Monday 2 November 2015

Janis Joplin: Live/Compilation/Outtakes Albums plus Big Brother and the Holding Company 1965-2012

You can read more in 'Little Girl Blue - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of janis Joplin' by clicking here!

"This Is Janis Joplin 1965"

also released as "The Collection"

(Sony**, Recorded '1965', Released '1995')

Apple Of My Eye/219 Train/Codeine/Down And Out/Turtle Blues/I Ain't Got A Worry/Brownsville

"You only got to wait another 15 minutes of waiting child and you got the apple of my eye"

Even future legends have to audition sometimes. This seven song twenty-five minute tape of blues originals and covers was what helped 22-year-old Janis get signed to Big Brother, recorded on reel-to-reel soon after the 'Typewriter Tape' as a more professional way of proving what Janis could do (with herself strumming along on acoustic this time). She sent it to guitarist James Gurley when she heard they were after a singer and he was impressed enough to keep it safe in his collection for some thirty years before finally giving it the green light for release on the 25th anniversary of her death. It's easily the most impressive recording the young Janis had made up until this point - she's more at one with the material than her recordings in 1962-63 and is now moulding the blues standards to her voice rather than being a talented wannabe. The biggest surprise in fact is that Janis purrs a lot of these songs - she isn't screaming them full throttle the way she had been but neither is she singing like all folk-blues singers always sing. The material is much more suited to her voice too and is nicely obscure - Janis' nervy spoken voice before each song admitting either that she 'doesn't know who write this' or that she's added a few words to an old blues standard or in the case of lone original 'Turtle Blues' 'this is one I made up'. She's clearly going places, with even 'Turtle' sounding rather good in this environment where every line is heartfelt rather than the jokey throwaway version on 'Cheap Thrills'.

'Apple Of My Eye' is a nice uptempo rocker with a revved up 12 bar blues feel, 'Codine' is the most contemporary track on the record with a real mid-60s folk-rock-psychedelia feel not unlike the early Jefferson Airplane; 'Down and Out' a rather ordinary blues crawl; 'I Ain't Got A Worry' soft-folk that again is a nice stretch for Janis' voice although it's not a natural fit for it and 'Brownsville' is perhaps the most obviously 'Janisy' song of the seven, an uptempo singalong blues in the vein of 'Raise Your Hand' to come. However the highlight is '219 Train', a slow blues quite unlike anything Janis will ever sing again (though its clearly where she got the riff for 'Turtle Blues') and it's gorgeous, Janis in full control of this sad, sleepy song about heart-wrenching goodbyes. However the tape is not without controversy, mainly the decision taken by Gurley that the tapes weren't strong enough in their own right and his decision to overdub all sorts of inappropriate musicians on top. Whilst this does make the recordings sound much more like the 'Janis' to come, it's an unnecessary meddling with history: the original tapes, leaked on bootleg but sadly not released officially as of the time of writing, are far superior: perhaps the biggest (and for James the most worrying) revelation of the tapes was that it proved that Janis didn't need anyone else except herself. No wonder the band hired here though: with this much star quality and proof of a malleable voice, the question isn't how was Janis signed through this recording but why the hell wasn't she snapped up by someone else sooner? Still perhaps the best of the early Joplin recordings later re-issued in full as part of the 'Blow My Blues Away' box set.

 Big Brother And The Holding Company "Cheaper Thrills" aka "Live In San Francisco 1966"
(Fanclub, Recorded July 1966, Released 1984)

Let The Good Times Roll/I Know You Rider/Moanin' At Midnight/Hey Baby/Down On Me/Whisperman/Women Is Losers/Blow My Mind/Ball and Chain/Coo Coo/Gutra's Garden/Harry/Hall Of The Mountain King

"Come on baby let's rock some more, roll yeah all night long!"

Note: the same release was re-issued with a slightly different track listing as 'Live In San Francisco 1966' in April 2002 with one additional track, a cover of Little Richard's 'Oh! My Soul'

Given that this live CD was recorded a full eleven months before Monterey and less than a after Janis Joplin joined the group, it's astonishingly close to the sound that will make the band famous and much more interesting in its own right than the mere history lesson I was expecting. Janis yells, the band swells and almost everything gels in terms of performance - it's just the songs that aren't quite here yet, with the band cutting their teeth on the usual staple of retro rock songs that were every young band's bread and butter back in 1966. Only five songs included in this set list will ever made it into the recording studio, with the majority of this album's same-old covers rejected along the way. Interestingly showstopper 'Ball and Chain' is already here despite not making it to album for another two years, stretched out to seven minutes and not that far away from the version the band will became known for (although Janis is clearly singing it the same was as Big Mama Thornton for now). Similarly 'Down On Me' features Janis singing at a higher pitch with a slightly different lyric, 'Women Is Losers' is more about the riff than the music and comes with a jazz swing, the pretty 'Coo Coo' stays in her box far longer than the single without flying away and weirdo outtake 'Harry' is an unexpected finale sounding even more bonkers than usual, though all are recognisable to the versions we know and love ('Mountain King' is a ;bonus' track from a slightly later date, although that doesn't really sound much like an 'end' either). The rest of the material is at best eccentric and at worst overcooked(the most psychedelic Little Richard cover ever in 'Oh! My Soul!' which should have been re-titled 'Oh! My Psychedelia!',  the slow burning Arabian instrumental 'Gutra's Garden' and a take on Grieg's 'Hall Of The Mountain King' that's admirably ambitious but falls desperately short ) being more interesting than listenable, although even this is an impressive range for 1966 (what other band could switch from pure blues to wigged out space jams to Indian soul?!) In total there are eight covers here exclusive to this set - what other pre-signed band could say that in this era?

However the attack is already there from the start. While the official line is that Janis spent the first few months being wary of her new band and the band spent the same time wary of her before the two eventually come together somewhere at the start of 1967, here is proof that the two halves were already very much on each other's wavelengths. Janis needs to sound loud? One of the three guitarists will take it in turn to make her sound huge. The band have got a bit lost in the solo? Janis will add some whoops and cheers to keep the song alive until all the pieces match up again. Performed full throttle and already a musical experience quite unlike anything else around in the summer of 1966, the early Big Brother are clearly already a band to watch and who sound as if they already know that too, with memories of the edginess of the early studio wiped away by the opening bars of the funkiest Sam Cooke cover around. Much better than I ever expected it to be - and in pretty good sound considering that this set was made by a fan rather than being professionally taped. By the way, extracts of this concert had already been released in 1984 under the name 'Cheaper Thrills' - rather than reviewing that shorter version we've plumped for just the longer recording here.

Big Brother And The Holding Company "The Lost Tapes"

(**, Recorded '1966-1968' (but mainly July 1966) Released 2008)

CD One: Bye Bye Baby/Great White Guru/Women Is Losers/Oh My Soul/Amazing Grace/Caterpillar/It's A Deal/Hi-Heeled Sneakers/Faster Pussycat Kill Kill/Turtle Blues/All Is Loneliness/Light Is Faster Than Sound

CD Two: 'Live In San Francisco 1966' Let The Good Times Roll/I Know You Rider/Moanin' At Midnight/Hey Baby/Down On Me/Whisperman/Women Is Losers/Blow My Mind/Oh My Soul/Ball And Chain/Coo Coo/Gutra's Garden/Harry/Hall Of The Mountain King

"How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!"

I'm not entirely sure what was 'lost' about these tapes as bootleggers had them for years but never mind - their rediscovery and re-issue as part of the official Janis Joplin discography a decade or so ago is highly welcome. It's always fascinating to hear bands before they were famous and hear what changes were made and Big Brother is no exception: it's the musical equivalent of the same cake that just hasn't been long enough in the oven yet, with everything ready (the guitars, that voice and the quirky yet emotional songs) but not quite cooked yet. What's of most historical interest is how much of a backseat Janis takes: the band clearly aren't that sure about her yet and Janis handles at best only half of the songs here which have clearly been in Big Brother's hands for a while. In fact Peter is still very much the leader, introducing practically every song with his lugubrious introductions - which are fascinating for us although the crowd seems to resent the music coming to a full stop every song! However you can already hear Big Brother shaping up to be a real 'group' on the newer numbers that they've worked on together which is where most of the magic of this set lies.
For collectors rather than casual fans it's a truly fascinating release. We've reviewed the 'Live In San Francisco' bonus disc already  - it's a straight re-release of the 'Cheaper Thrills' live album and is actually a bit of a cheat added here as if it's a 'new' release. However taking that album into account as well there are no less than fifteen songs that never came out on an official Big Brother release in their lifetime and of these only 'Harry' was ever attempted in the studio. Even granted that Big Brother haven't made their first album yet, never mind 'Cheap Thrills', and had to fill their set with something, this seems an incredibly high percentage and for abandoned songs the strike rate is refreshingly high, particularly on the actual 'Lost Tapes' disc itself. 'Great White Guru' is a messy yet funky Sam Andrew song that sounds like a prototype for 'Catch Me Daddy'; a surprise cover of Little Richard's 'Oh! My Soul!' (the only song Big Brother ever had in common with The Beatles) is ironically as close as Big Brother ever came to straight rock; 'Amazing Grace', a song Janis had already done solo, is given a full eleven minute workout; Sam's 'It's A Deal' is template Big Brother with daft lyrics but a kicking tune and a heavy riff built for Gurley's gonzo solo-ing; Janis' full throttle take on 'Hi Heeled Sneakers' is a surprise highlight, turning a silly novelty into a powerful statement of intent; finally 'Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!' is perhaps the most intriguing song - a very early Big Brother did the song for the soundtrack of a very 1960s Russ Mayer film about go go dancers and their sports car fanatic boyfriends but it wasn't used in the soundtrack. All of these songs could have gone on to grace Big Brother albums and in a way it's a shame that there wasn't an album before the debut to mop all these stray recordings - there's easily four albums' worth of material during Janis' time with Big Brother in total, not just the two that were released.

However the best material is clearly that featured on the first album, a full five months before the band recorded it in December 1966. Those recording sessions for the Mainstream label tend to be timid, with Big Brother styling themselves as a novelty act who just happen to have the guitars turned up really loud - a reflection more of the producers and engineers not quite sure of how to manage their sound than the direction the band wanted to take. Reports at the time said that fans were disappointed with how light and fluffy that record was compared to the live recordings - and I can see (and hear!) why. The five songs that will be re-recorded for that debut album here (plus an early version of 'Turtle Blues', one of two Janis songs in the set) sound more like the recordings on 'Cheap Thrills', played with power and passion and as if they're a matter of life and death rather than interested in making us laugh. 'Bye Bye Baby' isn't so much trite music hall as how dare you kiss-off, Janis revving her vocal up to maximum in the first verse and never letting up from there; 'Women Is Losers' purrs along with real slyness, the band making most of the fat plod behind Janis taking on the weight of her gender on her shoulders; the fun 'Caterpillar' still sounds deeply silly but now comes fitted with a turbo engine and a megaphone; a psychedelic 'Light Is Faster Than Sound' is extended to six minutes with some chilling guitar solos and an early 'Turtle Blues' is far more convincing than the clodhopping comedy on record, Janis singing the song straight while James Gurley finds a terrific blues guitar howl behind her. However if nothing else you need to own this set for a near-ten minute stunning jazz version of 'All Is Loneliness', in which the tiny sad two minute song of the album is turned into a profound epic, the guitars as well as the vocals looping round each other in comfort and blackness and with a hypnotic rhythmic shuffle that's more like something Jefferson Airplane would do.
All in all 'The Lost Tapes' is a terrific release, possibly the best Big Brother album out there behind 'Cheap Thrills', with a band that were young hungry and talented without the nerves of the first album sessions  getting in the way. Even with the slightly lesser complete concert (first released in 1984) this is a definitive guide to what Big Brother were up to before Monterey and proves that that spectacular show didn't come from nowhere. For mid-1966 standards the power and attack on these songs must have been a revelation for anyone lucky enough to be at one of these shows and the question isn't 'why did the band become big?' but 'why didn't the band become bigger a whole lot sooner?' Even though the band haven't come up with most of the songs identified with them yet ('Combination Of The Two' 'Summertime' 'Piece Of My Heart' 'Ball and Chain', not even 'Down On Me') this is still a must-have purchase, Big Brother at their near-best.

 Big Brother And The Holding Company/Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Canned Heat "Live At Monterey Pop Festival 1967"
(Document Records, Recorded June 1967, Released '1989' with further releases in 1992 and beyond)

Down On Me/Combination Of The Two/Harry/Roadblock/Ball And Chain (Big Brother And The Holding Company)

Cold Rain And Snow/Viola Lee Blues (Grafeful Dead)

Mercury Blues (Steve Miller Band)

Bullfrog Blues/Rollin' and Tumblin' (Canned Heat)

"We're gonna knock ya sock ya baby rock ya tonight!"

At last, after a year of getting their act together, Big Brother and the Holding Company get it on! The Monterey Pop Festival keeps cropping up on our books as an important point in time - arguably even more so than Woodstock. For starters it was the first real pop and rock festival where fans could see lots of groups instead of a handful but because they helped give a leg up to so many promising bands. But more than that it was a 'real' music festival with acts nominated by 'real' musicians' - and not just the obvious household names but a whole host of acts that were at best legends only in their own zip codes at the time. Big Brother were one of the most obscure acts on the bill and much discussion was made before the show about whether acts like them and the similarly unknown 'Melanie' (a friend of Paul Simon's) and 'A Band With No Name' (dubbed 'The Band With No Talent' after a poor gig) could hack it with the big boys. Janis and co though know what a big deal this is for them, to play in front of all those people, and turn in easily the performance of their lives. It isn't just 'Mama Cass' in the film version who mouths 'oh wow' at the sight of a barely-pout-of-her-teens white Texan female singing blues like she comes from a different race, gender, area and age - the whole audience are feeling it too and Big Brother get easily the biggest applause of the night (possibly along with Ravi Shankar and Otis Redding, the festival's other 'hits', although I still say the biggest is for Janis).

It's not hard to see why: although Big Brother and come to that Janis' later bands were very much a rollercoaster ride, glorious one minute and full of mistakes the next, they nail every second of this twenty minute performance, with every performance 'definitive'. A killer 'Down On Me' - the only song  included here from the debut album - sounds so intense and aggressive compared to the rather timid version on album it's hard to believe this is the same band just a few months apart. Sam's 'Combination Of The Two', though technically written for the Filmore East crowd, is the perfect 'free love' anthem for a crowd of hippies looking to 'feel good' and performed with a real tightness and pounce that even the 'Cheap Thrills' version can't match. Even the second album outtakes like the downright peculiar one-word 'Harry' with opening and closing squiggles and the stop-starty dead-end 'Roadblock' suddenly make sense on stage: 'Harry' is about pushing music to its limits and not playing it safe (very Monterey) and 'Roadblock' sounds less about the 'obstacles' and more about the sheer joy of freedom when the song suddenly gets out the slow lane and zooms like never before. Best of all is 'Ball and Chain', introduced by Janis in one persona the world doesn't quite know yet ('Little Girl Blue', all lost and timid and shy) and then belted out to the other extreme, with Janis' persona 'Pearl' coming out of nowhere to own that stage. Blues really shouldn't have worked in front of the Monterey crowd and their optimistic vibe, but this song's crests and valleys have never been more incredible than here: Janis doesn't just act out this song she lives it while the ever under-rated Big Brother are the perfect backing band, walking with her every inch of the way without getting in front of what their singer is trying to say. This is by far the weightiest version of Big Brother's weightiest song and it's a majestic performance that even Janis' beloved blues singer Bessie Smith couldn't have managed.

What's fascinating is that by rights Janis and Big Brother shouldn't have worked on that gloriously sunny day with this track selection (the band were right at the 'heart' of the festival, playing midway through the Saturday of the Monterey weekend). Of the five songs they played that night only two had been in their set list for any length of time, a further two will never really be deemed as anything other than 'support' songs relegated to the vaults until after Janis' death and two of them ('Combination' and 'Roadblock') only feature Janis in a supporting role. All of them, with the exception of 'Combination' are all bitter, sad songs quite unlike anything else the 'love crowd' are enjoying that June night. And yet it all works brilliantly, through force of personality, the weight of the performance and the entire band turning on the star quality just when it mattered (and not just Janis -the gonzo guitar solos performed this day are exceptional, Big Brother at their overdone 'let's go for it and see' formula at its best). Had any one of these factors been missing from the band's set they might have gone over the heads of their audience - as in truth will happen a lot on the 1968 1969 and 1970 tours. Instead Big Brother perform easily the best gig of their careers just at the point where it really mattered, impressing as many influential people backstage as they did in the crowd that night. Not least manager Albert Grossman, who stepped in to take over their management and won them a much more lucrative deal with Columbia than they'd had on Mainstream Records, who what with the debut album due two months down the line from here must have been rubbing their hands with glee (this caused a major problem though, as Columbia had to wait another year for the contract to run out before releasing anything new).

Big Brother, it seems, were born unlucky. Even on the night of their biggest success there came tears: worried that his bands were being 'manipulated' for the event and filmed 'for free' Big Brother' manager ordered the director of the film recording D A Pennebaker and his crew off the stage. The band were furious when they walked off having played the show of their lives only to realise that only the sound had been recorded - the Monterey committee weren't at all happy that the biggest hit of the show so far hadn't been filmed either. In the end Big Brother were the only band invited back up to the stage for an encore, performing a slightly less intense version of 'Ball and Chain' on the Sunday night where once again the audience go nuts for it. The only trouble with that performance, as seen in the film, is that Janis is so enjoying having 'made it' at last that she can't wipe the smile from her face even though she's meant to be singing the blues. Luckily the whole audio of the show was preserved - in downright impressive sound for the period too - and has been released a few times over down the years. The version listed above is the most 'complete'  version of the show, released as part of a box set on Columbia with three of the label's other acts who'd sung that day one of them , not even our own beloved Grateful Dead, come close to Janis however; the exact same complete track selection was additionally released as part of 'Monterey International Pop Festival', a four CD set on 'Rhino' in 1992 (in which only Otis and The Who come close). Extracts from this show have additionally been used on various Joplin compilations, notably the 'Janis' box set and the massive 'Blow All My Blues Away' one. However you owe it to your ears to fig out the whole set if you possibly can.

 Big Brother And The Holding Company "Live At Winterland '68"
(Columbia/Legacy, Recorded April 1968, Released June 1998)

Down On Me/Flower In The Sun/I Need A Man To Love/Bye Bye Baby/Easy Rider/Combination Of The Two/Farewell Song/Piece Of My Heart/Catch Me Daddy/Magic Of Love/Summertime/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Ball And Chain/Down On Me

"I'm sittin' here late in the evenin' wondering why why why did I ever leave?"

 ‘Winterland’ is a ragged but atmospheric run through Big Brother’s repertoire up to that time featuring ten songs from their pair of albums and four common outtakes the band performed right up until their split. The tracks from the band’s eponymous debut album sound much better here as the band clearly know the arrangements that much better and don’t have recording jitters, but the songs from ‘Cheap Thrills’ pale in comparison to the studio, live and studio-live hybrids on that LP. At least they do with the exception of ‘Ball And Chain’ which is by far the best thing here, with Janis suddenly waking up as she determines to do the song justice and dragged out for nearly ten gloriously torturous minutes. One of the better versions of the fun outtake ‘Magic Of Love’ and the ever-popular ‘Piece Of My Heart’ in particularly spiky mood are the other highlights here. If ragged and raucous is your thing then this album is perfect for you, although it must be said that while the intensity of Big Brother's playing is as strong as ever there's arguably less finesse and telepathy between the players than there has been for the last couple of years, perhaps significant of how far apart the two sides are growing. Hearing this recording you begin to wonder if Albert Grossman was right after all, that Janis had 'outgrown' the band that made her famous. All that said I doubt many people walked away from these gigs disappointed: the showmanship is still very strong, it's just playing this set back to back with other similar performances that makes it all sound a bit more predictable. For the record the concert is actually compendium of the best of two very similar gigs played on April 12th and 113th and skilfully edited together to re-create a whole show (as by 1968 Big Brother's set lists didn't tend to change that often). Perhaps the best thing about this set are the excellent sleevenotes, containing period and contemporary views from the whole band and offering up a rather good insight into the San Francisco scene during the mixed year of 1968 when the state had drooped a bit between the highs of 'Monterey' and 'Woodstock' either side of it.

Big Brother And The Holding Company "Live At The Carousel Ballroom '68"

(Columbia/Legacy, Recorded June 1968, Released March 2012)

Combination Of The Two/I Need A Man To Love/Flower In The Sun/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Summertime/Catch Me Daddy/Call On Me/Jam - I'm Mad/Piece Of My Heart/Coo-Coo/Ball And Chain/Down On Me/Call On Me

"Attention to all Hell's Angels in the house - the police are going to be on your bikes in a few minutes to tow them away, so if Tramp and Tiny are out there you better get back to your bikes, man!"

Having just finished recording sessions for 'Cheap Thrills', Big Brother are back on the road for what turned out to be their last major concert with Janis in the group, selections from which had already been released on the 'Janis' box set although this CD featured the whole second show. Big Brother aren't exactly in great form - they're still largely coasting after their Monterey high of the year before and sound tired rather than inspired, with plenty of evidence of their infamous sloppiness. Despite the new songs in their repertoire, Big Brother just stick to the usual tonight, with five songs from the in-the-works  'Cheap Thrills' and a similar number from their first LP (songs which now sound spacier and harder-edged than before). There are two new songs, both sung by Sam rather than Janis, the fun proto-punk song 'It's A Deal' (which make the band sound more like Steppenwolf than ever) and the curious seven minute jamming session 'I'm Mad' (the closest Big Brother get to sounding like colleagues Jefferson Airplane, though sadly the sound doesn't really suit them) - neither are exactly essential and sound like they would have been something of a backwards step had the band made a third album on these lines together. Of the old friends only a tough version of 'Summertime' (with some nice vibrato on the guitars) and a fiery 'Light Is Faster Than Sound' really cut it - everything else sounds tired and un-co-ordinated, the band often coming in so slow it sounds like the band are at half-speed. 'Piece Of My Heart' for instance is dreadful, slowed down to the crawl of 'Turtle Blues' and while Janis never ever played a bad version of 'Ball and Chain' in her life, this is one is by far the weakest officially released to date (to be fair, it is near the end of a gruelling tour and while they were probably asked permission for the microphones to be put on stage they probably never had a second's thought about people actually getting to hear these tapes in years to come). However as a time capsule of a time that isn't so well covered, this is still a welcome release, a welcome reminder of how far the band got before Janis left them in the lurch and full of immense period detail (such as the pa message to two hell's angels in the audience that the cops are trying to tow their bikes away!)

The show was recorded by Stanley Owsley, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, who had a major collection of San Francisco rock groups and was a regular sight at the Carousel Ballroom (later The Winterland). In actually fact this was the last archival release Owsley oversaw and was in fact finished to instructions he left for when he was dead and gone - which is quite something given that nearly a hundred 'archive' releases bear his name (this is the first in a series of planned 'Sonic Journals'  Given the age of the tapes and the fact that they weren't professionally recorded (ie by a record company with the intention of immediate release) they stand up rather well. The guitars pop and squeal throughout, Janis' mike is surprisingly low and all the vocals are to the far left of the mix (a very 1960s idea) and Dave Getz's drums clatter rather than pounce, but few there at the time would have complained: this was as good as things got back in 1968 and the fact that this show exists at all is reason enough for celebration. In actual fact Owsley recorded two sets including a gig Big Brother played at Carousel the night before, suggesting the 'other' half of the tapes might be released one day too - although sadly the one rather shaky bonus track used here ('Call Me', the one song not performed again the second night) doesn't suggest there's a lost masterpiece in the vaults. Stanley Mouse, well known for his Grateful Dead covers, drew the cover art (Janis in big with the rest of the band in silhouette beneath her) but it isn't one of his best: she looks like King Kong kidnapping a microphone!

Janis Joplin "Live In Amsterdam"

(VPRO Radio, Recorded April 1969, Released '1996')

Instrumental (Me)/Maybe/Summertime/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Can't Turn You Loose/Combination Of The Two/Ball And Chain/Piece Of My Heart

"Keep on holdin' on, I'm gonna hold, never been easy but I'm gonna hold, Gotta keep on holdin' on to you baby, gotta gotta gotta keep provin', gotta keep holdin' on"

The Kozmik Blues Band's first tour was in Europe, in a vain attempt to get the band up to speed before appearing in the States which was, sadly, doomed. American audiences were upset that Janis was no longer with Big Brother and her shot at glory at Woodstock, though not that bad, was seen to be disappointing. By contrast European audiences who'd never seen Big Brother were generally very positive - the Kozmik Blues' soul-blues hybrid was the sort of thing that always went down well in Europe anyway (Otis Redding had a much bigger following there than he had in the States until right near the end) and it was probably a good move to 'break' the band in here. They're certainly in fine fettle on this show, playing with much pizzazz and power and only a few of the 'mistakes'  that will go on to be a regular feature of their sets. By contrast it's Janis who sounds slightly nervy and less than 100%, although she doesn't sing badly by any means. This set is noteable for the inclusion of two rare songs not often heard: the opening instrumental 'Me' written by saxophonist Snookie Flowers (and un-named on copies of the original album) and a fiery version of Otis' 'Can't Turn Me Loose' featuring Snookie again until the end when Janis finally shows up. Whilst the horns sound rather good playing pretty much the only up-tempo number in the set it's odd that Janis should give so much of what's quite a short show over to one of her colleagues. The other rarity here is pretty much the only post-Big Brother 'Combination Of The Two', with Janis handing the stage over to Sam one last time, which is best described as being rather over-ambitious and probably rightly dropped soon after. Horns and rock and roll don't often mix and the need to have space for the swinging horn section and a funky keyboard instead of the churning guitars all but robs the song of its main purpose. Still it's nice to hear Janis and Sam interacting one last time, however weird the setting. As for the rest of the show, it's solid but not spectacular, with less mistakes than usual but also less chances - The Kozmik Blues are clearly taking things steady during one of their earliest shows, which is understandable but something of a problem for us fans listening later; if only one of the shows from the next couple of months when the band and singer reportedly had it all together judging by the period reviews had been taped instead?

Janis Joplin "The Woodstock Experience"

(Sony/Legacy, Recorded August 1969, Released June 2009)

CD One ('I Got Dem Ol' Kozmik Blues Again Mama!') : Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Maybe/One Good Man/As Good As You've Been To This World//To Love Somebody/Kozmik Blues/Little Girl Blue/Work Me, Lord/Dear Landlord

CD Two (Woodstock): Raise Your Hand/As Good As You've Been (To This Whole World)/To Love Somebody/Summertime/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Kozmik Blues/Can't Turn You Loose/Work Me Lord/Piece Of My Heart/Ball And Chain

"I don't think I'm any kind of special person down here, I know better, but I don't think you're going to find anyone else who can say that they tried the way that I tried"

One of five double disc CD sets released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Woodstock, Janis' 'Woodstock Experience' is a little bit different to those felt by Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone and Johnny Winter: namely at the time there was perhaps too big of a fuss about Janis appearing with her new band after 'owning' the first big festival at Monterey and the general feeling is that they were no Big Brother. A ten hour delay because of bad weather didn't exactly help either. The Kozmik Blues Band actually turn in a far better set here than most of the other 1969 concerts but this new blues-based more melancholic band was always going to be a tougher sell to a hippie audience than Big Brother and their rather sad and downbeat set just wasn't right for a crowd of people wanting to sing and thrill to being young (not that the songs played at Monterey were that happy, but the performance of them was right for the times). Janis wasn't quite booed off the stage but she did receive only polite applause and - worst of all - was cut out of the original film entirely (though 'Work Me Lord' appears in the 'Director's Cut', where the director takes the moody she's-only-got-14-months-to-live black and white freeze frame approach that's quite different to the 'aliveness' of the set as a whole). Actually I've always rather liked this set which features some of Janis' darkest and bravest material including pretty much all the best songs from the forthcoming 'Kozmik Blues' album receiving their live premiere and most of the best of the Big Brother material too, revisited in a new horn-drenched setting. The Kozmik Blues Band always struggled - there are just too many players for them all to get it all right all the time - but they've clearly been well drilled for this show in particular and are at their best in places, noticeably 'Work Me Lord' and a chilling 'Summertime' with Sam Andrew on hand to tackle the tricky guitar chord changes with aplomb. However this is Janis' show and she's an excellent front-woman here, especially her opening worry that the crowd is alright that they're 'staying stoned and got enough to eat and water...', something none of the other acts think to ask, although she's not quite sure what their mass roared response means (I'm not sure either - a mixture of 'yes' and 'no' and a few unrepeatable things by the sound of it!)

Like the other sets in the series, you get to experience not just the concert but the period album as well - which is a shame in this case actually because Janis was one of the few artists brave enough to submit the crowd to her new songs almost all the way through, leading to no less than five repeats. However there are a few oddities amongst the material: Janis never did release 'Raise Your Hand' on record in her lifetime despite it being one of her most popular songs, whilst her saxophonist Snookie Flowers gets to sing his own 'Can't Turn You Loose' (or 'Can't Burn Your Goose' as she mis-reads it!) There are some unusual songs played live from Kozmik Blues too such as a rather unwieldy and raucous 'Good As You've Been To This Whole World' and a particularly mournful rendition of the title track. All in all its no Monterey and this is no Big Brother, but I for one rather like this darker and sadder Janis and the Kozmik Blues Band make much more sense here than on record and in other live shows.

 "Live In Honolulu"

(**, Recorded July 1970, Released '1975')

Tell Mama/Half Moon/Move Over/'Stage Problems'/Maybe/Summertime/'Banter'/Get It While You Can/Kozmik Blues/'Encore Break'/Piece Of My Heart

"Yeah! Rock and roll baby!"

One of the problems with having such a short legacy at a time when professional and unprofessional taping was in its infancy is that it's rather pot luck what gigs your tape-recorder-owning audience are going to be able to go to. One of Janis' last shows is marred by continual stage gremlins which, thanks to the tape admirably being released warts and all as it happened, kills the mood every time the gig just seems to get going. The Full Tilt Boogie Band, not used to playing on the road or to their new singer just yet, sound understandably rusty and chaotic and make Big Brother sound sleek and professional by comparison. Having been heavily criticised for her 'Kozmik Blues' album and not enough time having passed since her Big Brother days, Janis sticks religiously to her 'Pearl' material bar three older songs - which despite its strong reputation really isn't a set of songs suitable to the road and the audience seems to agree (it's never a good move to give an audience so many things they don't know all at once). In fact a rather Madrigal style 'Summertime', alternating between peace and quiet and chaos, is easily the best thing here, perhaps because the band 'know' the song that little bit better. Overall, then, 'Honolulu' is probably the weakest Janis Joplin concert out there. However there's one thing that still makes this set great: being at the beginning of a tour before her voice has begun to wear itself in Janis in on top form, a wailing and a shaking with the best of them and nailing every song despite the many distractions going on. Most interesting of all, though, is the sheer amount of (admittedly slurred) chat to the audience throughout the show - much of it improvised to cover up for the stage hands desperately trying to get it together as much as the singer. In another world Janis could have had her own TV show like Lulu and Cilla et al or become an improvisatory comedian as she holds her own here ('Are you ready yet? What do you mean 'no'?' becomes something of a catchphrase!) Wretched yet worthy all at the same time and long overdue a CD re-release sometime soon.

"Wicked Woman - The Last Concert"

(Memory Records, Recorded August 12th 1970, Released '1976')

Intro/Tell Mama/Half Moon/Mercedes Benz/My Baby/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Maybe/Summertime/Full Tilt

"One of these mornings you're going to rise up singing, you'll spread your wings and take up to the sky"

So here it is - the final concert of Janis' short life, taped at Harvard Stadium, Boston, Massachusetts, on August 12th 1970 less than two months before her death. The opening to this set speaks volumes. The emcee has been sent on stage to tell the audience that the delay is because of problems with the sound and not - no way hose - because Janis and band haven't turned up again. As it turns out we know now that the problem was that a load of thieves had nicked the band's amplifiers from a show earlier in the week and the roadies were struggling to set up loaned equipment  - but that's not something that is explained very well here. The audience don't sound convinced, greeting the poor chap with a groan and a slow handclap - and sound downright shocked when the band finally walk out on stage. So low had Janis' stock fallen and her notoriety soared that clearly everyone in the room is expecting a rather dismal ride home, not the blistering half hour show they get here. Far from sounding as if she's heading to her grave gracefully, Janis is in feisty form throughout, spending her last ever show (captured by chance by a fan in the audience on his portable tape recorder - so the sound is indeed shocking but, hey, that's accidental moments in history for you), rocking out one last time with the passion and conviction of old. Interestingly Janis is split pretty much half and half between her 'new' album 'Pearl' (then in the works -a slightly slower a capella  'Mercedes Benz' goes down particularly well) and her last album 'Kozmik Blues' (a tearful 'Maybe' may well be better than the album version, although alas the taper seems to have moved to the back of the room as the quality gets far worse for this track). She only plays one old 'classic' song to say goodbye with: a nice dramatic reading of 'Summertime'. The Full Tilt Boogie Band - who even get their own play-out with the non-album instrumental 'Full Tilt Boogie' - are struggling a little throughout the gig, playing a bit scrappily and for the most part struggling to keep up (seriously, they were a lot worse than even The Kozmik Blues Band live, however good they sounded in the studio). However Janis more than makes up for this - her star is burning bright. She's also very chatty, telling the audience before the start of 'Try' about her old apartment in San Francisco and her prostitute neighbours, worrying about what happened to them all now that she's famous and offering a real glimpse into her life before fortune came a-knocking. Alas the audience don't want to hear it, screaming at her en masse to shut up and start singing again. I bet they regret it now. Not the best concert Janis ever made - it's one of the shortest for starters - but an important piece of history and one which, considering it was taped only by chance (what if the taper hadn't got tickets or gone to the night before?) is highly welcome, lo-fi sound and all. Released for the first time rather neatly at the start of the punk movement, this angrier and more aggressive than normal powerhouse performance suggests that Janis was exactly this far ahead of her time.

Big Brother And The Holding Company "Be A Brother"

(Columbia, '1970')

Keep On/Joseph's Coat/Home On The Strange/Someday/Heartache People//Sunshine Baby/Mr Natural/Funkie Jim/I'll Change Your Flat Tyre Merl/Be A Brother

"With this crazy wild and hunted look in their eyes"

When Janis left it seemed as if Big Brother were all over. Sam had agreed to carry on as her right-hand guitarist in the Kozmik Blues Band and both Peter and Dave had joined the equally lucrative San Francisco band Country Joes and the Fish (lasting for one record, the rather average 'Here We Go Again' in 1969, whose weary title about sums it up). However things weren't quite working out for any of the five across 1969 and all felt as if they had moved too far from the sound that made them distinctive. After Country Joe and the Fish dried up, Peter and Dave spoke about getting back together again with James Gurley and with David Nelson of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage as Sam's replacement. In the end they didn't need to as Janis dissolved the Kozmik Blue Band and pointedly failed to hire Sam for her new Full Tilt Boogie Band in 1970, leaving four of the five Big Brothers to get back together again as if they'd never been away. To fill Janis' very large lungs they brought in two extra members: Nick Gravenites, who managed to have feet in both camps in this period and alternated sessions for this album with 'Pearl' and a new female singer Kathi McDonald, who got about as close anybody could to the thankless task of 'being' another Joplin. The band worked hard on the album and were enjoying a meagre success with it until understandably it got overshadowed by Janis' death a few weeks later. Big Brother, it seems, were always going to be undervalued next to their Big Sister.

That's a shame because, while no 'Cheap Thrills', 'Be A Brother' is arguably the second best Holding Company around and much of the band's old sound and power and quirkiness survives the 'missing' couple of years intact. The band's songwriting was always a bit up and down anyway (what other band would even think of this record's 'comedy' track 'I'll Change Your Spare Tyre Merle', a country spoof haranguing Merle Haggard for always being moody) and that hasn't really changed with this album which will make you go 'what the?' at least as often as you go 'yeah'. However there's none of the timidness of the debut's material and Big Brother at least prove that there was more to their sound than just Janis' presence. The best tracks, such as the jazzy instrumental  'Home On The Strange' and the pop-rock title track could have been Big Brother standards in another world and will live on long in the band's setlists alongside the tracks they did with Janis. However it's sweet ballad 'Heartache People' that's by far and away the best thing here, a gravelly voiced Nick Gravenites despairing of all the sad people out there who suffer at the hands of others - eerily close to Janis' final months depending which biographies you 'trust' more. The track, a cross between 'The House Of The Rising Sun' and 'Eleanor Rigby', is more than worthy of the band's illustrious past and could only have been improved had Janis herself been singing the lead (alas the only time Big Brother and Janis reunite again - for one last gig in April 1970 - they perform this song but Janis keeps quiet, a definite lost opportunity!

Impressively, the band keep their blues roots despite the fact that without Janis they were more prone to psychedelia - although with that format old hat by 1969 it's arguably about the one thing they couldn't do anymore and still be popular. The band even re-use the idea of having a 'cartoon' on the front cover, although in keeping with the album it's a little more 'primitive' than the one on 'Cheap Thrills', a drawing of a friendly caveman waving. The only thing really working against this album is that Sam and James don't get anything like the same amount of opportunities to fire off their blistering solos the way they once did, with the songs tending to run under their natural running time rather than over as in the past. Given that we've already been robbed of Janis, it seems a shame that fans should be robbed of the 'other' sound that made the band so distinctive. Still, overall, this is an impressive work with more than enough reasons to give in and join the brothers.

Big Brother And The Holding Company "How Hard It Is"

(Columbia, '1971')

How Hard It Is/I've Been Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby/House On Fire/Black Widow Spider/Last Band On Side One//No Booglaoo Jam/Maui/Shine On/Buried Alive In The Blues/Promise Her Anything But Don't Give Her Arpeggio

"All caught up in a landslide, bad luck pressing in from all sides, just got knocked off my easy ride, buried alive in the blues"

Big Brother album number four - the second post-Janis - was the first to be released after her death. In many ways it's a tribute to her, with their new singer Nick Gravenites reviving the song 'Buried Alive In The Blues' that Janis was meant to be recording the day she died and at last offering a clue as to how Janis might have sounded like singing it (although Nick is at least an octave lower!) Many of the lyrics might well refer to Janis too and the legacy she's left the band, already struggling to live up to her shadow but forever doomed after she died and became an 'icon'. While Big Brother were never the sort of band who went for 'concept albums' there is a theme throughout of disconnection, of being slightly lost after a tragedy - summed up by the weird (for some scary) album cover where the original quartet are featured without faces, their bodies being possessed by a 'heavenly glow' in the inside cover art.

The result is an improvement on 'Be A Brother' without quite matching the heights of 'Cheap Thrills', even though this album seems to have been sequenced to resemble it. Once again there are three instrumentals, with the other seven songs divided vocally between Sam, Nick and Kathi (who strangely is only credited on the one song) and there's even more of a 'blues' flavour to this record despite the fact that before Janis joined Big Brother were largely a psychedelic rock act. They suit the blues, though, and especially given the circumstances there's a weight and solemnity to this album that suits this older, wiser band. Highlights include the slinky, strutting instrumental 'House On Fire' (where Gurley sounds more like Hendrix), the gorgeous folk song 'Black Widow Spider' (is this a Gravenites song about Janis? It's certainly about a powerful personality now sadly gone and the theme of expecting such an alive female to eat the male and survive seems very in keeping. Lines like 'you are my sad downtrodden funky child' seem born for Janis and Kathi's vocals are her most Janisy yet; then again it could be for James' wife Nancy who overdosed a year before Janis in 1969) and the delicate instrumental  'Maui' (which offers a real 'Summertime' vibe with the three-way flying guitars).However its the much-talked about 'Buried Alive In The Blues' that's the big talking point for so many reasons and it doesn't disappoint - you can just imagine how Janis would have sounded on this sad yet feisty song about everything going wrong and while Big Brother dispense with the Full Tilt Boogie's hard-edged riff for some softer jazz guitar both versions would have given Janis plenty of space for the emotion and pleading that was her stock in trade. If admittedly the rest of the album is a little self-indulgent and weird, retreating back to the 'novelty' approach of the first album, there's still more emotion and power here than on most albums and the band do Janis' legacy proud but in a quiet, dignified manner rather than shouting 'tribute album' from the rooftops. What a shame that this was to be Big Brother's last - a combination of poor sales (even sympathy for Janis didn't help this album sell as much as it deserved), struggles over musical direction, disagreements over managers, drugs, the part-time capacity of Nick and Kathi and James Gurley's own troubles (he was on probation and couldn't travel far after his wife Nancy died from a drug overdose he administered - though as both were keen drug users and this was far from unusual behaviour the never-ending  police harassment seemed more than a little unfair to a grieving husband) putting a premature end to a once great band. In a way it's a wonder that they managed to last as long as they did without the spotlight Janis brought to them. Big Brother will be back though, against all odds, before the end of this book. Fans of our CSN book might be interested to learn that the keyboardist on this record is a very young Michael Finnigan some five years before he becomes a regular in their band (and all but becomes David Crosby's vocal replacement during his  'drug years' of the mid 1980s). 
 Janis Joplin "In Concert"

(Columbia, Recorded '1968-70', Released May 1972)

Down On Me/Bye Bye Baby/All Is Loneliness/Piece Of My Heart//Road Block/Flower In The Sun/Summertime/Ego Rock//Half Moon/Kozmik Blues/Move Over//Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Get It While You Can/Ball And Chain

"You wonder if there is - woah - another me, you wonder how can that be?"

Amazingly Janis' first ever official live album, this hodge-podge release features a random assortment of concert extracts from shows made on March 2nd 1968 in Detroit, the Winterland on April 12th 1968, The Carousel Ballroom on June 23rd 1968, The Fillmore West on April 4th 1970 and the 'Festival Express' that toured across Canada  between late June and early July 1970. Most of these recordings have since been released as full concerts (the Winterland and Carousel Ballroom shows, with highlights from the 'Festival Express' show released on the DVD) but there's still quite a long list that's still exclusive to this compilation. Strangem too, that the concerts in Honolulu and Amsterdam weren't included as part of this set as both were known to exist at the time (the 'Wicked Woman' concert was found later). The most interesting is the early Big Brother show from Detroit with the whole band on top rocky form as they blast through superlative versions of 'Down On Me' and 'Piece Of My Heart' - hopefully the rest of the show exists somewhere and will be released one day. There are some unusual songs in amongst the listing too: 'Ego Rock', a rare Joplin-Gravenites collaboration from late 1969, was released officially for the first time here (though it's not quite a long lost classic) and Big Brother outtakes 'Flower In The Sun' and 'Roadblock' were also being released for the first time, although neither sounds quite as good as they would on other releases.

Elsewhere there's a rare revival of 'All Is Loneliness' from the 'Full Tilt Boogie' Days where the band do a good job of sounding like Big Brother and add a shuffle jazz beat to the usually a capella 'round'. However sadly the 1970 shows - both the Fillmore and the Festival Express ones are heavy going: The Full Tilt Boogie Band are flat footed, sounding tired and flat, while for all of Janis' attempts to gee up the sound she's fighting a losing battle from the start. Which is a shame because the best of these Festival shows are a long way from the 'train wreck' featured here - sadly whoever compiled this album simply 'missed' the really good nights captured  by the film crew. Still, the fact that this double record managed to be so mixed - with a terrific first half and a dodgy second - is sadly rather apt for a singer who so often struggled to make a whole concert great from end to end. There's a definitive Janis Joplin set out there somewhere, made up of all those magic moments when she was on it, taken from all her three bands - but this isn't it I'm afraid. Still, at the time when fans were still mourning Janis' loss and none of these concerts were available at all 'In Concert' was a welcome reminder of how just much life, love and energy went into Janis; performances and how hard she worked to give her all every night. A CD re-issue, perhaps with extended track selections from the concerts still unavailable at the present time, would be highly welcome.
"Greatest Hits"

(Columbia, July 1973)

Piece Of My Heart/Summertime/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Cry Baby/Me And Bobby McGee/Down On Me/Get It While You Can/Bye Bye Baby/Move Over/Ball And Chain
CD Bonus Tracks: Maybe/Mercedes Benz

"I'd trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday"

Waiting a surprisingly reverential three years after Janis' death to release their first 'tribute' compilation, Columbia released an album which did a great deal to keep Janis' legacy alive all those years she wasn't around to do the job herself. In the CD age of course this ten-track 41 minute compilation seems a little stingy and even the addition of two songs to the CD edition (with 'Mercedes Benz' always curious by its absence) doesn't make it as good as some other more complete Joplin best-ofs out there on the market. Even at the time there was a bit of a feeling that Columbia could have done more - the cover photo of Janis climbing on top of a Hell's Angels motorbike she doesn't know how to ride isn't exactly the way most fans would remember her and the lack of sleevenotes and eulogies in the packaging seems like a wasted opportunity somehow (though at least it's better than some posthumous best-ofs which can read like church services written through the eyes of somebody who'd never even heard of the deceased). However this set does its job, the track selection is chosen with care (though putting the tracks in the order they were released would have made it better still) and Janis' legacy is kept intact for a new generation to discover and fall in love with.

 "Janis" (Soundtrack Recording)
(Columbia, '1975')

CD One: Mercedes Benz/Ball And Chain (Live 1969)/'Try' Intro/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) (Live 1970)/Summertime (Live 1969)/Interview (Royal Albert Hall 1969)/Cry Baby//Move Over/Dick Cavett Interview (1970)/Piece Of My Heart/Port Arthur High School Reunion/Maybe (Live (1969)/Me And Bobby McGee

CD Two: Trouble In Mind/What Good Can Drinkin' Do?/Silver Threads And Golden Needles/Mississippi River/Stealin'/No Reason For Livin'/Black Mountain Blues/Walk Right In/River Jordan/Mary Jane/Kansas City Blues/Daddy Daddy Daddy/See See Rider/San Francisco Bay Blues/Winnin' Boy/Careless Love/I'll Drown In My Own Tears

"I'm blue, but I won't be blue always - 'cause that sun is gonna shine in my back door someday"

The little seen 'Janis' film of 1975 is deeply unusual as biopics go. Rather than using pasty faced actors in wigs or talking heads like most films do, this film is largely made up of archive footage and runs for a whole 90 minutes - impressive considering that Janis only had four years' worth of TV appearances to choose from. Unlike most biographies out there this one paints Janis as close to how she was as any one person can be on camera and we get all sides: the starstruck hungry young singer pushed far left of the cameras on a local San Francisco TV broadcast, the star of 'Monterey' with the world in the palm of her hands; the caring celebrity empathising with hippies at Woodstock, the diva mock-walking out of a Big Brother rehearsal only to mischievously turn round and curtsy as the others call her back. Janis; family for one weren't that keen on how their daughter/sister was portrayed and while they couldn't block the film when it first came out they have blocked it from being re-issued since and vetoed the 1979 sequel which was meant to be a more dramatised version of Janis' life (it got changed as little as the creators could get away with legally and released as 'The Rose' in 1979).

While many critics loved the film what they liked best was the audio - picking up on this Columbia sanctioned a 'soundtrack' release the following year for fans containing much of the TV and film soundtracks (the KQED show from 1967, the 'Monterey' show, 'Woodstock' and most interestingly of all some shots of Janis and Big Brother trying to rehearse in 1968 - trying being the operative word, as they're clearly heading to the end of the road together here). With so much of this material then-unreleased fans were eager to buy this set, but alas copyright issues meant that 'Janis' was far from being as satisfying as the film. A tiny sticker on the front label reveals the problem - that many of the live recordings featured in the film have been substituted with 'hit versions' - which means that they're just the same recordings every Janis fan already owned ten times over. What's more its not even that good a representation of Janis as best-ofs go: others on this list cover more ground in less time.

However 'Janis' is still a necessary purchase in many ways. The few live recordings that do escape the wrath of copyright owners are excellent: a dramatic 'Ball and Chain' and a full-throated 'Maybe' both live in Germany in 1969, a feisty 'Try' from the Festival Express in 1970 and a snippet from the excellent third (or second surviving) clip from the Dick Cavett show are all must-haves and the film crew following Janis around her Port Arthur school reunion is perhaps the most revealing footage of Joplin of all (she goes in with such high hopes, starts off her witty ebullient self and though she tries to cover it up is clearly stung by both her old classmates' continued denial of her talent and the dumb questions by local journalists - all caught for posterity on TV and perhaps the real reason the Joplin family have tried to block this film for so long). All receive their first release - and in many cases their only official release to date (though a lot has since come out on the 'Blow My Blues Away' box set).

The main thrill of this album in 1975 though, sadly rather superseded now, was the chance to hear a whole 'bonus' film of Janis before she was famous with seventeen pre-Big Brother songs released for the first time. Though Janis sounds very different on them, she already sounds like a star in waiting and many people who bought this album were pleasantly surprised at just how listenable these lo-fi recordings of traditional folk and blues tunes were. Note that the 'Typewriter Tape' of 1965 hadn't appeared yet to these are the lesser quality, even earlier recordings for the most part, alongside a handful of songs from the tape Janis made with the Dick Oxtrot Jazz Quartet later in 1965. None of it is essential (although Janis' own song 'What Good Can Drinkin' Do?', the earliest song here, is endlessly fascinating both for how different and yet how the same it is, as a weary Janis laments waking up with another hangover and vows to get her life back together - but can't) and there's little here you'll want to repeat too often, but for fans starved of Janis product this was an extra special present that caught even her biggest fans on the hop. How did she get this good this fast without anybody promoting her to stardom earlier? Now of course all these songs are available somewhere else - 'Blow All My Blues Away' again for starters - but that still doesn't take away from this set the frisson of excitement at hearing a moment in history we thought was lost forever. Two questions though - what were these tapes doing added to the end of an archive film that didn't contain any of these recordings? (The earliest footage we have of Janis is that Big Brother show for San Francisco TV in early 1967) And why is this album still so rare, with no CD issue at all at the time of writing? (Surely there can't be more copyright problems?)


(Released '1980')

Piece Of My Heart/Summertime/Maybe/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/To Love Somebody/Kozmik Blues/Turtle Blues/Oh Sweet Mary/Little Girl Blue/Trust Me//Move Over/Half Moon/Cry Baby/Me and Bobby McGee/Mercedes Benz/Down On Me/Bye Bye Baby/Get It While You Can/Ball and Chain

"Honey I'm gonna take good care of Janis  - honey ain't no one gonna dog me down!'

Caught in between the single disc '18 Essential Songs' and the three-disc 'Janis' box set and eventually superseded by the 32-track 'Ultimate Collection' , there aren't many reasons to own 'Anthology' any more. However the set is a special one for an awful lot of fans, released to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Janis' passing and which successfully introduced a younger new wave generation to her work (a genre which owes much to Janis with its run of tough females from Blondie (who, still a waitress in 1970, once served a steak to Janis and got starstruck) to Siouxsie Sioux. Suzi Quatro was such a fan she modelled herself on Janis and still presents the odd programme or three about her heroine every few years or so). For a compilation this size the track selection is pretty much spot on too: even the under-rated 'Oh Sweet Mary' has made the mix this time whilst all four albums are well represented. Sometimes less really is more, although of course it's not as less as some lessess or as more as some mores know what I mean!

"Farewell Song"

(Columbia, February 1982)

Tell Mama/Magic Of Love/Misery'n/One Night Stand/Harry/Raise Your Hand/Farewell Song/Medley: Amazing Grace-Hi-Heeled Sneakers/Catch Me Daddy

"Let me hold you just once more, because I've been crying and I've still got the tears in my eyes...but don't you know that when you love someone whose precious they can never never never never never ever be had very cheaply"

Eleven years after 'Pearl' and Janis' catalogue was in danger of looking a little bedraggled and uncared for, with the same old tired material repeated over and over again. Thankfully 'Farewell Song' was a pretty decent rarities set that doesn't approach any of the four albums in terms of quality but does still have an awful lot of highlights considering that Janis only had four or so years to record most of  them in. The recordings are an odd mix of the famous and forgotten, the studio outtakes and the live favourites, the 'Cheap Thrills' era outtakes for the first time in exquisite sound and the uncomfortable hiss of the pre-fame tapes. On the plus side 'Magic Of Love' is far too good a song to have lain unloved for fourteen years and was much talked about by fans who still remembered how powerful this punky pop song with the snarling Sam Andrew guitar attack was. 'Catch Me Daddy' from the same era has less subtlety but features a monster performance - you wonder why this one was left in the vaults because while not the best material from 1968 the performers could never have played it any better than this. 'Misery'n' and 'Farewell Song', though less known and taped from live performances down the years, are more than worthy of the band's other 'Mainstream' era recordings and could have pushed that album much closer to brilliance had they been recorded a couple of months earlier (how eerie too that Janis' complex kiss off song, sung with a snarl on her lips but a tear in her eye too, should provide this set with it's perfect title). Finally 'One Night Stand' comes from the other end of Janis' spectrum, the first of a planned series of collaborations with close friend Paul Butterfield and his Blues Band (other Monterey stalwarts) that sadly only resulted in this one song - though rather far out of Janis' comfort zone it's a nice enough song and has a catchy chorus that boded well for future collaborations. When set against this the faux shrieking of 'Tell Mama' and 'Raise Your Hand' (both popular live favourites that strangely never made it to LP) the gloomy sound of 'Amazing Grace' and the 90 seconds of self-indulgent madness that is 'Harry' can't compete - but even if like most farewells this set goes on a bit long it's still a worthy au revoir to a performer who deserved never to be forgotten, so much more than just a one night stand. It is perhaps a shame that other oddities like 'Flower In The Sun' 'Mr Natural' and 'Dear Landlord' weren't featured here instead of these lesser moments - but still Columbia needed something left i  the vaults to tempt the next generation along I suppose. Of all of the label's worthy attempts to keep Janis' legacy alive this might well the be the best and it's admirable that the label decided to wait a decade instead of just rushing this product into the shops the week Janis died. 

Big Brother and the Holding Company "Joseph's Coat"

(Edsel Records, '1986')

Keep On/Joseph's Coat/Home On The Strange/Someday/Mr Natural/Funkie Jim/Be A Brother//How Hard It Is/You've Been Talkin' 'Bout Me Baby/House On Fire/Nu Bugaloo Jam/Maui/Buried Alive In The Blues

"The road of life is rough and steep, it's something like a nightmare creeping, if you don't give exactly what you take you might never wake"

After fifteen years away Big Brother got back together again for what was meant to be one last tour - which turned into some twenty years' worth of on-off gigging. Through the band were older and slower and took the difficult decision not to replace Janis with anyone (at least until the late 1990s when they brought in Cathy Richardson) they still had much of the old sparkle occasionally . To celebrate and publicise their return Big Brother released this generous compilation of their post-Janis days in the 1970s, with sides split between 'Be A Brother' (eight songs) and 'How Hard It Is' (six songs). As you may have read from our reviews of the albums, Joseph's Coat comes in many different colours - well more than the one-note Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on the same subject anyway - and it's a nice way of getting hold of most of the best of two obscure albums without forking out quite as much for the privilege. Impressively Big Brother don't include any of the Joplin-era songs that made them famous, instead standing on their own two feet and with so many of the better songs heard back to back this is ample proof of what a great band Big Brother still might yet have been in different circumstances.  However, with Nick Gravenites no longer in the band, he seems to have been sidelined somewhat which means that this album is missing two of the four most important tracks from these albums: Nick's ballads 'Heartache People' and 'Black Widow Spider'. At least this compilation includes the title track and 'Buried Alive In The Blues', though, the song Janis was meant to be working on the day she died which makes for a suitable if eerie album closer. Our advice is to still get the original albums anyway, although there's still much to like about this set.

 "Janis" (Box Set)

(Columbia/Legacy, '1993')

Disc One: What Good Can Drinkin' Do?/Trouble In Mind/Hesitation Blues/Easy Rider/Coo Coo/Down On Me/The Last Time/All Is Loneliness/Call On Me (Live)/Women Is Losers (Live)/Intruder/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Bye Bye Baby/Farewell Song (live)/Flowers In The Sun/Misery'n/Road Block (Live)/Ball and Chain (Live)

Disc Two: Combination Of The Two/I Need A Man To Love/Piece Of My Heart/Turtle Blues/Oh Sweet Mary/Catch Me Daddy/Summertime/Kozmik Blues/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/One Good Man/Dear Landlord/To Love Somebody/As Good As You've Been To This Whole World/Little Girl Blue/Work Me Lord/Raise Your Hand (TV s/track)/Maybe (TV s/track)

Disc Three: Me and Bobby McGee (Alt Take)/One Night Stand/Tell Me Mama/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Cry Baby (Rehearsal)/Move Over/A Woman Left Lonely/Half Moon/Happy Birthday John/My Baby/Mercedes Benz/Trust Me/Get It While You Can/Me and Bobby McGee

"Do I always sound like this? Whenever I hear myself on tape I think...God..."

How different might this box set have been had Janis lived long enough to add to it, expand it beyond the three discs that contain everything released officially up until 1993 (and a further 18 unheard songs)? What songs would she have chosen herself to represent these early years? How would she have felt about her pre-fame 1962 first recording and the 1965 'Typewriter Tapes' coming to light after her death? Would the material here still be regarded as the classics to listen out for (perhaps all tucked away on a single disc of a multiple box set?) Or would they be a mere footnote compared to what was to come? These thoughts strike you about many a posthumous release but particularly this one, which has the hard task of trying to summarise a life without having that much source material to access. Taking the brave decision not to replicate anything (even if that means including live takes of songs better known from studio LPs), 'Janis' gets as close as any set can as to what made Janis tick, from her beginnings as a rather good blues wailer on the opening tracks to a lone rehearsal take from 'Pearl' . A few songs are missing even so though - making this a set that's far less complete than it claimed to be at the time - but as most of these tracks tend to feature 'other' members of Big Brother on lead vocals or the unfinished backing track 'Buried Alive In The Blues' released on 'Pearl' this is more palatable a problem than it would be with some other box sets.

In all eighteen unreleased recordings see the light of day for the first time, some more important than others. By far the most fascinating come right at the start of disc one, with an oh so young Janis announcing a brand new original to a rather bored sounding crowd in 1962, introducing 'What Good Can Drinkin' Do?' as a song 'I wrote one night after drinking myself into a stupor' - though closer in style to Bessie Smith than anything Janis will do, it's thematically spot on, the theme tune if you will to Janis' career (basically saying 'why is my life such a mess? I reckon I'll drink some more to forget about it...'). The two 'Typerwriter Songs' (from a tape later released in full) are terrific - Janis finds the perfect accompanist in the pre-Jefferson Airplane Jorma Kaukanen and the pair are clearly musical soulmates (the sound is astonishingly good too despite the tippy-tap of Jorma's sister's typewriter as she tries to write a letter - her room was considered best for the 'acoustics' but she refused to leave it while the pair made this tape!) A live 'Call On Me' from March 1967 is tentative but sweet. A fascinatingly early 'Women Is Losers' from one of Big Brother's earliest rehearsals in 1965 is one of the best things on the set, more of a straightforward rock song than the blues lament it will become on album a staggering two years in the future. An alternate take of 'Farewell Song' is a little clumsy and slow, but getting there. A low-key 'Misery'n', an outtake from 'Cheap Thrills' and a bootleg regular, is nice to have on something official at last, with some nice wowy psychedelic guitar even though it's not really much of a song. A pair of songs from the Monterey festival are just great - 'Roadblock' (why on earth wasn't this on the Cheap Thrills album?) really soars while 'Ball and Chain' is jaw-dropping in its sheer power and intensity. A studio outtake of 'Catch Me Daddy' is less intense than some live versions around but still pretty kick-ass. A fascinating first take of 'Summertime' is another highlight, played much slower and with a much longer introduction, while the sudden 'drop' between one key to another in the solo isn't quite as 'clean' as the released version (still pretty good, though!) 'Dear Landlord', the only Dylan song Janis ever covered, is an outtake from 'Kozmik Blues' that sounds nothing like that record - it's up tempo, intellectual rather than emotional and has Janis at full scream throughout. It doesn't suit her either, although it suits the horn section. Two songs from a 1969 Ed Sullivan TV show appearance come next and find Janis on top form, although the Kozmik Blues Band rather struggle. Next on the rarities shelf comes a series of demos for 'Pearl' tapes for producer Paul Rothschild. Janis sounds drunk, slurring her words and complaining about how bad she sounds - even though she's rarely sounded better, with a really intimate stripped down version of 'Bobby McGee' that's easily up to if not better than the record. A rehearsal take of 'Cry Baby', though, is just shrill - though also good fun, Janis laughing at her own screechy vocal during the opening. 'One Night Stand', a Pearl-eras collaboration with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, is more to their taste than hers though Janis is on good form. Meanwhile we get the full take of 'Mercedes Benz' complete with Janis checking that the tape is rolling and promising that she can do it 'in one take' - which she does, tremendously. Finally, a busked 'happy birthday' for John Lennon's 30th birthday in October 1970 (part of a tape sent to The Beatle alongside one daft improv by Ringo, Stephen Stills and Billy Preston and in another studio George Harrison and Eric Clapton for what became the 'Apple Jam' disc of 'All Things Must Pass' ) is a mess, but a fun mess, Janis performing more like Vera Lynn as she wishes 'happy trails to you until we meet again' . Alas that reunion will only happen in 1980 and only then in rock and roll heaven.

That's plenty for fans to be getting to grips with and what's staggering is how good most of the rarities stand up against the songs we've known and loved for years. Janis may have had a short life, but it was a highly productive life and the demos, rough takes and live tracks reveal that Janis was rarely if ever having a 'bad night'. With everything you could possibly want to own, released in the 'proper' (ie chronological) order (more or less anyway) and nicely packaged throughout, 'Janis' is one of the better AAA box sets out there, one that manages the difficult task of appealing to newcomers while offering old timers enough reasons to fork out for 40-odd recordings they've already owned several times over. Perhaps the greatest single Janis Joplin purchase out there, this set is clearly made with a lot of love and care and is long overdue for a decent re-issue. Janis' reputation didn't need much to make it sparkle anyway, but this set arguably adds rather than detracts to that legacy and ultimately that's the most you can really ask of a box set by someone who sadly was not around to oversee it themselves.

 "Eighteen Essential Songs"

(Columbia, January 1995)

Trouble In Mind/Down On Me/Bye Bye Baby/Ball And Chain/Peace Of My Heart/I Need A Man To Love/Summertime/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/One Good Man/Kozmik Blues/Raise Your Hand/Tell Mama/Move Over/Mercedes Benz/Get It While You Can/Half Moon/Trust Me/Me And Bobby McGee (Demo)

"Honey, I say get it while you can!"

Well, dear reader, that title is clearly false isn't it? Even given that Janis managed just four albums in her lifetime eighteen songs is clearly not to wrap up everything that was essential about her back catalogue. For starters this one-disc dilution of the box set is missing the glorious 'Work Me, Lord', while the decision to include the pre-fame 'Trouble In Mind' (complete with jangling typewriter accompaniment!) and the alternate demo version of Janis; only genuine hit 45 single 'Me and Bobby McGee' is contentious at best. However, it's nice to see rarer songs getting another chance and by and large this track selection is rather good, with two songs from the first Big Brother album, four from 'Cheap Thrills', three from 'Kozmik Blues' and a staggering seven from 'Pearl'; perhaps a little too weighted to the later years but still as good as one-disc Janis compilations get.

Big Brother and the Holding Company "Can't Go Home Again"

(**, '1997')

Don't You Call Me Cryin'/I Know/As The Years Go Passing By/Three Times Last Week/Heartache/Tired Of It All/I Can't Go Home Again/Machine Song/Havana Ghila/Try It/Drivin' Stupid/Ghost Riders In The Sky/Ghost Riders (Reprise)

"There's a room with a window where I thought that I could see, there's a place where I thought I could remember..."

After some ten years of regular gigging and picking a lot of their loyal followers back up again, Big Brother went back to the studio to record their fifth album - after a twenty-six year wait! Though loose and raw even by Big Brother standards the aging band still have plenty of power in the way they attack these songs and there's a bigger range of styles than I was expecting with all aspects of the past (pop, rock, psychedelia, jazz, blues, folk) here across this thirteen track collection (alongside a typical bonkers Big Brother cover of something really ill-fitting - though instead of 'Hall Of The Mountain King' or 'Summertime' this time around its a revved up 'Havana Ghila'!) The slightly echoey sound is a shame, making Dave Getz's drums clatter like some glorified bootleg, and the arrival of Cathy Richardson on vocals was not without controversy. Whilst involved in this album James Gurley quit soon after, annoyed at the fact the band now sounded like a 'tribute act' with a pale shadow of Janis on vocals after ten years with the band sharing the vocals out between themselves and there's no denying that Richardson is a divisive figure amongst fans, reviled by as many as revere her. She's a mixed blessing to this album, terrific on the slower bluesier tracks that suit her (like the album highlight 'As The Years Go Passing By') or the frothier stuff such as 'Try It', although she murders some of the more traditional style Big Brother fare such as the grooving 'I Know'. The best tracks remain the instrumentals largely, such as the powerful attack of 'Machine Song' or the simplistic 50s groove of 'Drivin' Stupid', where Sam and James' guitar interplay can be heard one last time. Overall this album is another mixed Big Brother affair, as uneven an album as any in their uneven collection, perhaps slotting in right between the high of 'How Hard It Is' and the slightly lazy 'Be A Brother'.

 "The Ultimate Collection"

(Columbia, '1998')

Me and Bobby McGee/Move Over/Kozmik Blues/Piece Of My Heart/Down On Me/Try (A Little Bit Harder)/My Baby/Ball and Chain/I'll Drown In My Own Tears/Maybe/To Love Somebody/A Woman Left Lonely/Raise Your Hand/Magic Of Love/Bye Bye Baby/Buried Alive In The Blues//Cry Baby/Get It While You Can/Mercedes Benz/Little Girl Blue/Work Me, Lord/Summertime/Half Moon/Silver Threads and Golden Needles/San Francisco Bay Blues/Trust Me//Misery'n/One Good Man/Tell Mama/Medley: Amazing Grace-Hi Heeled Sneakers/One Night Stand/Farewell Song

" I want the light without the darkness, the sky without the sun - yeah!"

An interesting 32 track compilation from an artist who only ever released 29 tracks in her lifetime anyway (this set includes all of the nearly-finished Pearl album and a fair few outtakes released posthumously if you were wondering, whilst sadly losing all the Big Brother tracks that one of the other band members sang lead on). It's impressively comprehensive and offers a valuable insight into Janis' personality and career that other single disc sets just can't offer (making the eight track 'Greatest Hits' look like something of a joke). There are still issues with this set however: good as the pre-fame tracks in their own sweet way they don't deserve to be here amongst the 'big guns' and especially not scattered across the set at random - the wild and woolly sound takes some getting used to for one thing. Also, the set seems very much centred around the later years: five of the seven under-rated 'Kozmik Blues' tracks are here alongside the whole of  'Pearl' (which is arguably a bit too well catered for with even the backing track 'Buried Alive In The Blues' included). All well and good but the two Big Brother albums aren't at all well catered for with one and three songs respectively from the debut and 'Cheap Thrills'. Even with the Sam, Peter and James songs taken out the equations it seems strange that Janis' own 'I Need A Man To Love' and 'Women Is Losers' aren't here, songs as good as any from the first two albums (although I can't make as a strong a case for 'Turtle Blues') - especially as outtakes from those sets like 'Magic Of Love' does appear here. By contrast unfinished songs performed live but never recorded in the studio to anyone's satisfaction (including all but two tracks from the posthumous odds and ends set 'Farewell Song') are interesting to the collector but a bit less revisiting for the casual fan this set was presumably aimed at. This is also the very much the 'ultimate' studio Janis with no live recordings at all bar the 'Cheap Thrills' version of 'Ball and Chain' - given the amount of Joplin live shows released down the years that seems a bit of an oversight. Still, if you can't afford or don't want all four albums plus various rarities cluttering up your CD shelves this is a handy one-stop shop that gives you pretty much all the Janis you need to own.

Big Brother and the Holding Company "Do What You Love"

Take Off/Save Your Love/I Need A Man To Love/Bo's Bio/Women Is Losers/Freedom/The OK Chorale/Do What You Love/Back Door Jamb

"Fasten your seatbealt, it's a bumpy ride, swinging and shaking from side to side, singing and winging high up in the sky, a lotta turbulent - what a way to fly!"

Of course it's all very well doing what you love as long as someone else loves it too. The problem is that I'm not quite sure what demographic was meant to fall in love with this album. At times Big Brother are clearly appealing to their old fanbase: there's lots of the old powerful guitar work and there are two so-so re-recordings of old tracks with new vocalist Lisa Battle doing a half-Joplin; sensibly she backs away from Janis' full shriek but hearing her tackle both 'Women Is Losers' and 'I Need A Man To Love' at half-throttle, which seems a peculiarly pointless experience. At other times Big Brother are catering for modern tastes, with a very 1999 production (big and booming and ever so slightly directionless underneath the surface  - Robbie Williams was particularly big that year if that helps) and the sort of anonymous pop tunes that were regularly clogging up the charts in any era. On paper this album should be the best of the Big Brother reunion albums, not least because Sam has a hand in writing every song apart from the Janis re-makes and there are less instrumental fillers this time around. However it all sounds a little bit lacking: James Gurley left a couple of years before, annoyed at the decision to cast a Janis replacement after the band were getting along just fine without one and this album makes you realise just how much 'bite' his guitar-work brought to the band: both Andrew and Albin are great guitarists too and would be more than enough for any other band but Big Brother now very much sound like they're two people down now.
Despite Sam writing so much there isn't much here that sounds like Big Brother era either - both the folkier post-Janis band and the one who made 'Cheap Thrills'. Instead all that power and finesse of old seems to have been replaced by an album bordering on lightweight heavy metal. There's no longer any 'blues' here at all - just anonymous rock. However Big Brother have always been a band of surprises and this one is no exception. Just when you're on the verge of giving up and flogging this CD to swap for yet another re-issue of 'Pearl' in comes the delicate instrumental 'Freedom', all folk nuances and beauty that possesses one of Sam's loveliest melodies in his career. The song sounds so different to everything else here that it's hard to believe it's by the same band, but it is - with all the odd magic and the 'ha ha got you that time!' genre-bending that Big Brother always used to do so well. In fact the whole last quarter of the album is a triumph, coming with softer edges and a vastly extended palette than the previous eight over-noisy songs. Not that it's enough to rescue the album as a whole - Lisa is at times so expressionless and un-Janisy you begin to wonder why they hired her at all and tracks like the graphic reggae love song 'Save Your Love' are so awful that in keeping with the George Orwell theme of 'Big Brother' there's probably a copy sitting in my own personal Room 101 (alongside David Cameron, The Spice Girls and modern day pop in general). However the end of this album boded so well for a sequel that it's even more of a shame than ever that Big Brother left without providing an encore, leaving the rather odd 50 second instrumental 'Back Door Jamb' as a typically low key finale (at least they end with a song steeped in the blues I suppose, no matter how short). If only Big Brother had done more of what they loved - and stuffed pandering to modern day culture - this might yet have been a truly great LP worthy of their name. 

 "Rare Pearls"
(Columbia, '1999')

Released as 'Bonus' disc with 'Box Of Pearls' set containing re-issues of the four main Janis Joplin albums

It's A Deal/Easy When You Know How/Maybe (Live)/Raise Your Hand (Live)/Bo Diddley (Live)

"If there's ever anything that you need that you know you never ever had - and I know you've had it"

Columbia have spent years re-releasing and messing around with Janis' four-album discography but at last in 1999 they got it right. All four albums were released with new liner notes and a handful of bonus tracks each, all relevant to the period - at first released as part of a five disc set named 'Box Of Pearls' and eventually individually too. As part of that box set five songs were additionally released as the rather short running fifth CD, a 'bonus' EP that contained recordings that weren't used with the CDs for some reason ('It's A Deal' and 'Easy When You KNow How' should by rights both be on the debut album, with 'Maybe' a live song from the Kozmik Blues tour and the final two played by the Full Tilt Boogie Band across 1970 and outside contenders for 'Pearl'). None of the five recordings are truly un-missable, although all are welcome rare showcases of Janis' talent. 'It's A Deal' is a full throttle rocker with Peter Albin on lead; 'Easy When You Know How' one long guitar solo broken up by a couple of short Janis verses, with Sam Andrew testing out the sheer oomph of his guitar as he turns the amp up to its teeth-rattling maximum; a live 'Maybe' is disappointing, cut off prematurely at just four minutes long and while Janis is on good form the Kozmik Blues Band are all over the shop; live favourite 'Raise Your Hand' is ok but not up to some of the other versions out there; 'Bo Diddley' is perhaps the most essential extra here, a hypnotic riff written by Bo himself which comes with Janis at full shout and is a rare case of Big Brother finding their inner R and B monster. Sadly to date this set has never been released separately, making it an expensive way of tracking down every last Janis Joplin rarity released after her death, but if you're new to Joplin's career then the chance to own all four albums plus bonus tracks plus an EP that very few longterm fans bothered to fork out for can leave you feeling very smug indeed.

 "Super Hits"
(**, May 2000)

Piece Of My Heart/Cry Baby/Me and Bobby McGee/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/One Good Man/Move Over/I Need A Man To Love/Turtle Blues/A Woman Left Lonely/One Night Stand

"You take the stars out of the night"

Whilst other Janis compilations were going for length and detail, this budget compilation reduced Joplin's back catalogue down to basics again and catering for audiences who were curious about the singer but not curious enough to fork out full price for. Given the no-frills feel about this collection, it's actually not bad containing a couple of unusual tracks ('One Night Stand' and 'A Woman Left Lonely') that aren't always given the respect they deserve. However minus several zillion points for including 'Turtle Blues' over 'Ball and Chain'. For that reason alone I'm tempted to think that the 'super hits' title refers to how badly you want to throw this set across the record shop whenever you see it. 

"Love, Janis"

(Columbia, '2001')

What Good Can Drinkin' Do?/Letter Extract #1/Down On Me/Letter Extract #2/Women Is Losers/Letter Extract #3/Piece Of My Heart/Letter Extract #4/Letter Extract #5/Summertime/Letter Extract #6/Ball and Chain/Letter Extract #7/A Woman Left Lonely/Letter Extract #8/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Letter Extract #9/Little Girl Blue/Letter Extract #10/Me and Bobby McGee/Mercedes Benz/Letter Extract #11/Get It While You Can

" ...We wouldn't get a big national following like the Lovin' Spoonful or anything but we'd have a steady folliwing among the hippies and if you think that's not much beatniks are making money these days, there's such an upsurge amongst teenagers wanting to be hip!..I want audiences to look at me as a real performer"

Laura Joplin clearly adored her big sister who was able to lie the outrageous hippie lifestyle she always dreamed of. That shines through her book about Janis which is really more of an autobiography told through letters with the odd family anecdote attached - it speaks volumes that she kept most of the letters, even and especially the pre-fame ones when Janis was struggling and full of doubts. As erudite as ever she was in interviews but with less of a 'brave face' over her doubts and her fears, 'Love, Janis' is perhaps the best insight around to what made Janis tick. If they ever do a straight audio book of these letters then I'll be first in the queue (not that I'll know what shops to buy it from nowadays but at least I'll be first in an online virtual queue): honest, compassionate and endlessly fascinating whilst more fragile and more concerned with the home-life she'd left behind than you might be imagining I can't praise the book enough. However I never felt as if that book was the best starting block for a broadway show, the medium that's probably least Janisy out of all of them. This is an intimate, revealing book (what would Janis have made of its release and it's peek into her soul one wonders?) and the frisson of excitement discovering a new hidden facet of Janis' life feels as if it should be made in private rather than intoned from a stage (silly I know given how widely available the book is - or was, as it's need of a good re-issue). The fact that this 'soundtrack' CD features an actress rather than Laura herself reading the letters is unfortunate too - yes Catherine Curtin has a resemblance to Janis and if this was 'Spitting Image' or 'Dead Ringers' I'd be as impressed as anyone, but these readings are so personal it seems wrong to hear an outside voice reading them trying to act out the emotion and doubly so given how authentic Janis was in her lifetime. On the positive side the letter extracts are generally the ones I'd pick and most remember from the book: Janis' joy at gaining her first steady following, cackling that 'beatniks can actually make money these days', discussing what to spend her first royalty check on, regretting not writing to her mother after a serious operation, turning up to a fancy dress party as a 'straight party', pleading with her straight-laced family to come see her perform (her parents didn't but Laura did) and admitting to her mother she's just posed topless 'but it was Ok and you can hardly see anything - you'd like it if I sent you one, honest!' The decision to add music behind them also gives these letters an extra 'kick', although too often the recordings simply play the intros or the solos looped which soon becomes wearing and the use of the same old standard recordings to link thesongs seems a bit pointless (if you're enough of a fan to buy the soundtrack recording of an unsuccessful broadway play that mainly consists of an actress reading out letters then you already own more copies of 'Piece Of My Heart' and 'Ball and Chain' than you will ever know what to do with). The overall effect then is mixed - the letters are well worth hearing but they do sound better in your head so our advice is to buy the book, listen to Janis' voice in your imagination (which will sound more 'authentic' than any actress could ever be), stick the four official albums on back to back while you read it (that seems to be about the right length for my pace of reading - it's not a very long book so two-two and a half hours should do it if you don't linger long over the photos in the middle) and you'll have a much more interesting release than this. Love, Alan's Album Archives

"Essential Janis Joplin"

(Columbia/Legacy, January 2003)

Down On Me/Coo-Coo/Women Is Losers/Bye Bye Baby/Ball and Chain/Road Block/Piece Of My Heart/Misery'n/I Need A Man To Love/Summertime/Flower In The Sun/Farewell Song/Raise Your Hand/To Love Somebody/Kozmik Blues//Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Maybe/One Good Man/Little Girl Blue/Work Me, Lord/Tell Mama/Move Over/Cry Baby/A Woman Left Lonely/Half Moon/My Baby/Me and Bobby McGee/Mercedes Benz/Trust Me/Get It While You Can

"Keep the faith, baby, keep the faith in me"

Ten years on from the 'Janis' box set and it's time for a half-generation reminder of everything that made Janis great. Containing thirty songs from a singer who only ever released thirty-nine in her lifetime (we're being generous and assuming the nearly-finished 'Pearl' material counts by the way) is perhaps a little excessive but this set does at least offer value for money, being the cheapest means currently available of buying every Janis Joplin recording you need (well nearly everything - unforgivably the 'Ball and Chain' from 'Cheap Thrills' has been substituted by a still pretty good live version). Surprising choices unreleased in Janis' lifetime - 'Misery'n' ''Rod Block' 'Flower In The Sun' 'Farewell Song' - are perhaps curious additions, but given that they seem to be here as well as rather than instead of the classics every fan ought to own, that's more OK than it might have been. What very much isn't OK is the fact that this set was advertised with two exclusive songs, both taped at Woodstock, from a show that was then released in its entirety a few years later making the purchase of this set unnecessary. Don't you just hate it when that happens? Janis, who spent more care on her catalogue than many of her peers, would have been fuming. Still, if all you want to do is dip your toe in the water this set will still make your cup more than runneth over, with (almost) all of Janis' best work here.

"The Very Best Of Janis Joplin"

(Columbia, July 2003)

Me and Bobby McGee (Demo)/Cry Baby/Kozmik Blues/Move Over/Piece Of My Heart/Mercedes Benz/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Get It While You Can/Down On Me/Ball and Chain/Summertime/Mary Jane

"Don't expect any answers dear, for I know they don't come with age"

What does the phrase 'very best of' mean to you, dear reader? An album of the biggest hit singles? Well Janis only ever had two and one of those wasn't in her lifetime - but 'Puece Of My Heart' is absent and unfortunately it's the 'wrong' demo version of 'Me and Bobby McGee' that's used here (nice as that version is it's hardly a 'very best of'). Perhaps 'The Very Best Of' means fan favourites then? Well there's not really much of that here either: 'Ball and Chain' 'Summertime' and 'Mercedes Benz' are all here, but it would take a pretty committed fan to know all the other songs on this misguided album. And why is 'Mary Jane' here, a pre-fame track first released on the soundtrack of the film biopic 'Janis'?(a record which not many people bought anyway). This is one of those 'greatest hits' sets that seem to have been assembled at random - our advice is to skip it and get something else. 

Big Brother and the Holding Company "Hold Me: Live In Germany"

(Burnside, May 2008)

Down On Me/Combination Of The Two/Call On Me/Save Your Love/Blindman/ Summertime/Turtle Blues/It's Cool/Hold Me/Women Is Losers/Piece Of My Heart/Ball and Chain

"Blind man he stood on the way and cried 'show me the way to go home!'"

Although their reunion record hadn't sold that well Big Brother was still a Big Name in terms of their live fanbase throughout the next few years so it made sense for their next record to be a live one - amazingly it was to be the first ever Big Brother concert 'intended' by the band (as opposed to being taped for their records or being made unprofessionally by a fan). The track selection is heavy on their classic material (three from the debut album, a whole five of the seven tracks that made up 'Cheap Thrills') and with a tiny amount of songs from their post-Janis years and their last record. Clearly Big Brother can't play with the passion of old and Sophia Ramos is at best a Janis Joplin tribute singer, with all the notes and power but none of the finesse and character of Janis at her best. The fact that this set was recorded in the period when James Gurley had dropped out of the band, substituted for by new boy Chad Quist, is also a black mark against this set. Dave Getz's drumming has also audibly deteriorated (as any drummer who played that hard that many years ago would), leaving Big Brother all too painfully audibly like Big Grandfathers failing at recapturing their youth of years before. However in true Big Brother form this live set has it's moments - and not just 'better than the rest' moments but truly dazzling ear-blowing moments where everything is suddenly in sync and the years fall away. It happens a few times in this set, most often when the band get lost in a solo (the Albin-Andrews combination is still a powerful one even without James over the top of it) and there are quite a few moments that are up to anything from the past. 'Blindman', a song barely ever played by the original Big Brother sounds particularly good, old favourite 'Summertime' with an extended bass intro still has lost of the old magic, new song 'Hold Me' is a much better fit for Sophia than her attempts to sound like her predecessor and new song 'It's Cool' is a nine minute extended jazzy workout that proves how much more this band could have gone on to do. Whether all that is enough to hear old friends like 'Piece Of My Heart' and 'Ball and Chain' being submitted to the sort of neglect usually reserved for benefit claimants under Ian Duncan Smith in the Coalition is another matter. It's good too that we had a record of this era when Sam was still alive and sadly it does look at the time of writing as if this really is the end of the line for the Big Brother discography - in terms of new rather than archive releases at least. It's better than nothing I suppose - and in some places a whole lot better than nothing.  Our verdict: if you already own all the other Big Brother recordings then you might well be interested enough to 'hold' this album to see what they became - just don't expect to hold it too tight or for too long.

 "Playlist: The Very Best Of Janis Joplin"
(**, October 2010)

Down On Me/Catch Me Daddy/Call On Me/I Need A Man To Love/Summertime/Piece Of My Heart/Maybe/Dear Landlord/One Good Man/Raise Your Hand/Mercedes Benz/Move Over/Me and Bobby McGee

"Have another little piece of my heart baby - you know you got it if it makes you feel good!"

'Playlist' is an invention of record label Sony who re-issued around an hour's worth of hits for a wide range of artists in the 21st century and all feature the same distinctive white borders and 'jigsaw' front covers whereby a photograph is cut into three bits: large, medium and small and all featured side by side on the front. The unique selling point is the cheap price and the co-friendly packaging: instead of a 'proper' CD case the CDs come in a simple cardboard sleeve and instead of detailed booklets each disc contains a link to a website with pdf documents for all the relevant data. Many are 'personally selected' by the artist - although obviously that's a bit hard in Janis' case (she'd have done a better job, frankly). Quite Janis would have made of all this I'm not quite sure: she'd probably have been delighted to still be relevant to a whole new market (the series was designed to introduce older acts cheaply to younger fans who might not necessarily know much about them beyond hearing them mentioned as 'influences' on their favourite stars of the day) and probably keen to save the planet - but there's something  cheap and slightly throwaway about how the series is put together that goes beyond the minimal packaging. The track listing, yet again, seems to be assembled at random: any compilation that's missing 'Ball and Chain' is surely suspect and whole it's nice to see some of the rarer tracks from albums two and three shouldn't a CD this short keep to the 'obvious' rather than trying to be clever and include so many outtakes amongst the set  (there are three songs not released in Janis' own lifetime, 'Catch Me Daddy' 'Dear Landlord' and 'Rise Your Hand', none of which is really the singer at her best - at least if you're going to do that then use fan favourites like 'Magic Of Love' 'Flower In The Sun' or 'Roadblock'!) Still, at least this set is cheap and is easily good enough to encourage fans to seek out longer, better compilations so job kind of done, I guess.

 "Move Over!"

(Columbia/Legacy, '2011')

Magic Of Love/Call On Me/Piece Of My Heart/Summertime/Raise Your Hand/Bo Diddley/Move Over/My Baby

"You better get up, don;t you understand?, and raise your hand - though whether in love of Record Store Day or in protest is another matter!"

We've just had the eighth annual record store day the week I write this - a chance for record companies and CD shops to make some money back thanks to 'exclusive' releases that won't be offered via downloads or found anywhere on the internet (although some spoilsport always buys everything up every year and flogs them on Ebay!) For some reason the annual Record Store Day seems especially obsessed with artists who are no longer around, rather than promoting living bands from the vinyl era (perhaps they're easier to negotiate with?!) While bands like The Grateful Dead do something every year, there's only ever been one Janis record store release back in the event's fifth year. 'Move Over' is a curious release containing four singles  - even though Janis wasn't really known as a singles act and her one big singles hit 'Me and Bobby McGee' isn't here. In fact only one of these four records ever actually was released as a single ('Piece Of My Heart') and even that comes with the 'wrong' B-side ('Summertime' instead of 'Turtle Blues'). The fact that six of these songs have always been on catalogue ever since Janis recorded them - and that the new mixes into mono or stereo sound no different unless you really play the old and new ones side by side (and then only very very slightly) makes this release seem rather pointless (note that 'Piece Of My Heart' and 'Summertime' are the 'Live In Amsterdam recordings not the originals although even they aren't exactly rare) . Even as a sort of compilation it all seems rather odd - there's one release for each album except 'Kozmik Blues', which is a shame (couldn't they stretch to five singles?) and as for the packaging - Janis in red, blue yellow and white instead of her 'normal' colouring is an odd move (my old printer used to do that too sometimes though not on purpose - were the Sony printers on the blink or something?) However there's one boon for collectors with the release of the 'third' single, which contains a pair of Kozmik Blues era live recordings that hadn't been released before - a noisy and rather flat sounding 'Raise Your Hand' and a fascinating five minute one-off cover of R and B standard 'Bo Diddley' (popularised by Bo himself before The Animals became better known for singing it) where the band nail the song's tricky hook quite nicely, both recorded at the Fillmore on October 5th 1969 (though even that first came out as part of a bonus EP with the 'Box Of Pearls' box set). Whether this single and a love of your record shop is enough to fork out the whopping £30 asking tag (and it's gone up even more since release!) is up to you and your bank manager.

 "Blow All My Blues Away"

(Columbia, '2012')

CD One 'The Early Years': What Good Can Drinkin' Do?/C C Rider/San Francisco Bay Blues/Winin' Boy Blues/Careless Love/I'll Drown In My Own Tears/Honky Tonk Angel/Empty Pillow/Gospel Ship/Stealin'/Leaving This Morning/Daddy Daddy Daddy/Careless Love/Bourgeois Blues/Black Mountain Blues/Trouble In Mind/What Good Can Drinkin' Do?/Silver Threads and Golden Needles/Mississippi River/Stealin'/No Reason For Livin'/I'll Drown In My Own Tears/Daddy Daddy Daddy/Careless Love/San Francisco Bay Blues/Winin' Boy Blues/C C Rider/Leaving This Morning

CD Two 'The Middle Years': Typewriter Talk/Trouble In Mind/Leavin' This Morning/Hesitation Blues/Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out/Daddy Daddy Daddy/Long Black Train Blues/Black Mountain Blues/Walk Right In/River Jordan/Mary Jane/Call On Me/Bye Bye Baby/It's A Deal/Easy Once You Know How/Road Block/Flower In The Sun/Misery'n/Catch Me Daddy/Farewell Song/Summertime (Alternate Take)

CD Three 'The Late Years' : Misery'n/Catch Me Daddy/Harry/Magic Of Love (Live)/Down On Me (Live)/Piece Of My Heart (Live)/Maybe (Live)/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder (Live)/Ball and Chain (Live)/Dear Landlord/Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out (Demo)/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) (Demo)/Let's Don't Quit/Get It While You Can (Demo x 2)/One Night Stand x 2/Get It While You Can (TV S/Track)

CD Four 'Live Big Brother 1967' : Call On Me (Live)/Combination Of The Two (Live)/Blow My Mind (Live)/Down On Me (live)All Is Loneliness (Live)/Roadblock (Live)/Light Is Faster Than Sound (live)/Bye Bye Baby (Live)/Goin' Down To Brownsville (Live)/Ball and Chain (Live)/I Know You Rider (live)

CD Five 'Early Janis' : Black Mountain/Careless Love/Gospel Ship/Stealin'/Leavin' THis Mornin'/Daddy Daddy Daddy/Chat/Carless Love/Bourgeoisie Blues/Black Mountain/Honky Tonk Angel/Empty Pillow/Red Mountain Burgandy/Unknown/Mary Jane/Black Mountain/Columbus Stockade/Winnin' Boy Blues/Trouble In Mind

CD Six 'Live Big Brother 1968' : Combination Of The Two/I Need A Man To Love/Flower In The Sun/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Summertime/Mr Natural/Bye Bye Baby/Women Is Losers/All Is Loneliness/Call On Me/Ball and Chain

CD Seven  'Bonus #1' : So Sad To Be Alone/San Franciscan Bay Blues/Apple Of My Eye/219 Train/Codine/Down and Out/Turtle Blues/I Ain't Got A Worry/Brownsville/Catch Me Daddy/Piece Of My Heart/Down On Me/Summertime/I Need A Man To Love/Chat/Combination Of The Two/Farewell Song

CD Eight 'Bonus #2' : Piece Of My Heart/Summertime/Coo Coo/Combination Of The Two/Ball and Chain/Down On Me/Piece Of My Heart/Interview Sweden 1968/Piece Of My Heart/Summertime/Me/Raise Your Hand/Work Me Lord/Stay With Me/Walk Right

CD Nine 'Bonus #3' : Dick Cavett Introduction/To Love Somebody/Dick Cavett Interview 1969/Little Girl Blue/Raise Your Hand/Kozmik Blues/Ego Rock/Help Me Baby/One Night Stand/Mercedes Benz/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/My Baby x 2/Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down

"You're all gonna have a good time feelin' with Janis! A Woah woah woah woah!"

A mammoth nine CD box set (not bad for an artist who only released about two hours' worth of material in her lifetime!) of odds and ends with an impressively high unreleased strike rate, 'Blow All My Blues Away' is one of those rare times when the copyright ruling laws have actually come in handy for once. With so many of Janis' recordings from 1962 due for release in the public domain  under the 'fifty years ruling' laws, Columbia decided to do the sensible thing and release everything they had in one huge colossal go - saving them the both of sticking out a new set every single like The Beach Boys and co have had to do. Of course the size, the price and the scarceness of this little-promoted, rarely discussed set means that most fans won't be able or won't want to buy a copy of it anyway, no doubt keeping many of the treasures intact for future smaller cheaper releases. However in many ways 'Blues' is the best release on this list, if only by virtue of being the longest and showing off so many sides of Janis' personality in one go. Everything is bigger than before. Instead of just a handful of pre-fame songs to pad out the end of a compilation or rarities set this time we get two CDs of unedited interrupted Janis including a fascinating early live performance by a twenty-year-old Janis at a bar in Texas, two 'reels' of local gigs in Texas (how amazing that someone thought to tape all this stuff?) that reveals a folkier and more country side to Janis' craft and some fascinating performances as a sort of psychedelic 'Peter Paul and Mary' with a couple of friends - one of whom just happens to be future Jefferson Airplane guitarist and fellow Texas musical misfit Jorma Kaukanen. Best of all is the tape Jorma and Janis made together in full at last, complete with Jorma's sister typing away to a friend noisily in the background -f or all the distractions it's a great performance. A less interesting 1965 set with a jazz band - including a few choice Joplin originals - is nevertheless proof of how many styles Janis could make work. Elsewhere there's two whole discs of unreleased Big Brother live shows from near the start in February 1967 and near the end in June 1968 that are too sloppy for official release but are in their own way the most remarkable of the Janis era gigs, turning from ghastliness to glory with the turn of a solo and even an unreleased exclusive in Peter Albin's song 'Blows My Mind'. Throw in all the previously released outtakes (all gathered together in chronological order at long last!), a few TV show soundtracks (including the earliest surviving Dick Cavett show but not the later pair sadly) and a sequel to 'Me and Bobby McGee' with Janis' second Kris Kristoffersen song in 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' (taped at one of her very last shows) and you have a most extraordinary set. Admittedly a set that's hardly built for easy listening (the sequencing is in thematic rather than strict chronological order, so that solo pre-fame recordings are on a separate disc to those with a band, for instance, and the live and studio tracks are kept separate which is a shame), but a set that's like a giant lucky dip box with lots of unexpected treats inside. I take back what I said earlier - sometimes more really is more, more or less...

"The Pearl Sessions"

(Columbia, '2012')

CD One: Move Over/Cry Baby/A Woman Left Lonely/Half Moon/Buried Alive In The Blues/My Baby/Me and Bobby McGee/Mercedes Benz/Trust Me/Get It While You Can/Me and Bobby McGee (Mono Mix)/Half Moon (Mono Mix)/Cry Baby (Mono)/Get It While You Can (Mono)/Move Over (Mono)/A Woman Left Lonely (Mono)

CD Two: Studio Chat/Get It While You Can (Alternate Takes)/Move Over (Alternate Takes)/Me and Bobby McGee (Demo and Alternate Take)/Cry Baby (Alternate Take)/A Woman Left Lonely (Alternate Take)/Studio Chat/My Baby (Alternate Takes)/Get It While You Can (Alternate Take)/Pearl/Tell Mama (Live)/Half Moon (TV s/track)

"I guess I might have done something wrong - but I'd be glad to admit it"

An unexpected treat that almost made me like the parent album, 'The Pearl Sessions' adds so much more to the latest re-issue of a strong-selling classic than the usual 'bonus B side and sleevenotes' extras. While much of the set is superfluous (rare mono  mixes but only of some of the album, several outtakes of the same song that sound near enough the same), this as comprehensive a set as you could hope to find about the making of a key album and is far more insightful than you might expect. There's a glorious demo of 'Me and Bobby McGee' that features Janis strumming her own acoustic guitar part (and rather good it is too) and Janis already has the world-weary yet hopeful bounce of Kris Kristoffersen's lyrics down straight off, plus an alternate full band take with some very different backing as the band are introduced gradually instead of from the start. There's a more 'human' and less produced 'Get It While You Can' clearly played live with a guide vocal with some very different 'Janis raps' in the middle, proof that Janis very very rarely gave less than 100% even on takes that she knew would probably never be heard. There are three slinky tries at 'Move Over' that starts off being too elaborate and too clever for its own good (and without the piano lick to keep it afloat) before gradually devolving into the classic rocker of the LP. There's a 'Cry Baby' with everything there but in the wrong place - the guitar, organ and voice are competing instead of supporting each other. There's a gorgeous 'A Woman Left Lonely' that's slower, humbler and far more intimate that knocks spots off the finished version (and I like the finished version - it's by far my favourite recording from 'Pearl'). There's a really hoarse version of 'My Baby' that sounds like Janis has gone down with a cold. There's the unfinished mysterious 'Pearl' with oh so many unanswered questions - is it a backing track? An instrumental? Did Janis have much to do with it? Should it have been the title track? Or was it abandoned early on? There's a couple of atrocious live recordings from 1970 that reveal how much the Full Tilt Boogie Band struggled in concert - but on the plus side 'Tell Mama' never made the album and 'Half Moon' was rarely played lie so both are good to have for pure rarity value.

And best of all the studio chat is left on, with breakdowns, fluffs and missed cues that are actually very revealing and fascinating, as Janis goes from frustration to mock-saintliness to outright humour in her apologies and excuses! (Our favourite: 'I'm sorry, I fucked up- somebody yell at me or something!' 'Awwww Janis, you suck man!' 'Alright then - find another fucking singer!') This probably isn't the best album to get if you're new to Janis and only want to hear the hits and to be frank 'Pearl' is probably the least interesting of Janis' four albums to hear take shape over multiple recording sessions (but if they ever do 'Cheap Thrills' like this I'm first in the queue!) However 'The Pearl Sessions' really does help give you the story of the album better than any other source can and contains some revealing surprises that really add to our understanding of how the album was made. If nothing else 'Pearl Sessions' proves that the title was well founded: a beauty born out of grit and pressure. 


'Big Brother And The Holding Company' (1967)

'Cheap Thrills' (1968)

'I Got Dem Ol' Kozmik Blues Again Mama!' (1969)

'Pearl' (1970)
Non-Album Songs 1963-1970
Surviving TV Clips 1967-1970
Live/Compilation/Outtakes Sets 1965-1970

Essay: Little Pearl Blue – Who Was The Real Janis?

No comments:

Post a Comment