Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 by Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin

February 25, 2012

Since her death over 40 years ago at the age of 27, Janis Joplin has attained almost mythological proportions. Meanwhile her first band, Big Brother and The Holding Company, has slid under the radar.

The band formed in San Francisco during 1965 and a year later consisted of bassist Peter Albin, guitarist Sam Andrew, guitarist James Gurley, drummer David Getz, and new vocalist Janis Joplin. They were at heart a psychedelic rock band, but Joplin’s bluesy and powerful voice pushed them in a more traditional rock direction. It all added up to a brilliant fusion of sounds.

The band released two albums during Joplin’s stay with the group: their self-titled debut and one of the defining albums of the era, Cheap Thrills. While Joplin was the center piece of the album, the band was an important ingredient to their success. They had a more controlled sound in the studio, but on stage they were a creative and powerful improvisational group that could rock with the best bands of the late 1960s. Gurley passed away in 2009 but Albin, Andrew, Getz, plus accompanying musicians, are still on the road today.

Big Brother and The Holding Company pulled into the Carousel Ballroom during 1968 for two shows June 22-23. At the board that evening was the Grateful Dead’s soundman and chemical engineer deluxe Owsley “Bear” Stanley. He had the tape machine rolling and produced a surprisingly clear tape of the June 23 concert. That unavailable live recording will be issued by the Columbia/Legacy label under the title Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 by Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.

The band was tight and at the top of their game. Joplin had been a member for two years and they had matured. The 13 tracks from the concert consisted of eight songs from their two albums plus five more original compositions. The final track was an encore of “Call On Me” from the June 22 concert. It is more interesting than essential but it allows one to compare it to the version contained during the June 23 performance.

Albin, Gurley, and Andrew tended to improvise and elongate the material but Joplin being the vocalist kept them from getting out of control. Gurley and Andrew are a sometimes underrated guitar duo and Andrews’ backing vocals enhanced those of Joplin’s lead. Albin and Getz formed a solid rhythm section that allowed the others to take off on their flights of fancy.

Two of the lesser known songs, “I Need A Man To Love” and “Catch Me Daddy” present the psychedelic era of free love well as Joplin’s emotional vocal presents the sexual and atavistic lyrics unapologetically. The music ebbs and flows as Joplin redefines the role of the female lead singer.

The four songs that end the album, their classic rendition of the old Emma Franklin soul song “Piece of My Heart,” “Coo Coo” which was issued as a stand-alone single, Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball & Chain,” which they turn into a psychedelic classic, and the gritty Joplin performance on “Down On Me” are 23 minutes of some of the best and intense rock music recorded on tape.

The track that best captures the original intent of the band was the near seven minute “Jam-I’m Mad” It gave the members room to stretch a little and move the basic melodies around and twist them out of shape.

Joplin would leave the band about two months after this concert and quickly become one of the superstars of rock music. Any new Janis Joplin music is a treat from a bygone era. This is doubly so when backed by Big Brother and The Holding Company. An essential listen for any fan of Joplin or the late 1960s psychedelic era.

Article first published as Music Review: Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin – Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 on Blogcritics.


Big Brother and The Holding Company by Big Brother and The Holding Company

June 22, 2010

Big Brother & The Holding Company are still on the road, but no matter what they may do or where they go or what they play or create, they will always be remembered as the launching pad for Janis Joplin.

She almost did not join the group as she had considered becoming a part of the 13th Floor Elevators in her native Texas. The thought of her and Roky Erickson even in the same vicinity boggles the mind.

Their debut album, Big Brother And The Holding Company, released during September of 1967, was recorded December 14-16 of 1966. During that recording process Joplin was just a member of the band. It was their incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival during the summer of 1967 that pushed her to the forefront of the group and introduced her to the music buying public. Her popularity would continue to build until it reached mythic proportions after her death.

Their debut album was a more subdued affair than the one which would follow a year later, yet it remained grounded in the San Francisco sound of the day. It was raw and driven by the intensity of the music. Guitarists James Gurley and Sam Andrew, drummer David Getz, and bassist Peter Albin were all important cogs in the Big Brother music machine. It is an album of short psychedelic rock/folk sound bytes as the longest of the twelve tracks clocks in at just over two and a half minutes.

Four decades after its initial release, it is the Joplin dominated tracks which shine. Her arrangement and vocals on the traditional “Down On Me” has become one of the staples in her catalogue. Her vocals are double-tracked on the first song, “Bye, Bye Baby,” which gives them a unique effect. She wrote three of the songs and “Intruder,” “The Last Time,” and “Women Is Losers,” clearly show she was an adept composer even this early in her career.

Joplin’s voice is clearer on many of these performances as it had not been worn down by hard singing and a lot of hard living. Also of note is the guitar playing of James Gurley, who is one of the underrated and many times forgotten musicians of the psychedelic era.

Big Brother And The Holding Company was a unique stop for the group and for Janis Joplin, but it set a firm foundation for her future. The album not only has held up well but remains historically important as the studio training ground for one of rock’s legendary singers.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org