Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch”series, “Women in History Week,” where wefind out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
When it comes to discussing influential women in rock history, you absolutely cannot skip over Janis Joplin. In terms of musical style, she adopted more of a psychedelic blues sound herself, but her impact on the genre reaches far beyond her specific sound. Joplin’s expressiveness and sense of self in a time where society still had expectations on how a woman should behave were quite frankly groundbreaking. Janis wasn’t afraid of embracing her sexuality on stage and was also one of the first artists to sport a visible tattoo while in the public eye.
Her career may have been short, but her mark on the music scene inspired countless other performers.
She Didn’t Fit In With Her Peers
Joplin was born on Jan. 19, 1943, in the racially segregated town of Port Arthur, Texas. Her early belief in desegregation set her apart from her high school peers, and they often teased her for being different. As a result, Joplin would frequently skip classes, attending only what she needed in order to graduate. Her proud stance on segregation was linked to her love of blues music, particularly the music of iconic singers Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.
She Tried To Be Conservative — And Failed
By 1965, Joplin was regularly using amphetamines, and other drugs. She left San Francisco and went home to Texas to try to get her life back on track. She took a break from music and partying and tried hard to lead a more conventional lifestyle — even dressing conservatively and putting her hair in a bun — but it was short-lived.
She Needed A Band To Break Into Music
The lure of the music scene was too much for Joplin to resist, and in 1966 she returned to San Francisco and joined the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. (She was actually due to get married that year but called off the wedding to join the band.) The band’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival earned them rave reviews, and their 1968 album, “Cheap Thrills,” was a huge hit.
Ultimately, She Was Better Off Alone
As the frontwoman of the band, Joplin’s powerful vocals and drug- and alcohol-fueled performances (she often drank booze straight from the bottle during gigs) got most of the attention, which eventually led to friction between Joplin and her bandmates. Joplin also felt that the band was holding her back professionally, and she eventually decided to go solo. Her last performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company was in December 1968.
She Loved Painting And Poetry
Joplin was an outspoken rebel, but she also had a sensitive side. Her interests included painting, reading and writing poetry. When she appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” with actress Raquel Welch, she encouraged Welch to read F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1991, an oil painting by 13-year-old Joplin was found in a supply cabinet at her old church and donated to the Museum of Gulf Coast.
She Once Broke A Bottle Over Jim Morrison’s Head
Joplin and musician Jim Morrison had a love of drinking in common, but Joplin was turned off by Morrison’s obnoxious behavior. At a party held by producer Paul Rothchild, Joplin rejected Morrison’s advances, but he persisted — until Joplin hit him over the head with a bottle of Southern Comfort. According to the biography, “Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison” by James Riordan, despite being knocked out by the blow, Morrison continued to admire Joplin, enthusing, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!”
She Performed With Tina Turner
Joplin was a big fan of Tina Turner. During a 1969 interview on “The Dick Cavett Show,” Cavett asked Joplin who she goes to see when she wants to see a good concert. “Tina Turner. Fantastic singer, fantastic dancer, fantastic show,” she replied. It seemed that the feeling was mutual: On Nov. 27, 1969, Joplin joined Tina on stage at Madison Square Garden for an impromptu duet.
She Never Knew How Successful She Would Be
Joplin’s first solo album, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!”, released in 1969, wasn’t a big success. In fact, true solo success didn’t come until after her death, with the posthumous album release of “Pearl.” Joplin was still working on “Pearl” when she died, meaning producer Paul Rothchild had to finish the project without her.