1943 - 1970
Welcome to the life of another singer who's life ended too soon. Singer Janis Joplin rose to fame in the late 1960s and was known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals.
Born on January 19, 1943, in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin developed a love of music at an early age, but her career didn't take off until she joined the band Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966. Their 1968 album, Cheap Thrills, was a huge hit. However, friction between Joplin and the band prompted her to part ways with Big Brother soon after. Known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals, Joplin released her first solo effort, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, in 1969. The album received mixed reviews, but her second project, Pearl (1971), released after Joplin's death, was a huge success. The singer died of an accidental overdose on October 4, 1970, at age 27.
Janis Lyn Joplin was born on January 19, 1943, in Port Arthur, Texas. Breaking new ground for women in rock music, Joplin rose to fame in the late 1960s and became known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals. She grew up in a small Texas town known for its connections to the oil industry with a skyline and dotted with oil tanks and refineries. For years, Joplin struggled to escape from this confining community, and spent even longer to trying to overcome her memories of her difficult years there.
Developing a love for music at an early age, Joplin sang in her church choir as a child and showed some promise as a performer. She was an only child until the age of 6, when her sister, Laura, was born. Four years later, her brother, Michael, arrived. Joplin was a good student and fairly popular until around the age of 14, when some side effects of puberty started to kick in. She got acne and gained some weight.
Joplin eventually developed a group of guy friends who shared her interest in music and the Beat Generation, which rejected the standard norms and emphasized creative expression (Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were two of the Beat movement's leading figures).
Musically, Janis Joplin and her friends gravitated toward blues and jazz, admiring such artists as Lead Belly. Joplin was also inspired by legendary blues vocalists Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Odetta, an early leading figure in the folk music movement. The group frequented local working-class bars in the nearby town of Vinton, Louisiana. By her senior year of high school, Joplin had developed a reputation as a ballsy, tough-talking girl who like to drink and be outrageous.
After graduating from high school, Joplin enrolled at Lamar State College of Technology in the neighboring town of Beaumont, Texas. There, she devoted more time to hanging out and drinking with friends than to her studies. At the end of her first semester at Lamar, Joplin left the school. She went on to attend Port Arthur College, where she took some secretarial courses, before moving to Los Angeles in the summer of 1961. This first effort to break away from wasn't a success, however, and Joplin thus returned to Port Arthur for a time.
In the summer of 1962, Joplin fled to the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied art. In Austin, Joplin began performing at folksings—casual musical gatherings where anyone can perform—on campus and at Threadgill's, a gas station turned bar, with the Waller Creek Boys, a musical trio with whom she was friends. With her forceful, gutsy singing style, Joplin amazed many audience members. She was unlike any other white female vocalist at the time (folk icons like Joan Baez and Judy Collins were known for their gentle sound).
In January 1963, Joplin ditched school to check out the emerging music scene in San Francisco with friend Chet Helms. But this stint out west, like her first, proved to be unsuccessful, as Joplin struggled to make it as a singer in the Bay Area. She played some gigs, including a side-stage performance at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival—but her career didn't gain much traction. Joplin then spent some time in New York City, where she hoped to have better luck getting her career off the ground, but her drinking and drug use (she'd begun regularly using speed, or amphetamine, among other drugs) there proved to be detrimental to her musical aspirations. In 1965, she left San Francisco and returned home in an effort to get herself together again.
Back in Texas, Joplin took a break from her music and her hard-partying lifestyle, and dressed conservatively, putting her long, often messy hair into a bun and doing everything else she could to appear straight-laced. But the conventional life was not for her, and her desire to pursue her musical dreams wouldn't remain submerged for long.
Joplin slowly returned to performing, and in May 1966, was recruited by friend Travis Rivers to audition for a new psychedelic rock band based in San Francisco, Big Brother and the Holding Company. At the time, the group was managed by another longtime friend of Joplin's, Chet Helms. Big Brother, whose members included James Gurley, Dave Getz, Peter Albin and Sam Andrew, was part of the burgeoning San Francisco music scene of the late 1960s; among the other bands involved in this scene were the Grateful Dead.
Clancy's comment: I recall her as a very wild child. But, then again, they were pretty wild and fabulous times.