Just as she had defied social conformity while growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin paid little to musical conventions. The agonizingly insecure young white women, having grown up in a seemingly normal middle class environment, sang the blues with an emotional intensity and straightforward honesty rarely equaled before or after her brief, meteoric career. While few female singers can hope to match the depth of feeling communicated in her comparatively small body of work, many have been influenced by the sheer exuberance she brought to every song she sangóboth live and in the studio.
Leaving home at seventeen, Joplin first tried singing professionally at country and western venues in the Houston area. Within a few years she had moved out to California, alternating between various colleges and folk singing gigs around San Francisco. Making little headway there in 1965 and early 1966, she opted for a job singing with a Texas country act. Shortly thereafter, however she was induced to return to the Bay Area by Chet Helm, who told of a promising new group that needed a female vocalist, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Almost immediately upon joining the band in June 1966, word of her extraordinary talent spread through the local music scene. Big Brotherís electrifying performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967 captured the attention of the entire record industry, The band was signed by Mainstream Records, and an album, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Mainstream 6099; 1967), was released in late 1967.
The groupís first appearance on the East Coast, at New Yorkís Anderson Theater in February 1968, led to a contract with Columbia Records. The ensuing LP, Cheap Thrills (Columbia 9700; 1968) was both an artistic and commercial tour de force, reaching number one on the pop album charts. As the dominant force within Big Brother, it was inevitable that Joplin would strike out on her own, citing the band membersí limitations as musicians. Her first solo release, I Got Dem Olí Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (Columbia 9913; 1969) was indeed more accomplished, the wide range of material all tied together by Joplinís raw delivery. She was at work on her next album, the country-inflected Pearl (Columbia 30322; 1970), when she was discovered dead of a heroin overdose at Hollywoodís Landmark Hotel. A single from the posthumously released LP, "Me and Bobby McGee" (Columbia 45314; 1971), would top the Billboard Hot 100.
Much like her deceased peers, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Joplin has remained an important force within the rock scene. A seemingly endless flood of magazine articles, books, and films (both documentaries and fictionalized accounts) discussing her life and music have appeared on the marketplace. Columbia has continued to issue recordings culled from studio outtakes, live performances, and previously released material, most notably Joplin in Concert (Columbia 31160; 1972), Janis Joplinís Greatest Hits (Columbia 32168; 1973), Janis (Columbia 33345; 1975), Farewell Song (Columbia 37569; 1982), Janis (3 CDs; Columbia 48845; 1993), and Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection (5 CDs; Columbia 65937; 1999).
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