Walking into a record shop in Holloway Road in 1969 I purchased two albums the first was Hot Rats released that year and only the second solo album by Frank Zappa. As well as the great Captain Beefheart the jazz based music also included two of the best-known electric violinists around at the time. Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, who appeared on other Zappa albums including Mothers of Invention’s 1970’s album Weasels Ripped My Flesh performing lead vocal and violin on one of my all time best loved tracks Directly from My Heart to You. The other violinist was the Frenchman Jean Luc Ponty another Zappa regular who in 1970 released an album of Zappa tracks entitled King Kong: Jean Luc Ponty the music of Frank Zappa. The second album purchased that day was Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills released in August the previous year. The lead singer on that album was one Janis Lyn Joplin.
Joplin came to the attention of the general rock loving public when she fronted BBHC at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Together with the premiere of D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Monterey Pop in New York in December 26 1968 Cheap Thrills launched Janis Joplin’s very successful, albeit short career. The album sold over a million copies in the first month of its release reaching number 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and is still being downloaded on to MP3 players to this day.
|Monterey Pop 1967.|
LA born Amy J Berg has turned her documentary filmmaking skills to directing a biopic that sets out to explain the life and work of the singer whose short career ended on October 4th 1970 at the age of 27. The official cause of death was given as a ‘heroin overdose compounded by alcohol’ but it has been alleged that the heroin she used on this occasion was more potent than normal.
The first thing that strikes you about Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015) is Joplin’s energy and the shear power of her performances, live or recorded. Her early years were not to kind to the adolescent Janis but she when on to became a born leader, an independent woman that knew her own mind, which was not always accepted in the so-called liberated 1960’s. Her emotional honesty was obvious even if this child like woman did at times try to block out life thou drugs and alcohol. Similar to Amy (2015) in that documentary is a sad reflection on an industry that at times tends to sacrifice its great talents. Janis Joplin’s great claim to immorality was, as Sam Davis put it in his review, ‘a path breaker for so many female singers who’ve reclaimed the roughed-up and raw from the preserve of the male vocal’ Berg’s movie be enjoyed on two levels, as a piece of 1960’s social history or for fans like me a reminder how great this lady was and for that thank you Amy Berg.
|The one and only Janis Joplin.|