Janis Joplin Performance Footage (02:52)
See Joplin cover Clarence Carter’s “Tell Mama” a song originally popularized by Etta James, in Calgary, Alberta on July 4, 1970.
Rebellious Teen (06:46)
Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1943. She was self-conscious about her appearance as a teenager, and she stood out with her beatnik style, liberal views, and rebellious spirit. She was bullied but also prone to start trouble for her own amusement. A friend was shocked by her ability to accurately emulate the singing of Odetta.
Waller Creek Boys (03:00)
Joplin performed with a folk band while attending the University of Texas. She continued to be bullied, and she was devastated when campus fraternities voted her “ugliest man on campus.”
Strung Out in San Francisco (03:28)
Joplin escaped to the Bay Area where she met girlfriend and roommate, Jae Whittaker. She got deeper into the blues, emulating not only her idols’ music but also their vices. She lost weight rapidly as she got strung out on methamphetamine, and her friends raised money to send her back home.
Big Brother and the Holding Company (04:02)
Peter de Blanc, Joplin’s boyfriend from San Francisco, visited Port Arthur to propose, but he was secretly living with a woman he had impregnated. Joplin hitchhiked back to San Francisco with Chet Helms and joined the band he was managing.
Joining the Counterculture (06:02)
Joplin was determined to make it as a musician, and she felt a sense of camaraderie with other counterculture musicians. She became romantically involved with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of the Grateful Dead.
Onstage Mannerisms (04:49)
Joplin had a transcendent experience at an Otis Redding show after unwittingly drinking acid-spiked wine. Big Brother and the Holding Company signed a bad record deal in an effort to lock in their new singer, who was being courted by Elektra Records.
1967 Monterey Pop Festival (07:08)
Big Brother and the Holding Company was nearly excluded from the D.A. Pennebaker documentary when manager Julius Karpen refused to sign a release form. The band was given a second set that was immortalized on film.
"Cheap Thrills" (05:39)
Joplin began dating Joe McDonald of Berkley band Country Joe and the Fish. Her family visited, and Moby Grape allowed her to perform during their show so they could see her. Big Brother and the Holding Company was signed to Columbia Records which released Joplin's major label debut.
Joplin began to appear on television; she became good friends with Dick Cavett. Big Brother and the Holding Company split time between Los Angeles and its East Coast headquarters, the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. Pennebaker filmed the band while in New York.
Kozmic Blues Band (10:01)
Joplin overshadowed Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the band resented her growing fame. She left the band, taking guitarist Sam Andrew with her. The pressure to succeed was immense, but the band hit its stride during a tour of Europe.
Escalating Drug Use (02:23)
Everything was good when Joplin was onstage and things were going well, but she frequently shot heroin after gigs, and her drug use started spiraling out of control. In the midst of a drug binge, she fired Andrew at the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles.
Disjointed Performance (07:03)
Joplin and her band were optimistic about playing Woodstock, which they assumed would be like Monterey Pop Festival. But the singer partied with friends and sometime enabler Peggy Caserta, drinking and shooting up before she went onstage.
"Cry Baby" (10:03)
Joplin disbanded the Kozmic Blues Band. She wallowed in the group’s failure, and her drug and alcohol use escalated. She spent time hitchhiking around Brazil where she detoxed from heroin and met boyfriend David Niehaus; he left when she started using again.
Bad Memories (03:20)
Joplin returned to Port Arthur, Texas to attend her 10th high school reunion. She made a joke of being an outsider in her hometown. She was evasive and visibly upset as reporters asked questions.
Full Tilt Boogie Band (03:38)
Joplin stopped doing heroin and formed a new band. The new outfit allowed her the freedom to improvise more onstage. She spoke of Niehaus as her lost love, holding out hope that he would return to her now that she was clean.
"Me and Bobby McGee" (05:50)
Joplin participated in Festival Express, a 1970 train tour that also showcased the Grateful Dead and others popular acts in five Canadian cities. She recorded a tune written by Kris Kristofferson. Producer Paul Rothchild helped her tame the power of her voice.
Full Tilt Boogie Manager John Cooke went to check on Joplin when she did not show up for an Oct. 4, 1970 recording session. He discovered her body in her hotel room. Her final album was released three months after her death and sold 4 million copies. “Bobby McGee” was her biggest hit.
Credits: Janis: Little Girl Blue (03:26)
Credits: Janis: Little Girl Blue
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