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Janis Joplin finds her voice 50 years ago making the Sixties more soulful

Dave Masko's picture

Long before the late, great Donna Summer sang “she works hard for the money;” Janis Joplin was doing just that - some 50 years ago in 1962 - when a new book claims Janis “found her voice.”

She was the original Hippie girl, and her voice purred and rose in a wail that fans said “sent shivers through ya;” with Janis Joplin then swinging her hair and stopping her feet in her legendary Woodstock appearance when she moaned: “Oh, oh, o-oo-wowo-waha honey, tell me why, why does everything go wrong?” It’s hard to believe, writes Ann Angel in the new book “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing,” but Joplin’s remarkable professional music career “hardly lasted more than three years,” before suddenly, at age 27, she was gone. According to Angel’s new book and Joplin’s official biography at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the legend “found her voice” during the summer of 1962; some 50 years ago when attending the University of Texas at Austin. In turn, the campus newspaper “The Daily Texan,” ran a profile about Joplin in its July 27, 1962 edition with the headline: “She Dares To Be Different.” The story explains how “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her ‘Autoharp’ with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”

Joplin lights up Woodstock, becomes the legend

It was back during the late hours of Saturday, Aug. 16, 1969 that Janis Joplin brought her “Kozmic Blues Band” to Woodstock; while Ann Angel writes in her new book “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing” how her “blues-inflected voice and her electric stage presence” sent the Woodstock crowd of nearly a half million on their feet. No woman singer since has “controlled that many people with her voice, than Janis,” said her friend Peggy Caserta who claimed in a 1973 book that “Joplin viewed Woodstock as if it were just another gig.”

In turn, Joplin surprised her new half million Woodstock fans at sunrise the next day, Sunday, Aug. 17, by returning to stage yelling “wake up,” and then proceeded to wailed out, as Angel writes on page 49 of her new book, with her voice escalated in a keening scream, “Oh people, it ain’t fair what you do.”

Angel then describes how Joplin held the microphone close to her lips, “like she was kissing it, as she sent her wild-woman sounds” into that Woodstock world.

Angel also writes how Joplin “was calling everyone to hear her sad story, to feel her agony, her longing and pain. With eyes closed, she wrung the blues out of ‘Down on Me.’ She cried into the mic, ‘Everybody in this whole damn world is down on me.’ When the song ended, all eyes were locked on her. In the front tow of the audience, Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas sat stunned, her lips forming just one word over and over and over again: ‘Wow!’ This summed it up – the crowd had never seen or heard anyone like Janis.”

To this day, say fans of Joplin’s at the annual Oregon Country Fair outside of Eugene – that takes on the spirit of Woodstock each July – “nobody, I mean nobody can touch Janis with her power on stage," explained former Hippie and now a Baby Boomer named Cherie. "She'd just blow you away singing about 'Me and Bobby McGee,' or when she took us with her when singing 'Sunday Morning Coming Down.' She sing it, and then look deep into your soul. I experienced her in concert down in the Bay area, and man, oh man, could she put soul and pain into her music. I cried like a baby after hearing Janis; I still do."

In fact, longtime Country Fair performer Cherie also told Huliq recently that “we’re going to turn it up loud after hours this July at the Fair and we’re playing Joplin's ‘Ball and Chain’ to get things rocking. She was our ‘Hippie girl,’ she was the soul of the Sixties, she was like butter, you know. She is legend.”

Joplin creates herself as a Blues woman

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Cleveland, Ohio, also features lots of details for fans at its Janis Joplin exhibit that states how the singer “cultivated a rebellious manner” during that summer of 1962 when she began “to style herself and her voice after her favorite female blues heroines.”

Thus, it was in 1962, states the Hall of Fame exhibit, that Joplin started working on her first album, “The Typewriter Tape,” that included her songs: “Trouble In Mind,” “Kansas City Blues,” “Hesitation Blues,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” and “Long Black Train Blues.”

At the same time, both Angel’s new book and the Hall of Fame exhibit point to Joplin’s “drug use increasing;” while she acquired a reputation as a “speed freak,” and heroin user. Also, it was the Sixties, and Joplin went hard for other psychoactive drugs; while being known as a heavy drinker – both before, during and after her concerts – drinking “her favorite beverage Southern Comfort.”

Overall, the Hall of Fame exhibit explains how “she rose to prominence in the late Sixties, as the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company;” while then moving on a solo artist with her more soulful and bluesy sound.”

Thus, she was crowed “The Queen of Rock and Roll,” as well as “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul,” became known as “Pearl” and “Mary Jane” amongst her friends.

Today, Rolling Stone ranks Joplin on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

“Then suddenly, age 27, she gone,” writes Ann Angel in her new book. Joplin died of an overdose on Oct. 4, 1970.

Death of the legend called "Pearl"

According to her official biography at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Joplin was found dead on the floor beside her bed by road manager John Cooke. “The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. In turn, Cooke believes that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin that was much more potent than normal.

As for other causes of death, Joplin’s close friends Peggy Caserta and Seth Morgan “had both stood Joplin up the Friday immediately prior to her death, October 2, according to the book ‘Going Down With Janis.” In turn, the book claimed that “Joplin was saddened that neither of her friends visited her at the Landmark Motor Hotel as they had promised to.”

As for her funeral, the Hall of Fame reports how Joplin was cremated in Los Angeles, and her ashes “were scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean and along her favorite Stinson Beach.”

At the same time, Joplin’s death “stunned her fans and shocked the music world, especially coupled with the death just 16 days earlier of another Sixties rock icon, Jimi Hendrix, who also mixed drugs and booze,” explained the Hall of Fame history of these two legends.

What happened to that college student from 1962?

Ann Angel writes in the introduction of her book “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing” how, after interviewing Joplin’s friends and colleagues, what she came away with was “a complicated, fiercely talented young woman – who in 1962 as a college student in Texas, found her voice – and decided to become a singer.

In turn, Angel writes how Joplin “was often out of control in her life, yet hardworking and disciplined about her art. She was a wild child who was unwilling to follow her parents’ or society’s rule, yet also a loving, devoted daughter who wrote long letter home from the road.”

But, in the end, Angel writes how Joplin “was a deeply insecure person who sought constant reassurance form those around her; yet an enormously popular performer who connected with her audiences in a profound way.”

Image source of Janis Joplin during one of her final concerts in 1970. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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