JOPLIN, JANIS ( Janis Lyn Joplin) (1943–1970) Singer

The first woman to become a rock superstar, Janis Lyn Joplin was born into a middle-class family in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943. A loner as a child, she developed an enthusiasm for art and music. By her teens, Joplin eschewed the pop music favored by her peers, drawn instead to the classic blues recordings of BESSIE SMITH and Leadbelly. Coarse and sexually assertive, she also began rebelling against the conventional views of femininity defined by her Texas upbringing. After graduating from high school, Joplin left home with a vague ambition to seek out a singing career. She drifted from Houston to Los Angeles to New York City, playing occasional gigs and periodically signing up for college classes. She finally gravitated to San Francisco and immersed herself in the growing counterculture there.

Discouraged by her lack of success as a singer, Joplin returned to Port Arthur in 1965. Now dependent on drugs and alcohol, she tried to kick her habits and build a new life in her hometown. Although she was briefly engaged, her efforts to become a Port Arthur matron failed. As she told Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, “Texas is OK if you want to settle down and do your thing quietly, but it’s not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous.”

In 1966, Joplin was called back to San Francisco by the manager of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a hard rock band looking for a lead singer. Though unconventional, the pairing of Joplin’ s raw, raspy blues singing with a rock sound immediately clicked. Her amplified backup band also helped define a new performance style for Joplin. Shebecame wildly animated on stage, conveying a passion that her audiences found contagious.

Already a name performer in San Francisco, Joplin burst onto the national scene with Big Brother’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. She was hailed, not only for her unique sound, but also her stage persona. Called by the Village Voice “a sex symbol in an unlikely package,” she presented a new brand of female emotionalism and assertiveness. This image was heightened by the press, which with her encouragement reported on her penchant for one-night stands and indulgence in alcohol. Onstage and off, a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand became one of her trademarks. Following Monterey, Joplin signed up with manager Albert Grossman, who became an important adviser throughout the rest of her career. Her new fame also helped make Cheap Thrills (1968), her second album with Big Brother, a million-seller. Although it featured some of her best-known songs—including “Piece of My Heart” and her rendition of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime”—the studio records failed to capture the dynamism of Joplin’s stage performances. She herself grew unhappy with Big Brother’s lack of discipline and left the band. Trying to find a backup group to better showcase her singing, she subsequently formed two bands of her own, the Kozmic Blues Band in 1969 and the Full-Tilt Boogie Band in 1970.

Though increasingly plagued by alcohol and drug abuse, Joplin developed a deeper, more controlled style as she began work with Full-Tilt Boogie on a new album, titled Pearl after her nickname among her friends. Her personal life also seemed to be entering a new phase with her engagement to Seth Morgan, a Berkeley student from a wealthy New York family. While finishing recording Pearl (1971) in Los Angeles, however, Joplin at 27 suffered a fatal accidental overdose of heroin on October 4, 1970. The album, released posthumously, gave Joplin her only number-one single, “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song of lost love and regret penned by her ex-lover Kris Kristofferson. Despite Joplin’s early death, her legend as one of rock’s greatest performers has endured. She continues to be regarded as the leading white female interpreter of blues-infiuenced rock, while her personal image was a harbinger of the 1960s and 1970s feminist call for abandoning restrictive definitions of “ladylike” behavior. Another part of her legacy that would no doubt have pleased Joplin herself was finding a young, wide audience for WILLIE MAE THORNTON, BESSIE SMITH, and the other blues greats who helped inspire Joplin’s own unique style.

    I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (Album) < (8 versions)
    Cry Baby (7")
    Janis (Simon And Schuster) (Flexi, 8", Ltd)
    Me And Bobby McGee / Half Moon < (3 versions)
    Big Brother & The Holding Company (LP, Album, RE)
    Cry Baby / Mercedes Benz (7", Single)
    Get It While You Can / Move Over (7")
    Mercedes Benz (7", Single)
    Pearl (Album) < (17 versions)
    In Concert (Album, Comp) < (5 versions)
    Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits (Comp, Album) < (12 versions)
    From The Soundtrack Of The Motion Picture "Janis" / Early Performances < (2 versions)
    Janis Joplin (LP)
    A Collection (LP, Promo)
    Farewell Song (Album) < (5 versions)
    Cheaper Thrills (LP, Comp)
    The History Of Rock Volume Fifteen. (2xLP, Comp)
    Golden Highlights - Volume 31 (LP, Comp)
    Cheap Thrills < (2 versions)
    Janis (3xCD + Box)
    18 Essential Songs (Comp) < (2 versions)
    Life Is Stronger Than Love (CD, Comp)
    The Very Best Of (CD)
    Absolute Janis (2xCD, Comp)
    Live At Winterland '68 (CD, Album)
    Legendary Rock Stars (Cass, Comp, RM)
    MTV Music History (CD, Comp)
    Mercedes Benz (12", S/Sided, Promo)
    The Essential Janis Joplin (Comp) < (2 versions)
    Collections (CD)
    Greatest Hits (Steel Box Collection) (CD, Comp)
    Pearl / Cheap Thrills (Cass)
    China Beach: Music And Memories (LP)
Appears On:
    Big Brother & The Holding Company (Album) < (6 versions)
    Down On Me / Call On Me (7")
    Cheap Thrills (Album) < (11 versions)
    That's Underground (LP, Mul)
    Maynard Ferguson (LP, Album)
    The Ventures (2xLP)
    Together (LP, Smplr)
    Slayed? (Album) < (6 versions)
    25 Jahre Hitparade Instrumental (3xLP, Comp + Box)
    California Radio / Move Over (7", Single)
    Mary Burns (LP, Album)
    Clam Dip & Other Delights (LP, MiniAlbum)
    Hide Your Heart (LP, Album)
    Nina Hagen (Album) < (2 versions)
    Stairway To Heaven / Highway To Hell (Cass, Comp)
    J.J. Tribute (Remix) (12")
    Delirious (CD, Album)
    Mercedes Benz (Single) < (2 versions)
    Mitsou (CD, Album)
    Joy, Life And Pain (Album) < (4 versions)
    Joy, Life And Pain (CD, Album)
    Mercedes Benz (CD, Maxi)
    Recollection (CD, Album, Comp)
    Sann Skal Det Gjores (CD, Album)
    Hit Collection (CD, Comp)
    Hit Collection (CD, Comp)
    Mushroom Songs (CD, Album)
    The Monterey International Pop Festival June 16-17-18 1967 (Box + 4xCD, Comp, RE)
    Mercedes Benz (CD, Single)
    Rock & Polar (CD, Promo)
    Rock 'N' Roll Jam '70 (2xCD, Album, RE)
    Daily Mail Legends (CD, Comp)
    Summer Habits EP (12", EP, Ltd, Promo)
    Summertime - George Gershwin's Most Beautiful Song In 20 Versions (CD)
    Tech Set (CD)
    Love Is The Song We Sing (San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970) (4xCD, Comp, RM)
    Watchmen - Music From The Motion Picture (Comp, Album) < (2 versions)
    Mercedes Benz (12")
Tracks Appear On:
    Do It Now: 20 Giant Hits (LP, Comp)
    Fill Your Head With Rock (2xLP)
    Superb Super Pop Session No. 2 (2xLP, Comp, Gat)
    Together (LP, Smplr)
    Vol. 1 20 Heavy Hits (LP, Comp)
    24 Millionen Erfolge 3 (2xLP, Gat)
    30 Dynamite Hits Vol. 1 (Cassette One) (8-Trk)
    The Greatest Hits Of The World - 2 (LP, Comp)
    World Star Festival (LP)
    12 Golden Hit's (LP, Comp)
    Fever - Songs, Die Unter Die Haut Gehen (LP, Comp)
    25 Jaar Popmuziek - 1971/1972 (2xLP, Album)
    25 Jahre Internationale Pop Musik - 1971/1972 (LP, Comp)
    Tour Of Duty (LP)
    Tour Of Duty (LP, Comp)
    TVT Sampler Summer 1991 (Cass, Smplr, Promo)
    Psychedelic 60's (CD)
    Woodstock - Three Day Of Peace And Music - Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection (4xCD, Comp, Box)
    Woodstock Diary (Comp) < (2 versions)
    Woodstock Three Days Of Peace And Music Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection < (2 versions)
    Legacy / Tower Present: More Than Music... The Legacy (CD)
    The Rocking Ladies (CD)
    Rock Olympics (3xCD, Comp, Car)
    Het Beste Uit De Top 100 Allertijden - Editie '97 Long Versions (CD + CD, Enh)
    Flower Power & Woodstock Generation (4xCD, Comp)
    The Best TV Ads... Ever! (2xCD, Comp)
    Singers And Songwriters - 1970-1972 (2xCD)
    Woodstock • The Love And Peace Generation (2xCD, Comp)
    Tune In - Chill Out: Classic Chill Out From The Coolest Ads (2xCD)
    Daily Mail Legends (CD, Comp)
    Summer Habits EP (12", EP, Ltd, Promo)
    Summertime - George Gershwin's Most Beautiful Song In 20 Versions (CD)
    The Best Of Beat (DVD, 4:3)
    Make Love Not War (CD, Comp)
    Rock Goldmine (3xDVD)
    Unthugged The Essential Mix (2xCD, Comp, Mixed, Promo)
    Essential Sights & Sounds (CD, Comp, Promo + DVD-V, NTSC, Comp, Promo)
    Live Remashing (CD, Promo, Mixed, Comp, Ltd)
    Sound Citizens Vol. No.1 (CD, Mixed)
    The Greatest Artists Of The World... The Essential Music (CD)
    Hai Karate Allstar Remix Series: Rock (12", Promo)
    Love Is The Song We Sing (San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970) (4xCD, Comp, RM)
    Watchmen - Music From The Motion Picture (Comp, Album) < (2 versions)
    Woodstock 40 (6xCD + Box)
    20 Heavy Hits (LP, Comp)
    20 Solid Gold Hits (LP, Comp)
    Generation Woodstock (2xCD, Comp)
    Pop, Rock And Soul (Box + 4xLP)
    Quadraphonic, The Spectacular Sound Of Four Channel Stereo (LP, Quad)
    The Best Of Woodstock And Flower Power (CD, Comp)
    Top Of The Rock (2xLP)
    Woodstock's Flower Power (CD)
Unofficial Releases:
    Feelin' Love (12", Ltd)
    Mercedes Benz / Feel Good Inc. (7")
    Best (CD, Comp, Unofficial)

Further Reading
Dalton, David. Piece of My Heart: The Life, Times, and Legend of Janis Joplin. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
Echols, Alice. Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.
Friedman, Myra. Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin. 1973. Reprint, New York: Harmony Books, 1992.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Cheap Thrills (1968). Sony/Columbia, CD, 1999.
Janis (1974). MCA, VHS, 1990.
Monterey Pop (1967). Rhino, VHS, 1997.
Pearl (1970). Sony/Columbia, CD, 1999.
Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music (1970). Warner Home Video, DVD/VHS, 1997.