the spring of 1968, Joplin and Big Brother made their nationwide television debut on The Dick Cavett Show, an ABC daytime variety show hosted by Dick Cavett. Later, she made three appearances on the primetime Cavett program. During this time, the band was billed as "Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company," although the media coverage given to Joplin incurred resentment among the other members of the band. The other members of Big Brother thought that Joplin was on a "star trip," while others were telling Joplin that Big Brother was a terrible band and that she ought to dump them.
TIME magazine called Joplin "probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement," and Richard Goldstein, in Vogue magazine, wrote that Joplin was "the most staggering leading woman in rock... she slinks like tar, scowls like war... clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave... Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener."
Big Brother's second album, Cheap Thrills, featured a cover design by counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb. Although Cheap Thrills sounded as if it was mostly "live," only one track ("Ball and Chain") was actually recorded live; the rest of the tracks were studio recordings. The album had a raw quality, including the sound of a cocktail glass breaking and the broken shards being swept away during the song "Turtle Blues." With the documentary film Monterey Pop released in late 1968, the album launched Joplin's successful, albeit short, musical career.
Cheap Thrills, which gave the band a breakthrough hit single, "Piece of My Heart", reached the number one spot on the Billboard charts eight weeks after its release, remaining for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks. The album was certified gold at release and sold over a million copies in the first month of its release. Live at Winterland '68, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968, featured Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company at the height of their mutual career working through a selection of tracks from their albums.
The band made another East Coast tour during July–August 1968, performing at the Columbia Records convention in Puerto Rico and the Newport Folk Festival. After returning to San Francisco for two hometown shows at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival on August 31 and September 1, Joplin announced that she would be leaving Big Brother. The group continued touring through the fall and Joplin gave her last official performance with Big Brother at a Family Dog benefit on December 1, 1968.
Solo career: 1969–1970
 Kozmic Blues BandAfter splitting from Big Brother, Joplin formed a new backup group, the Kozmic Blues Band. The band was influenced by the Stax-Volt Rhythm and Blues bands of the 1960s, as exemplified by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays, who were major musical influences on Joplin. The Stax-Volt R&B sound was typified by the use of horns and had a more bluesy, funky, soul, pop-oriented sound than most of the hard-rock psychedelic bands of the period.
By early 1969, Joplin was addicted to heroin, allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day, although efforts were made to keep her clean during the recording of I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!. Gabriel Mekler, who produced the Kozmic Blues, told publicist-turned-biographer Myra Friedman after Joplin's death that the singer had lived in his house during the June 1969 recording sessions at his insistence so he could keep her away from drugs and her drug-using friends.
The Kozmic Blues album, released in September 1969, was certified gold later that year but did not match the success of Cheap Thrills. Reviews of the new group were mixed. Some music critics, including Ralph Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle, were negative. Gleason wrote that the new band was a "drag" and that Joplin should "scrap" her new band and "go right back to being a member of Big Brother...(if they'll have her)." Other reviewers, such as reporter Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post generally ignored the flaws and devoted entire articles to celebrating the singer's magic.
Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured North America and Europe throughout 1969, appearing at Woodstock in August. By most accounts, Woodstock was not a happy affair for Joplin. Faced with a ten hour wait after arriving at the festival, she shot heroin and was drinking alcohol, so by the time she hit the stage, she was "three sheets to the wind." Joplin also had problems at Madison Square Garden where, as she told rock journalist David Dalton, the audience watched and listened to "every note [she sang] with 'Is she gonna make it?' in their eyes." Joplin's performance was not included in the documentary film Woodstock although the 25th anniversary director's cut of Woodstock includes her performance of Work Me, Lord.
At the end of the year, the group broke up. Their final gig with Joplin was at Madison Square Garden in New York City on the night of December 19–20, 1969.
Full Tilt Boogie BandIn February 1970, Joplin traveled to Brazil, where she stopped her drug and alcohol use. She was accompanied on vacation there by her friend Linda Gravenites, who had designed the singer's stage costumes from 1966 to 1969. Joplin was romanced by an American schoolteacher named David (George) Niehaus, who was traveling around the world. They were photographed by the press at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Gravenites also took photographs of the two during their Brazilian vacation and they appeared to be a "carefree, happy, healthy young couple" having a great time.
Joplin began using heroin again when she returned to the United States. Her relationship with Niehaus soon ended because of the drugs, her relationship with Peggy Caserta and refusal to take some time off work and travel the world with him. Around this time she formed her new band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The band was composed mostly of young Canadian musicians and featured an organ, but no horn section. Joplin took a more active role in putting together the Full Tilt Boogie Band than she did with her prior group. She was quoted as saying, "It's my band. Finally it's my band!"
The Full Tilt Boogie Band began touring in May 1970. Joplin remained quite happy with her new group, which received mostly positive feedback from both her fans and the critics. Prior to beginning a summer tour with Full Tilt Boogie, she performed in a reunion with Big Brother at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on April 4, 1970. Recordings from this concert were included in an in-concert album released posthumously in 1972. She again appeared with Big Brother on April 12 at Winterland where she and Big Brother were reported to be in excellent form. By the time she began touring with Full Tilt Boogie, Joplin told people she was drug-free, but her drinking increased.
From June 28 to July 4, 1970, Joplin and Full Tilt joined the all-star Festival Express tour through Canada, performing alongside the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and The Band, Eric Andersen and Ian and Sylvia. They played concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. Footage of her performance of the song "Tell Mama" in Calgary became an MTV video in the 1980s and was included on the 1982 Farewell Song album. The audio of other Festival Express performances were included on that 1972 Joplin In Concert album. Video of the performances was included on the Festival Express DVD.
In the "Tell Mama" video shown on MTV in the 1980s, Joplin wore a psychedelically colored loose-fitting costume and feathers in her hair. This was her standard stage costume in the spring and summer of 1970. She chose the new costumes after her friend and designer, Linda Gravenites (whom Joplin had praised in the May 1968 issue of Vogue), cut ties with Joplin shortly after their return from Brazil, due largely to Joplin's continued use of heroin.
During the Festival Express tour, Joplin was accompanied by Rolling Stone writer David Dalton, who would later write several articles and a book on Joplin. She told Dalton:
I'm a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything ... It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn't know what to do with it. But now I've learned to make that feeling work for me. I'm full of emotion and I want a release, and if you're on stage and if it's really working and you've got the audience with you, it's a oneness you feel.
PearlAmong her last public appearances were two broadcasts of The Dick Cavett Show. In the June 25, 1970 appearance, she announced that she would attend her ten-year high-school class reunion. When asked if she had been popular in school, she admitted that when in high school, her schoolmates "laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state." In the August 3, 1970 Cavett broadcast, Joplin referred to her upcoming performance at the Festival for Peace to be held at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York on August 6, 1970.
Joplin attended the reunion on August 14, accompanied by fellow musician and friend Bob Neuwirth, road manager John Cooke, and her sister Laura, but it reportedly proved to be an unhappy experience for her. Joplin held a press conference in Port Arthur during her reunion visit. Interviewed by Rolling Stone journalist Chet Flippo, she was reported to wear enough jewelry for a "Babylonian whore." When asked by a reporter during the reunion if Joplin entertained at Thomas Jefferson High School when she was a student there, Joplin replied, "Only when I walked down the aisles." Joplin denigrated Port Arthur and the people who'd humiliated her a decade earlier in high school.
Joplin's last public performance, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, took place on August 12, 1970 at the Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts. A positive review appeared on the front page of the Harvard Crimson newspaper despite the fact that Full Tilt Boogie performed with makeshift sound amplifiers after their regular equipment was stolen in Boston.
During September 1970, Joplin and her band began recording a new album in Los Angeles with producer Paul A. Rothchild, who had produced recordings for The Doors. Although Joplin died before all the tracks were fully completed, there was still enough usable material to compile an LP. "Mercedes Benz" was included despite it being a first take, and the track "Buried Alive In The Blues", to which Joplin had been scheduled to add her vocals on the day she was found dead, was kept as an instrumental.
The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971). It became the biggest selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee". Kristofferson had been Joplin's lover not long before her death. Also included was the social commentary of the a cappella "Mercedes Benz", written by Joplin, close friend and song writer Bob Neuwirth and beat poet Michael McClure. In 2003, Pearl was ranked #122 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
During the recording sessions for Pearl, Joplin began seeing Seth Morgan, a 21 year-old Berkeley student, cocaine dealer and future novelist; and checked into the Landmark Motel in Los Angeles to begin recording the Pearl album. She and Morgan became engaged to be married in early September and Joplin threw herself into the recording of songs for her new album.
DeathThe last recordings Joplin completed were "Mercedes Benz" and a birthday greeting for John Lennon ("Happy Trails", composed by Dale Evans) on October 1, 1970. Lennon, whose birthday was October 9, later told Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her death. On Saturday, October 3, Joplin visited the Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles to listen to the instrumental track for Nick Gravenites' song "Buried Alive in the Blues" prior to recording the vocal track, scheduled for the next day. When she failed to show up at the studio by Sunday afternoon, producer Paul A. Rothchild became concerned. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Motor Hotel (since renamed the Highland Gardens Hotel) where Joplin had been a guest since August 24. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche still in the parking lot. Upon entering her room, he found her dead on the floor. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. Cooke believes that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin which was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer's other customers also overdosed that week.
Joplin was cremated in the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Mortuary in Los Angeles; her ashes were scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean and along Stinson Beach. The only funeral service was a private affair held at Pierce Brothers and attended by Joplin's parents and maternal aunt.
LegacyStevie Nicks commented that after seeing Joplin perform, "I knew that a little bit of my destiny had changed. I would search to find that connection that I had seen between Janis and her audience. In a blink of an eye she changed my life."
Joplin's body decoration, with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, is taken as a seminal moment in the tattoo revolution and was an early moment in the popular culture's acceptance of tattoos as art. Another trademark was her flamboyant hair styles, often including colored streaks and accessories such as scarves, beads and feathers.
The 1979 film The Rose was loosely based on Joplin's life. Bette Midler earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
There have been many attempts at making a film about Joplin, most recently Amy Adams has been associated with a Wyck Godfrey project. Earlier failed attempts include a Penelope Spheeris directed film that would have had the singer Pink portraying Joplin.
In the late 1990s, the musical play Love, Janis was created with input from Janis's younger sister Laura plus Big Brother guitarist Sam Andrew, with an aim to take it to Off Broadway. Opening in the summer of 2001 and scheduled for only a few weeks of performances, the show won acclaim and packed houses and was held over several times, the demanding role of the singing Janis attracting rock vocalists from relative unknowns to pop stars Laura Branigan and Beth Hart. A national tour followed. Gospel According to Janis, a biographical film starring Zooey Deschanel as Joplin, was originally scheduled to begin shooting in early 2007, now has a projected release date in 2012.
At the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Janis, a one-woman show by Nicola Haydn, which imagined the last hour of Joplin's life, gained its first substantial run. It was nominated for 'Best Solo Performance' in The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence. The production tourbus also used a recreation of Joplin's Porsche by Brighton graffiti artist Req – on a VW Polo for budgetary reasons.
In 1988, the Janis Joplin Memorial, with an original bronze, multi-image sculpture of Joplin by Douglas Clark, was dedicated in Port Arthur, Texas.
Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. In November, 2009, the Hall of Fame and museum honored her as part of its annual American Music Masters Series. Among the artifacts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Exhibition are Joplin's scarf and necklaces, her 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet with psychedelically designed painting, and a sheet of LSD blotting paper designed by Robert Crumb, designer of the Cheap Thrills cover. She was the honoree at the Rock Hall's American Music Master concert and lecture series for 2009. On July 19th, 2010, Amy Adams was announced as the actress who would play Janis in an upcoming biopic, beating out P!nk, Zooey Deschanel, and Scarlett Johansson for the part.