Psychedelic Psounds: Interviews from A to Z with 60s Psychedelic and Garage Bands

By Allan Vorda | Go to book overview

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY: COMBINATION OF THE TWO

Big Brother and the Holding Company coalesced during the mid-1960s from the Haight- Ashbury district of San Francisco. The group, after replacing their original drummer, consisted of the following members: Sam Andrew (guitar); James Gurley (guitar); Peter Albin (bass); and David Getz (drums). Big Brother had attained an adequate following, but being just one of an estimated 1,500 rock bands in the Bay Area, they decided a female lead singer (like Grace Slick in Jefferson Airplane) would help set them apart. Chet Helm, the group's manager, suggested a girl who had returned to Texas to straighten out a drug problem: Janis Joplin. Rumor has it that while in Texas she had been invited to join Roky Erickson as co-lead singer for the legendary 13th Floor Elevators, but Joplin chose to return to San Francisco to become lead vocalist for Big Brother.

Big Brother's first album for Mainstream Records was called Big Brother and the Holding Company and reached #60. The group then played a show stopping performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival during June 1967 which was highlighted by Joplin's frenetic singing. Columbia Records bought out the group's contract with Mainstream and released the album Cheap Thrills during August 1968. The album, after seven weeks on the charts, went to #1 in October where it stayed for two months. "Piece of My Heart" reached #12 while Mainstream capitalized on their fame by belatedly releasing "Down On Me" which reached #43.

Unbelievably, Janis Joplin decided to leave Big Brother with her last appearance with them occurring on December 1, 1968. Part of the reason for her leaving Big Brother was attributed to the bad press the band received for not playing up to her level. Joplin played with the Kozmic Blues Band and later the Full-Tilt Boogie Band, but the chemistry seemed to be lacking from what she had with Big Brother. Her career appeared to be going nowhere when she died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. The posthumously released album Pearl was #1 for nine weeks in early 1971.

Big Brother released two albums after Janis' departure from the group before breaking up. The song "Combination of the Two" seems prophetic in hindsight in that neither Big Brother nor Janis could attain the heights separately that they achieved when they were together.

The following interview was conducted on 1/21/1989 with Sam Andrew and Peter Albin during the Big Brother Twenty-Fifth Reunion Tour after performing in Port Arthur ( Janis Joplin's home town) and Houston (at Rockefeller's).

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