One cannot discuss contemporary women of Blues without including Janis Joplin. Janis Joplin is and always will be a significant cultural icon of the sixties and contemporary blues. Amidst the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, and women’s liberation, the winds of change swept across our country and delivered a package wrapped in paisley and pink boas, namely Janis Joplin. The popularity and use of mind-expanding drugs had ushered in a rush of creativity which encompassed all genres of art. To think outside the box was the norm. Music became more than just about love or unrequited love. It was about a unifying love of humanity and was the most powerful model of communication of the era. Spiritual growth and mindfulness came naturally and were not reduced to an app on a cell phone timed to go off at a certain time. Abuse of capitalism and right-wing ideology began to smother the flame of hope that the sixties offered, but the embers were still burning through mid-seventies. There were other iconic singers and musicians representative of that era, but of all the women, no one took the world by storm like Janis Joplin.
Janis Joplin’s iconoclastic bohemian style further perpetuated a look that was already emerging in society. Contemporary, as well as avant-garde, merged in her style and in the world in which she lived. Appreciation for the nostalgic was evident in her appearance and performances.
“Summertime”, a Gershwin song originally written for the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess”, although a jazz tune is oftentimes a favorite of blues performers. Janis Joplin’s rendition of this song is passionate and hauntingly mesmerizing. Her delivery is strong and forcefully exemplifies her range and improvisational talent.
Another one of my favorites is “Ball and Chain”, a blues tune written and originally recorded by Willa Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. “Big Mama”, was the first to record “Hound Dog.” Janis Joplin definitely takes this song to a different level, defining it as her own.
Another Janis Joplin song which is a must-listen is “Piece of My Heart”. This song was initially recorded by Erma Franklin in 67 and is equally as satisfying, but Joplin made the song a hit in 68.
Today Janis Joplin is best known for her song “Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” “Mercedes Benz”, was written by Joplin and two popular beat poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth. The song is a satirical statement about our materialistic society and is sung a capella by Joplin on her “Pearl”, album, which she recorded with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company 1970.
Janis Joplin may have owned a Mercedes Benz at some point, but she truly owned a 1964 Porsche, which she had custom painted. Here it sits on display at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The car sold at Sotheby’s auction for 1.76 million in 2015.
“Me and Bobby McGee”, was written by Kris Kristofferson and launched his career to stardom at a time when he was ready to pack it up and leave Nashville. The version I’ve included is just her sweet whimsical voice and guitar.
Janis Joplin was found deceased by her friend, Peggy Caserta, at the Landmark Hotel of Hollywood on 10/4/70. It is said that she died of a drug overdose. Dearly loved by millions, Janis Joplin’s spirit remains strong through her Fan’s memories and her music.