When Janis Joplin took the stage on August 17, 1969 at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair she was already a star of the first magnitude. Her work as the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company had brought her acclaim as one of the leading female rock vocalists in the world. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival had been her coming out party.
1969 found her having left Big Brother and performing with her new back-up group, The Kozmic Blues Band. This was a funky-style outfit complete with a brass section whose playing was similar to the Stax rhythm and blues sound coming out of Memphis.
The Woodstock Experience has gathered her complete ten-song Woodstock set and combined it with her I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Mama album which was released shortly after her performance.
Her live performance here is the gem. She did not appear in the original Woodstock movie or soundtrack and only one of her songs was included on the 25th and 40th anniversary editions. This is the third album I have heard from this series and it has the best sound by far. In fact I think it is one of the better sounding performances to have been recorded at the festival. It is crisp and clear which is amazing given the recording equipment of the time and the vastness of the outside arena which tended to wash out the sound.
All was not well with Janis, however, as drugs and alcohol had begun to affect her health. She also had to wait over ten hours to take the stage. Her monologues between songs are sometimes rambling and she has trouble with some of the notes on “Work Me Lord.” She just manages to keep it together and get through the song. Even forty years after the fact I found myself rooting for her to make it.
Her Kozmic Blues Band period was not my favorite. Sometimes she lets the band do too much which takes the focus away from her. She is almost a supporting player on the first two songs, “Raise Your Hand” and “As Good As You’ve Been To This World.” I’m more comfortable with a rock ‘n’ roll Joplin than a funky Joplin.
She finally hits her stride with a cover of the Bee Gees tune, “To Love Somebody,” proving why she was one of the best vocalists in the world. Other highlights include “Summertime,” “Piece Of My Heart,” and “Ball and Chain.” All in all it it’s a somewhat uneven performance though on a number of the tracks her brilliance shines through.
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama would be her only studio album with the group as they would part ways in 1969. While no Janis Joplin album can ever be considered average, she does struggle in places trying to re-create herself as a rhythm and blues singer. I much prefer her Cheap Thrills album with Big Brother and The Holding Company or her posthumous Pearl. Still, this album fits the time period and is a good companion to her performance.
Close to fourteen months after her Woodstock performance Janis Joplin would be dead. Rolling Stone ultimately ranked her as the 46th greatest artist of all time and 28th greatest singer.
The Woodstock Experience resurrects a historic performance by one of the queens of American rock music.