Monday, 12 October 2015

Paul Simon "Songs From 'The Capeman' Musical" (1997)

Paul Simon "Songs From The Capeman" (1997)

Adios Hermanes/Born In Puerto Rico/Satin Summer Nights/ Bernadette/The Vampires/Quality/Can I Forgive Him?/Sunday Afternoon/Killer Wants To Go To College/Time Is An Ocean/Virgil/Killer Wants To Go To College Two/Trailways Bus

(Bonus Tracks: Shoplifting Clothes/Born In Puerto Rico (Cast Version)/Can I Forgive Him? (Paul Simon Demo)

Is rehabilitation ever really possible? Can someone brought up the wrong way, at an ideologically awkward angle to its peers ever really atone and be embraced by its peers? Does evil or betrayal run through the cores of people like sticks of rock until the end of their days or can they yet be made to see the errors of their ways and re-moulded into shape? Can a killer ever be a hero? Can a mistake ever be re-written? Should those who commit the most heinous acts ever be given a second choice? That's the debate that runs through the heart of 'The Capeman', an awkward uncomfortable musical co-written by Paul and Derek Walcott over an uncomfortable awkward subject, the life and times of convicted teenage murderer Salvadore Agron who defied his critics to get the education in prison he would never have had a hope of getting in life and trying to put it to best use. It could also, funnily enough, apply to the state of 'The Capeman' in Paul Simon's oeuvre: nobody seemed to like either the album or the musical much on release (me included) and this 'soundtrack' album is an uneasy compromise between being 'another Paul Simon album' sung by Paul throughout and a cast recording featuring the actor-singers from the original Broadway run (though an extended cast recording was released via iTunes later, this hybrid is the only version to have appeared on CD so far). With its curious mixture of doo-wop and street language swearing, it bears almost none of the trademarks we've come to expect from Paul and remains very much the odd one out in Simon's catalogue. Like Salvador 'The Capeman' sits there in our collections, originally buried in the bargain bins for years and tellingly absent from most Paul Simon retrospectives ever since, a member of the Paul Simon back catalogue but never really a part of it. Somehow it's rather apt that an album about misunderstood rebels should be neither embraced nor understood (the musical itself closing after just 68 performances to some atrocious reviews). But is there anything in the tale of a killer going to college worth resurrecting now that all the fuss had died down?

The answer is yes there is, but trying to re-assemble of 'The Capeman' perhaps takes up more brain power than most fans are likely to factor in. I've spent a fair bit of the past four hundred album reviews trying to work out if there's one classic formula that will make one album take off and another stall and though I haven't perfected my theory by any means and as always there are exceptions, it basically comes down to an album that offers what your public have come to expect from you, with a consistent batch of songs that also offer just that little bit more than anyone has realised you can do, with bonus marks for 'perfect timing' when an album's sentiment simply strikes a chord with a particular age (which is why 'Sgt Peppers' is rated over 'Revolver' despite having weaker songs and why 'Tommy' took off and 'Quadrophenia' stalled despite being a better work). 'The Capeman', alas, doesn't have any of these things: it's an inconsistent set of songs that sound nothing like any Paul Simon recording in the past and offer one heck of a lot more than we realised Paul could do all in one go, released into a world at a time in the late 1990s when we wanted to celebrate and revere our past rather than show people to be 'real' (Princess Diana's death mere weeks before this record's release changed the mood of many albums: Oasis' 'Be Here Now', released the week before, is another casualty). 'The Capeman' does have a handful of exceptional songs and an idea that's strong enough to sustain one very good epic song about the pitfalls of living in a world that refuses to believe that you can succeed.

On paper it's a good idea the tragedy of killer Salvadore's life is that he was sucked into a bad crowd early on because he knew he had no future and would never get the qualifications he needed for a decent job - had his education been given to him for free from childhood he would have led a very different life and his victims would still be alive. Unfortunately the musical has to spend a good hour trying to make the world of juvenile Puerto Rican delinquents believable in order to make the rehabilitation equally unfathomable when it comes - and by then you've simply stopped caring. Paul spends so long getting the dialogue right (dialogue which is just utterly wrong coming out of his own voice on this album) that he does too good a job of making his central character unlikeable and unlovable; the 'salvation' at the ends takes on a scarily bitter feel as you realise you're meant to root for someone you've just spent the first hour trained to hate and though the white middle classes who sneer at Salvador as he tries to do the right thing in the end deserve their comeuppance by having Salvador come good (showing all the hatred and wild fury he himself once showed, though without any of the same 'excuses') it's not enough of a resolution to make you feel comfortable. Of course whether works like this should make you comfortable or not is another debate entirely - you get the sense that Paul thinks not and more than one critic picked up on how this musical was infused with Paul's guilt - firstly for loving a wild hero in his youth who was a mass murderer and then guilt of his class for not listening when he tried to better himself. A Paul Simon musical - something we'd been promised for decades off and on by 1997 - was always going to make us think; fans weren't expecting how guilty and uncomfortable it was going to make us feel either and certainly not in a genre that's almost entirely new.

Well, we say 'entirely' because one of the things nobody else seemed to pick up on was how similar 'The Capeman' was to the Paul Simon classic 'Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard'. Both works come from the Puerto Rican heritage that Paul was always fascinated with (he and Arty had several Puerto Rican boys at their school and it was their branch of doo-wop that Paul latched on to first before the more 'white' version performed by The Penguins and co), full of the same jiving latino rhythms. In a sense an album in this style was inevitable, after the success of the 'African' 'Graceland' and the 'Brazilian' 'Rhythm Of The Saints' and was even closer to Paul's heart and closer to home. Both songs also deal with criminals, albeit Julio and 'me' are of the petty sort: the types of teenagers who hang around street corners dreaming of their future while nicely brought up elders turn up their noses and spit on them when they walk by (if that's even medically possible - I will have to try it sometime). However the key difference is that the narrator and his pal Julio have their whole future ahead of them and the rest of their adult life to go good, 'on my way - though I don't know where I'm going, taking my time but I don't know where'. 'The Capeman' is what happens when that teenage idleness starts taking over and leading to murder: Salvadore Agron hadn't 'meant' to be a killer and was far from the worst boy in his town or street gang. In a painful adolescence his father had run off and left the family home and he'd come home from school one day to find his beloved step-mother had committed suicide, unable to take it anymore: he wasn't thinking straight when he was invited to join local street gang 'The Vampires' and was a little too eager to fight without knowing his own strength; as it turns out the two teenagers he stabbed to death weren't from 'enemy tribe' The Norsemen at all but passing white  strangers. It was this the press couldn't abide (they were used to street gangs beating up each other, as long as they didn't beat up the middle class white families): Salvadore was the perfect scapegoat for everything 'wrong' with his race, class and breeding and exaggerated into all sorts of things he was never meant to be. The look on Salvadore's face from press reports when the police worked out who he was and arrested him is a case of 'it figures - my life couldn't get any worse' rather than 'ah ah ah ah I'm a mass murderer!' Infamous at the time as the youngest inmate on death row (tried and convicted, controversially, as an adult at the tender age of sixteen), the sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison (after the father of one of his victims bravely spoke out and said even he thought the sentence 'too harsh'). Paul, not immune to a bit of teenage hoodlummrey himself in the dim and distant past, clearly feels sympathy with his subject matter who is really 'Julio' or his narrator friend on an unfortunate day after a series of unfortunate events. There's a sense throughout most of this musical of 'there but for the Grace(land) of God go I'. However the trouble with this work compared to 'Julio' is that in the earlier song we, quite brilliantly, never find out what upsets the world around them ('Something sexual I'd imagine, though I never hung around to find out - that wasn't the important bit of the song' Paul once said when asked); 'The Capeman' though is about a specific case: a little too specific for some people. Salvadore had an awful life and he should have been helped - but it was him holding the knife and no one else forced him to use it.

The debate about how much of the 'problem' was due to society (the musical starts off the night of the trial, when everyone is sure Salvadore's background will help get him off - everyone except Salvadore who knows no white man ever helped him and wanted him to succeed) and how much was due to Salvadore himself (the killer isn't exactly a nice guy even before his life goes wrong) is, however, a revealing Paul Simon-style dialogue that leads to a handful of clever lyrics and some overall good songs. We start with The Capeman 'guilty from my dress, guilty from the press' and judged before a word has been heard in 'Adios Hermanes'. We get Salvadore's full background wrapped up in a well crafted five minute song 'I Was Born In Puerto Rico' in which every wrong deed comes back to a life of impoverished crime. 'Time Is An Ocean' is an exquisite song about redemption and feeling, frustratingly sung by the cast when it's the one song here you sense Paul would have sung well himself. Alas, somewhere along the way in writing this work Paul's nerve seems to have failed him. So much of this musical is too busy telling the not actually all that interesting story to actually think about the characters and the impact on their lives: even the one song from this album to get some kind reviews (the closing halfway-redemptive 'Trailways Bus') isn't as moving as it ought to be, picturesque rather than healing. Though Paul has always had the ability to see into people's souls oblivious of race, gender and age he struggles here to really get into the mindset of a man whose one unthinking as a teenager haunts his life forever and the ripples that fall from one unfortunate act he couldn't control. It doesn't help that in real life 'The Capeman' was scorning of the world's press, monosyllabic and sarcastic when interviewed about his crimes - an attitude that's heard in the sound-bites scattered throughout this work like barbed wire confetti, nor that much of the 'character' built up for Salvador has come from Paul's imagination not his research (though the killer 'wants to go to college' and eventually does, he barely spoke about the murders in his 43 years though he did write a series of colourful poems about 'street life' in Puerto Rico which opened the eyes of many white middle class families intrigued by the murder). Though sadly the musical doesn't include it, ending when Salvador is finally released from prison a full nineteen years after the murders, Salvador did find a redemption of sorts, selling the rights to his life that was made into a TV play in 1979 and all the money he made from it went back into a fund to compensate the families of the victims he'd accidentally murdered, the young Puerto Rican dying soon after at the age of just forty-two. Typically, the world's press didn't report that kinder fact - it seems rather less understandable that Paul doesn't mention it either.

It's not just 'The Capeman' himself that's the problem though. Paul also invents a romance sub-plot which seems very out of place and which also ends up as some of the most generic writing he's ever made. 'Satin Summer Nights' sounds like a song not good enough to make the soundtrack of 'Grease', while 'Bernadette' is as empty a character as he's ever written for. The Puerto Rican supporting characters are a rum lot too: they don't seem to do much except swear and boss each other around - there's no sense of the solidarity and brotherhood in difficult circumstances of street life (which even Leonard Bernstein managed in 'West Side Story' and is the obvious precursor to 'The Capeman', though oddly the Puerto Rican community hated that work far more than this one) and the gang disappear from the story the minute Salvadore is arrested (the musical might have had more emotional impact if we'd cut from him to their shock the moment they realise it isn't a 'game' and that they've all been 'lucky'; Salvadore was a very junior member of the gang after all). Paul has clearly worried about not making their life 'real' enough, but actually he makes it too 'real': Paul swears like he's Eminem on 'The Vampires' for almost the full five minutes on what must be his heaviest going track for fans since Art Garfunkel went down the ol' folks home for 'Bookends'. As for the 'white' characters in this musical - the judges and even the victim's families - they're ciphers too, passing on judgement from afar; the judge in fact could have been turned into a real villain, completely oblivious to what poverty and hopelessness does to a man and judging without ever understanding but is barely mentioned. In contrast the musical might have had a lot more emotional impact if there'd been a sense of loss from the family's perspective (who were more sorry for the young killer than anything else and really weren't the 'enemy'). The best musicals unfold song by song, act by act, until the outcome of inevitable; 'The Capeman' can be divided into three scenes: the murder, the sentence and the decision to find God in prison. Everything else is a subplot that takes away from the central story and none of the other characters besides 'The Capeman' himself are worth spending time on. Though the show got changed round and did improve from the first batch of songs from the few I've heard, but even from the first Paul seemed unusually vague about where he wanted this story to go and it's no wonder, then, that the show ended up as directionless as it did (there's a telling 'board meeting' early on where Paul is asked what he wanted to do with this subject and what his audience should feel and he says he doesn't know - he just wanted to 'explore' it. An album can get away with posing questions, but a musical or the equivalent stage plays/TV episodes/films need answers and a resolution of some sort for the audience to take away). Salvadore's younger sister passes on in the documentary the fact that her brother told her on his deathbed that she should keep his writings safe and keep from the greedy exploiters who came to make money out of the family name when he died, until one safe pair of hands would come to tell the story properly. Alas Paul didn't turn out to be that person and perhaps the biggest problem with the musical is that 'The Capeman' remains as elusive at the end as in the beginning.

It's not just the story though, which could have worked in different circumstance. More worrying is the level of the music: despite Paul's claims when half the cast was let go that the work was 'too tough', it's actually far too simple-sounding a piece to reach the layers of both Paul's own past and the depths of The Capeman's complex personality. Most fans know that Paul's earliest musical loves are doo-wop groups and that many of his earliest recordings as 'Tom and Jerry' 'True Taylor' and 'Jerry Landis' are in this style. The 'real' Capeman murders took place in 1960 when Paul was just starting life as an eighteen-year-old musician and songwriter: naturally the style and the subject are going to be linked in his memory banks. However I'm willing to bet that little or none doo-wop singles were actually played in Salvadore's house or those of 'The Vampires'; that's a Paul Simon addition to the story and a connection few other writers would have made. Though there are, too, several songs slotted round a latin rhythm section which are far more in keeping with the feel and style of the piece, I'm not entirely convinced Paul makes the most of these either; at its best latino music throbs and amplifies the way that dance music or even disco does, taking the listener to new heights thanks to repetition and crescendos. Very few of 'The Capeman' songs actually do this: 'The Vampires', for instance, is a gang song that ought to get more desperate with every line but instead just sits there limply. Throwing in a couple of twee ballads performed in a very white style (and which sound to me as if they were added late on to appease cross critics - if you think the murder in the musical was bad, that was nothing on the savage reviews! - and confused Broadway audiences) makes the sound even more confused. Both musically and lyrically Paul gets about a third of the way to understanding his character, of what makes him tick and the ticking timebomb of his life waiting to explode, while exploring the music and rhythms he'd have known (the murder should be the latino crescendo in all of this, the moment when all that fury that's been in the background so long takes over - but that's not what happened on stage or on this album); the other two-thirds just sketch in the story and characters in any style going.

Paul is a better writer than that so something clearly went wrong. We know now that 'The Capeman' wasn't a happy experience from the first. Paul felt pressurised to tailor his work to what Broadway wanted (though he was also given more creative freedom than he perhaps should have been) and didn't always see eye to eye with either the directors (this show had four - the last one introduced just three days before the first preview) or his cast (there's a revealing documentary about the making of the musical - planned as a triumph but a sorry catalogue of a defeat - that was made for TV titled 'A Roll Of The Dice' in which the Puerto Rican cast look at Paul Simon with the same disbelief and defensiveness with which he looks at the judge in the story; half were fired eight months into rehearsals for 'not being up to speed' with the work). The show really needed someone with a strong creative vision that matched Paul's own; though co-writer Derek Walcott was an empathetic collaborator, everyone else either seemed to pull away from the idea in Paul's head and imprint too much of their own ideas, or simply weren't strong enough to say 'no'. After eight months of rehearsals the cast and crew should have known this work backwards - but even a week before the preview no one was ready, with too many key structural changes and a sinking feeling that nothing about this show was working. By the second half of the 'Dice' documentary you can tell the fun and excitement has left the room a long time ago - this is a show that has been compromised so often its lost the vital spark that could have made it work; though everyone still speaks about 'hoping' for a success nobody seems very sure (including Paul) and the musical's early closure is met with a sigh of relief rather than tears. Paul himself looks a worried man from the first: he must have been reminded of the backlash given over to his film project 'One Trick Pony' seventeen years earlier only this time he's not even got his friends/musicians around him to get him out of trouble. He also looks as if he sacrificed something essential that kept him interested early on and is now only seeing out his obligations, whatever the sound-bites about being pleased to have had the 'privilege' to have learnt from an experience that cost Paul $1million of his own money (the show lost $11million in total).  

The release of this curious 'soundtrack/solo album' hybrid a month before the musical opened didn't help matters much either. A better bet might have been to get the cast in to record the whole thing and put Paul's name small on the cover as the record is launched as a 'new musical' to live and die with the others. A complete Paul Simon re-recording could then have been offered either as part of a 'deluxe edition' or at a later date as a 'year's anniversary' or whatever. The sad truth is that though Paul wrote them all he can't sing these songs. hard as he tries, a fifty-five year old Paul whose seen and lived it all can't make himself sound like a scared sixteen Puerto Rican kid doomed to be caged the rest of his life. Though Paul sings well (on 'I Was Born Puerto Rico' especially) he can't sing this part as well as the cast who were hired specifically because they could play these parts. The fact that fans got to know Paul's version of the album before ever having a chance to see the cast on stage actually hurts rather than helps this musical: we should be living those characters, not trying to remember what Paul sounded like as he knifes a passing teenager. I can see why the 'soundtrack' album turned out the way it did: Warner Brothers naturally wanted Paul, while Broadway wanted the audience to actually hear what they were going to get onstage. However a compromise still could have been sought with Paul 'playing' 'The Capeman' surrounded by the incidental cast, with some CD 'bonus tracks' featuring Marc Anthony's take on as many songs as would fit on an album. A two disc version with all the dialogue might have been worth a punt too. Having half and half just seems a bit 'wrong'.
Any one of these factors on its own 'The Capeman' could withstood. A cosy Paul Simon musical in the doo-wop vein most people would have accepted. An uncomfortable Paul Simon musical in his traditional natural style most fans would probably have taken too. A soundtrack album by either the cast or Paul solo would have been better understood. But a musical in a whole new style about a whole new style of character from a whole new way of writing, as heard on a 'soundtrack' album where we alternately get Paul sounding like he's never sounded before as a Puerto Rican teenage hoodlum alternating with voices we don't know (though lead actor Marc Anthony went on to be quite a success after 'The Capeman') is at three leaps into the dark too many. Like 'The Capeman' himself this project seemed doomed to failure from the moment of its birth, as a white man tries to tell a primarily white audience about Puerto Rican life played by a  Puerto Rican cast performed in a curious mixture of the two styles. Only a writer like Paul Simon would have been able to pull off making such an initially unlikeable character a 'hero' - and yet his usual storytelling skills have deserted him here, with 'The Capeman' too unlikeable for the first half and his conversion too unlikely for the second. However, just as the musical's core message is that even the worst of us have some good deep down in us somewhere, so this much slated musical too has its moments. The opening song makes you think the critics are wrong and this all going to be great after all; 'I Was Born In Puerto Rico' turns a life of grime and crime into a haunting lament for the ages and 'Time Is An Ocean' is the musical's natural end, a celebration rather than a song of frustration over what it means to be alive (we really need don't need the last three songs - it's here, finding God in prison, where 'The Capeman' is transformed). Though by far the weakest entry in the solo Paul Simon songbook, many lesser writers would 'kill' to have a failure this good and thought-provoking.

'Adios Hermanos' takes us straight to the 'heart' of the story when on October 6th 1960 'The Capeman' murdered two white teenagers by accident,. mistaking them in the dark for members of The Vampires' rival street gang The Norseman. The whole piece is sung in the doo-wop sound that would have been playing in Paul's own household and head when the news report first broke, but has nothing whatsoever to do with Salvadore. However it remains the best use of doo-wop throughout the musical, a sad and reflective take on what should be a happy and joyous sound, as if 'childhood' is over the minute The Capeman uses his knife. The single best melody in the whole musical is rather wasted underneath the story-telling lyrics which only really come alive when Salvadore brushes aside hopes that the judge will be lenient because of his age, a sentiment that draws a sad and weary 'woah I knew better' that makes Salvadaore sound much older than his sixteen years. Before the case has even started the judge is telling the press 'it's the electric chair for that greasy pair' as Paul stumbles over the first of many 'f' word in the piece - he won't be quite so prudish by the time we reach the middle of the musical. Though the melody is lovely and there's a nice sense of 'us' and 'them' developing already, there's no real character on offer here, just a bundle of press reports of the court case strung together.

Stacking the better songs at the beginning, next up is the musical highlight as a whole 'I Was Born In Puerto Rico'. 'The Capeman' arrives as a child, eternally the outcast left with nothing in a world where those around him seem to have everything. Though the song is in first person throughout, Paul seems to break with tradition in the third verse and addresses his muse and anti-hero directly in the most moving part of the song: 'No one knows you like I do' he sings, 'No one can testify to all you've been through - but I do'. This is Paul at his best, telling the newspapers some forty years on what the 'real' story was that never made the papers: that 'The Capeman' had been betrayed by everyone and street violence was a way of life - that in a violent world you fight back but that doesn't make you 'evil'. The sweet song, played with Spanish flamenco flourishes throughout, is very lovely and contains the best lyrics of the whole musical full of poignant reflections that makes the Agron family stand as out as strange from the first: wearing their summer clothes in winter (because it's all they have) and The Capeman's broken education which meant he can't even read the newspaper reports about himself. Had the rest of the musical been up to this standard then 'The Capeman' would have been a winner. However Paul struggles a little with his own performance - the one performed by Jose Feliciano (who played the older Capeman on Broadway) and included on the CDs as a bonus track is better.
'Satin Summer Nights' though is awful. Paul promises in the documentary that 'I'm going to make a work about my generation's childhood and that it wasn't all 'Grease' but that's exactly what he's guilty of here, trying to paint such a false sunny portrait of a happy day before all the violence happened that he might as well have added rainbows and kittens as well. A bright and sunny doo-wop background seems deeply out of place here: even as the backdrop to 'The Capeman' falling in love it jars against what we've been told of his life so far. A mock-Graceland style Ladysmith Black Mombaza chant is unworthy of Paul's talents and we're heading into the cheesy grin that represents the worst of musicals. The one part of the song that fits is the verse about being 'in the power of Saint Lazarus', a line Paul admits on camera to his co-writer he doesn't 'understand' on the documentary. However, it's by far the best line here: Lazarus was restored to life by Jesus according to the gospel of St John and, while not a saint, it makes perfect sense that he would be one for The Capeman and his ilk; they have nothing going for them and yet still wait for redemption and to be brought back to 'proper' life. The sudden flash of insight Salvadore has here, in relation to being in love for the first time, ends up being the love for Christianity that will 'save' him in prison.

'Bernadette' is the object of his affections, a girlfriend who is merely sketched in as a character and an appalling waste of the musical team's actual research (they spent a long time with the 'real' Bernadette finding out her feelings towards The Capeman - they should have asked her more about herself). A typical Paul Simon ballad made worse by the twee lyrics, once again it's far closer in style to the sort of music Paul would have been listening to in his own past than what the Puerto Rican community would have been hearing. 'I want you to be my girl - I want you to be my movie' is as good as the lyrics get, over a melody line that's pretty but also rather odd, always being broken up by a stop-start structure and a leap into something else. Though this hints at the fact this love story is going to be cut in two by The Capeman's prison sentence, it doesn't make for ease of listening.

'The Vampires', the earthiest most bad-ass song in the Paul Simon catalogue, has divided fans. In the musical it works rather well, containing more of a latino feel and a much more realistic attempt at street dialogue. Paul's attempts to sing this track himself on the soundtrack album is hilariously wrong though, with Paul mocking The Capeman for still living with his mother and swearing like a trooper. Sung in the musical by The Capeman's comrade Hermandes aka 'The Umbrella Man' who is portrayed rather badly actually: slightly older and the closest The Capeman had to a friend he could easily have saved his own skin by pinning everything on his younger friend (the one who actually committed the murders) but instead stuck by him, receiving a shorter prison sentence for his sins. The Capeman production team got in touch with him too - this surprisingly bitter and cruel song seems like an unjust reward: we should by rights be marvelling at the pair's friendship at a time when they have little else going for them. Though the music is much more suitable than the doo-wop, it quickly gets out of hand and turns into noisy modern jazz that just doesn't change or go anywhere - latin music should accelerate and grow not just sit there going round and round in circles. Though the cast recording is far better (full of action and adrenalin) Paul's own version may be the weakest thing on the original record.

'Quality' is an unwelcome return back to the bah bah diddly doo-wop for another slightly scatter-brained love story that returns back to the feel of 'That Was Your Mother' from 'Graceland', interrupted by too many sudden switches in pace and feel as we cut between the boys and girls. However at least the tune for this song is a good one, however badly it fits the mood and background of the story and there is at least a clever sub-plot underneath all the daft teenage preening. 'I want to know' the girls coo, 'are you just passing through my life?' The Capeman is of course soon to be in prison and will only ever be 'passing' through Bernadette's life - and yet their love, as replayed via letters and told by Bernadette herself in the Capeman documentary film, will last until the end of his life. It's not the 'love' that's fleeting at all but his presence in her life. Even so the rest of the song is awful: why is a writer of Paul's talent wasting him time on lines like 'come on baby let's rock some more' and 'every time we meet they say that boy sure looks fine'. For all of Paul's denial, this song is pure 'Grease', silly teenage pop fluff that harks back to a simpler time that actually wasn't anything like this simple.

I have real problems with 'Can I Forgive Him?' Not with the music for once, which is much more in keeping with Paul Simon songs of the past with its sad unfolding acoustic guitar riff, but with the words. A duet between the two mothers lamenting their loss (the mother of one of the victims and The Capeman's own, now locked away for life and still potentially facing execution) it runs blatantly in the face of the what really happened. The victim's families were the first to campaign against the judge's verdict, claiming that he was biased and that The Capeman was only a child; they were as horrified as anyone in the courtroom when the electric chair verdict was handed down. Though it's probably fair to say that they never did 'forgive' The Capeman for his cruel deed, they certainly did understand it - they too were from a poor part of town and the victims skirted with violence and street gangs; it's the judge from his privileged ivory tower who didn't realise what real life was like. What might have been better would have been to draw more of a parallel between the mothers who only wanted the best for their sons and the mutual feelings of guilt for victim and murderer that the system 'let them down'.

Ednita Nazrio stars on 'Sunday Afternoon', one of the better songs in 'The Capeman'. Salvadore's mother is in the kitchen, trying to get on with her life but she can't, surrounded by memories and trying to piece together what has happened. The song adds much back-story that's long overdue: the failed marriages, the poverty ('I'm still hoping for that raise they promises me on Monday') and the beatings The Capeman got from his second step-dad 'while preaching about repentance' (who sounds not unlike the hypocritical judge). Though she wants to put things right, she feel helpless and unable to do anything except dream that she can hear her son's footsteps upstairs in his room and that life can be like it was again. Though the tune is slightly anonymous and forgettable, it is once again in the latin style and 'fits' the musical better than most of the songs, it's irregular and uneven rhythms hinting at the disruption in the Agron household.

Next up, the salvation as 'Killer Wants To Go To College', The Capeman transforming from scared futureless teenager into educated matured adult. Paul's hint with this song is that had the killer got the education he got in prison in his life the first time round, the murders would never have happened with Salvadore going on to be a much championed writer with a flair for stories about the struggles in the Puerto Rican community living on or often under the breadline. However this major turning point deserves a better song than this bluesy two minute throwaway where Paul turns in his worst Puerto Rican accent yet. Simply here to tell the story, it's a boring 12 bar shuffle that you really wouldn't choose to hear again outside the context of the album. More interesting might have been to keep this generic 'white' sound of the day for the middle eight of press reporters desperate to provoke a re-action from the scared teenage lad: 'Will his violence return? Will he call out to his mama 'will you watch me burn?' Who'd have thought the Daily Mail would be the first in the queue to report the story, eh?!

One of the more overlooked songs in 'The Capeman' is 'Time Is An Ocean', a song about redemption as The Capeman discovers Christianity and realises that even he can be 'saved'. 'I have walked through the valley of death...row' he slurs (in Marc Anthony's voice this time) as he compares prison to church, places of purgatory and suffering waiting for enlightenment. The Capeman is portrayed at his best here as we join him in his solitary cell escaping the limiting bars through his discovery of the delights of the written word. However its not just the physical bars that disappear but the years of being 'caged' in a life that was inevitable before he learnt to read and write and discovered that his world was only as limited as his imagination. For the first time he can also contact his mother and tell her he's sorry, in a language he's only just painstakingly learnt (you hope that his mother learnt to read or at least knows someone on her block who can!) This dark and bleak musical needs a little light and this song shines like a beacon. Perhaps not co-incidentally, this is also the most 'musical' like song on the album full of overlapping vocals as the two locked up criminals find comfort from their families and the silence of their incarceration is broken. Once again Paul shows himself to have as strong grasp of latino rhythms - so much so you wonder why he bothered with the doo-wop and the other weird genres on other songs.

For instance 'Virgil' is a Western song, a sort of straight-faced version of 'The Lone Teen Ranger', the best of the songs a pre-fame Paul was writing as Jerry Landis around the time of 'The Capeman' court-case. In this song we get introduced to another character, the mean prison guard, who sounds like Mr Mackay from Porridge crossed with my jobcentre advisor Attila The Sanctioner. He doesn't understand what all the fuss and sympathy is about - life hasn't exactly been kind to him either stuck in a no good job with low pay and a family to provide for. His comment when asked about the 'The Capeman' is 'He's smart and he's quiet' and while The Capeman has been no trouble at all while he's been inside 'He's a troublemaker if ever I've seen one!' The title 'virgil' intrigues me, a cross between the idea of the media keeping 'vigil' outside The Capeman's door and paying his own prison guards for information and the Roman poet 'Virgil' who was an early advocate of education helping people out of their animalistic ways. However, clever as this may be, it's an ugly song and hard to listen to with its repetitive chugging style which is so out of place here (even granted that this song should be out of place here, representing another whole viewpoint that's brittle and unwavering, it really doesn't work in context).

By now 'Killer Wants To Go To College II' is becoming an anthem. The determination and aggression of the early version has given way to a much more playful sequel. However this is still at heart a sad song: though The Capeman's language has grown now, he's become more and more aware of how precious life is and understands more what a terrible deed he did. 'I know you're trying to protect me' he informs a well wisher, 'searching for another truth' but adds later that 'my life never made much sense'. The Capeman refuses to take all the blame, however, declaring in the single best verse of the whole show that 'the streets were dark with danger, I had to stand up for my friends, in a land where I'm a stranger, and the hatred never ends'. Though still based around a generic blues pattern, it's a much more inventive and decorated version of the song that's a lot more interesting and enjoyable. The song then ends with a thirty second snatch of conversation from the 'real' Capeman, as taken from an in-prison interview around 1976 when Salvadore was thirty-two, although it doesn't tell you much you didn't already take from the song (its as if Paul wants to go 'see - I've done my research, honest I have!')

'Trailways Bus' is the most famous song from the album and is closer in style to the sound Paul will adopt on his next three works 'You're The One' 'Surprise' and 'So Beautiful Or So What?'  Though the song features latino rhythms, they're now played on the more familiar instruments of electric and acoustic guitars as Paul croons over the top a lyric of salvation, with Salvadore finally making his way home on parole. Many fans rate this song as the only moment in the musical which 'works', perhaps because it's the closest to Paul's natural style, but for me the song is one of the biggest disappointments of the musical. Up till now the one strength (and even then its hit and miss) has been The Capeman's study of character, watching Salvadore grow from a confused teenager to a self-assured adult in a world of strangers. This finale should have been the pay-off, when all the sins have washed from The Capeman and he feels at last as if he 'belongs' in the world through both the fact that American society has moved on (and become slightly more accepting of other cultures across the 1960s and 1970s) and that he is now educated, able to hold his own in conversation with anyone around him. Alas all we get is a description of sodding trees and all the other sights The Capeman sees when he gets on the bus that takes him to home. The Capeman is more interested in other people than himself and breathes in all the sights both within and outside the carriage, which makes sense for him but is awful for us: we can see mothers and babies and weary passengers any day of the week and there's no sense in this song about what seeing other people leading their lives (and being more openly affectionate about it too - one of the longest lasting legacies of the 1960s) means to the central character. It's the 'Capeman' equivalent of ending The Wizard Of Oz with a three minute dialogue about ruby slippers instead of saying goodbye to all her friends or Citizen Kane with the last five minutes replaced by a description of the snow falling outside. There's no pay off here and nothing for the audience to take away with them, which might well be the single biggest individual mistake of 'The Capeman' as a whole. The melody is also pretty dull and generic by Paul Simon standards, without his usual wit and wordplay and without any musical variation from the 'dit dit dit dit dum' hook. 'Trailways Bus' ought to be a season ticket, a way to return back to the start of the musical with memories of all we learnt on the way as The Capeman is embraced by those who thought they'd never see him again. Instead it's a one-way street where the outside world is still experienced through the glass of a bus.

I'm not sure where the CD bonus track 'Shoplifting Clothes' might have come in the musical - somewhere near the beginning, probably, when the Vampires are still young and penniless. A rather lacklustre doo-wop song where the usual songs of love are replaced by the refrain 'doo doo doo shoplifting clothes'. An attack on capitalism, the petty thieves are shocked at how far their money goes compared to the rich and pointless fashions enjoyed by their peers. Worth hearing simply for the fact that it's the only place where you can hear a full four-way Paul Simon chorus, it was probably rightly dropped from the musical - its uneasy humour doesn't fit the relatively serious tone of most of the rest of the musical and doesn't add much of our understanding of the plot or the characters. Two further bonus tracks appeared on the album from the very first release, a cast recording of 'I Was Born In Puerto Rico' that's rather good and a demo of 'Can I Forgive Him?' which is very close to the re-recording on the album to begin with.

Overall, then, 'The Capeman' is a disappointment. Though the idea behind the story is a good one - raising issues about the importance of education, racism, poverty and rehabilitation - the realisation both on stage and record left a lot to be desired. The main problem with this show seems to be that Paul's own idea of what he was doing wasn't clear: did he himself think that Salvadore was an unfortunate, robbed of his future by society's dead-ends? Or will the world always be full of killers? (Though The Capeman found respite from his life in prison by reading and writing, his younger self may well have rejected learning anyway and he'd have still been part of the street gang culture). Everyone else followed suit: this is a tale about someone we're never quite sure is hero or villain and yet everyone else in the show is either an angel (his mother) or a monster (the judge) or empty-headed ciphers. Four directors all tried to imprint their own views on the work, but all were too specific to match the ambiguity Paul wanted in work. Performed as a concept album in the usual Paul Simon style he might have got away with this (the film One-Trick Pony', with its similar tale of stubborness and failure, is the only 'real' concept album in Paul's canon to date and is far more similar than many people think), but divided up into characters (a mixture of the heavily defined and the empty) it doesn't quite work. Even with Paul taking the lead on most of the soundtrack album, it still doesn't work - Simon is the wrong sort of performer for these songs and while he makes a better job of the ones closer to his own style these doo-wop and early pop songs are mis-written and mis-conceived for the Puerto Rican world we should be immersed in. However, though audiences were divided over whether redemption for a killer was ever possible (the point which almost all critics picked up on), we at the AAA believe that redemption is always possible. Even for the Spice Girls if we live long enough. There is worth in parts of 'The Capeman': the songs 'Adios Hermanos' 'I Was Born In Puerto Rico' 'Sunday Afternoon' and 'Time Is An Ocean' are all four top-notch songs that deliver exactly what this musical should have done: a power reminder of a very different world which was the long-term factor resulting in The Capeman's short-term trigger finger, with believable characters trapped in believable situations. The musical goes greatly downhill with the presence of doo-wop-singing street gangs (who belong in a Franki Valli and the Four Seasons musical set in New Jersey, not one set in the Puerto Rican community), comedy security guards, wrongful takes on what the victims' families said and a boring monologue about the sights seen from a trailways bus true - but there's a kernel of songs in this musical that tell a story well and do The Capeman justice: certainly no angel, but no devil either, just a confused boy in a confused period with nothing to lose. Had 'The Capeman' remembered that thought and kept it uppermost in their minds throughout, this might yet have been a triumph of stage and record: instead it's largely a waste of $11 million dollars that might have been better spent paying for education in poverty-hit areas of America and seven years of Paul Simon's life when we could have had a very different and rather better conceived album.

Other Paul Simon-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Sounds Of Silence'
'You're The One' (2000)

The Best Unreleased Simon/Garfunkel Recordings

Janis Joplin: Non-Album Songs 1962-1970

You can read  more in 'Little Girl Blue - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Janis Joplin' available to buy in ebook form now by clicking here!

Non-Album Recordings Part #1:1962
'This is a song called [1] 'What Good Can Drinkin' Do?' which I wrote last night after drinking myself into a stupor...' And that's how the Janis Joplin legacy starts, with a song that while in many ways odd (Janis strums along solo to a celeste and still sings very much like a blues singer) is in many ways a pretty neat throw-forward to what's about to happen across these pages. The singer has been drinking, is annoyed that no one can keep up with her (as she 'started drinkin' Friday night before wakin' up a' Sunday and findin' nothin' right') but secretly wants something more out of life than to just knock it on the head with a bottle each weekend. This song, recorded at a party at a friend named John Riley's house, is pretty revolutionary now never mind what it must have sounded like in traditional Port Arthur, Texas, in 1962. It was an unusual girl who drank alcohol at the time never mind admitted to binge drinking and then listed the names of all the hard liquors as if trying to make her mind up - a long way from the ladylike neighbourhoods of the time (which was no doubt the whole point - there's often a delightful element of 'showing off' about Janis' early performances and that's very true of this early tour de force!) You have to say, though, Janis has much to show off already: her voice isn't quite there yet but it's already broken most of the rules of singing circa 1962 and the song is remarkably good for a singer whose all of nineteen years old, already with an authentic touch that makes it sound like a long lost blues classic. This Janis sounds like one to watch - once the hangover's come to an end anyway.  Find it on 'Janis' (box set 1993) and  'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Equally early and equally prescient is [ ] 'So Sad To Be Alone', another early recording from when Janis was nineteen and which features Janis accompanying herself on a celeste. It's about the most 'traditional' of all her recordings and she could easily pass for a 'proper' singer of the inter-war generation as she sings with a purr in her voice and far less power. However Janis is already a gifted interpreter, performing this oh so sad song with real pain and soul. You can tell that Janis isn't just singing this because she likes it - she's lived this song and only the desire to 'sing in darkened rooms' can bring any comfort. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
The first of five tracks recorded at Threadgrills' coffee house in Austin Texas and thus about as close to home to Port Arthur as Janis dared go. Is there an AAA band who didn't play [13] 'See See Rider' in their act at one time or another? This American standard from the 1920s has had everything done to it down the years - given a Merseybackbeat, a psychedelic makeover or an early 70s country lament and will indeed be popular enough to be lampooned in the chorus of Big Brother's own 'Easy Rider' a couple of years on down the line (this was one of the few songs both Big Brother and Janis had performed before they both met, though they never did perform it together). Janis' bluesy version is perhaps the closest to the original and suits her burgeoning voice and personality nicely as it purrs along drunkenly to this tale of debauchery and an 'easy ride' (ie a woman whose been around the block a few times). Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[14] 'San Francisco Bay Blues' features Janis and Steve Mann unconvincingly performing a duet as Janis tries to adopt a folk standard by Jesse Fuller to her louder blues style that really doesn't work. At least this version is short though and one up from the same writer's awful 'Monkey and the Engineer' - and the crowd seem to like it more than anything else played that day to be fair. Jorma, who plays some accompanying harmonica on this version, will later perform this song in a rather better arrangement with his Airplane off-shoot Hot Tuna. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[15] 'Winnin' Boy' is pronounced 'Whinin' Boy' and despite the masculine title features Janis singing the highest she ever did in her career. Not that she's feminine at all - this is pure unbridled blues aggression and Janis is right on the money on this performance, without the 'laidback' style so many singers erroneously think belongs in the blues. Janis must have liked this Jelly Roll Morton song because it appears on two of her demo tapes - the very high pitched version from local shows in Texas in 1962 and a slightly deeper but still rather shrill performance with Steve Mann and Jorma Kaukanen in 1964. This latter version especially is rather good, with Janis showing off just how authentically she was steeped in this music.   Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
A rare case of Janis actually singing one of her beloved idol Bessie Smiths' songs, it won't surprise you to learnt that [16] 'Careless Love' is about as authentically old-style blues as Janis ever comes.  In the song Janis becomes a serial killer, complaining about all the stress in her family's life that's caused her father to 'lose his mind' and killed her mother outright and reckoning that if everyone's doomed to die an undignified death she might as well shoot everyone she sees anyway. Polite applause suggests the concertgoers in this little Texas coffee house don't quite understand the song or Janis' passion about it, but it's a strong performance once again. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[17] 'I'll Drown In My Own Tears' doesn't sound much like Janis - I'm not sure whether it's the pitch or her original singing but she's several semitones higher than 'natural' on this recording - but this is very much the sort of song you can imagine the older Janis performing. A sweet Henry Glover it has much of the emotional impact and isolation that many of the Kozmik Blues era songs will have and its a shame in fact that Janis didn't revive it during this period as it would have sounded pretty good at the right pitch with horns. In fact this another of those Joplin performances that now sound downright eerie after her death: 'I know it's true that in this life a little rain is bound to fall, but it just keeps right on rainin' more and more'Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
The first of a run of two songs performed at San Jose Coffesshop in 1962 during a brief attempt to become a Peter Paul and Mary style folk trio (with old friend Jorma Kaukanen and Steve Mann plus Janis in an unlikely 'Mary' role), [ ] 'Honky Tonk Angel' is a humdrum blues most noticeable for the chat which reveals a nervier side to Janis' performing than expected from her later years. 'This is a sort of a blues but mainly it's hillbilly' Janis tells the crowd before discussing with her band what key the song its in ('I don't care...well how did we do it back there?...Well are we going to do it in 'D' or 'E'...What are we doing?!') The song itself doesn't really suit Janis, without much of a melody to go with she simply skewers the song with a vocal that's far too piercing and rather too high-pitched. Cliff Richard had the biggest hit with this song, before denouncing the track when he discovered that the title was local slang for a prostitute - that was the part that no doubt appealed about the song to Janis! Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Another song that sounds 'wrong' musically for Janis (its a retro understated country tune from yesteryear rather than loud and proud and now) yet thematically right (the wronged strong female wondering where her abusive partner has gone and seeking her revenge) [ ] 'Empty Pillow' is another step on the way to creating Janis' goodtime persona Pearl. Some nice mandolin playing from Jorma Kaukanen just about keeps the anonymous song moving along but the pure country angle isn't one that suits any of the trio that well. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
A Ruby Vass song dating back to the Victorian days, [ ] 'Gospel Ship' is a rare Janis interpretation of a Christian number, although she doesn't get that much to do here being mainly used as an occasional high harmony. Despite the title this is more folk than gospel with sturdy banjo picking that almpost makes up for the fact that the three vocalists seem to be singing three different songs.  Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Gus Cannon's [5] 'Stealin' was a popular early 60s blues song that isn't actually about thievery but about getting back on the booze again after a time of abstinence. No wonder the narrator needs a crutch of some sort - he's not having a happy life what with an unhappy marriage and an expensive habit to keep up. It's unusual to hear this song from a female perspective, not that Janis bothers to change it at all, and it's strangely the only blues song that she and her one time boyfriend Pigpen (of the Grateful Dead) have in common. The Dead performed it somewhat better but Janis still gives the song her all - it's her backing band that sound rooted to the spot. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Ma Rainer's [ ] 'Leavin' This Mornin' is perhaps a little obvious choice for the younger Janis to sing: it's a foot-stomper blues that features an unusually aggressive and assertive female role for the day. Over in the Grateful Dead camp it so screams of Pigpen (gambling, liquor and affairs)  it's a wonder he didn't sing it. Had Janis done this song later it might well have suited her voice - but alas she's still using the higher pitched shrill squeal that makes it rather hard for fans of her later work to listen to.  Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Another of the Texas coffeehouse tracks, [12] 'Daddy Daddy Daddy' is more authentic blues with Janis' piercing vocals adding much more life to the song than it had probably had in some time. Nobody seems to know who wrote this track, a simple tale of a girl so pleased to be going out with her 'daddy' (an older admirer) that she can't help saying his name, so it's probably an old traditional blues one the origins lost in the mists of time. Hard to believe the later Joplin would have identified with the song, though, in  which the girl is very much an accessory.   Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Class was a big part of the 1960s 'revolution', especially amongst hippie bands calling for peace and equality. Janis was in a tricky position though: she was middle bordering on upper class - it was her defection from the comfortable life mapped out from her that makes her story in particular so fascinating (even Big Brother weren't that poor by 1960s rock standards either - Dave had even to a prestigious art college, though all were low on funds by the time they met). It's odd, then, to hear a pre-fame Janis complain about 'being turned down in some bourgeoisie town' on Ledbelly's perennial favourite [ ] 'Bourgeois Blues' - especially given that the opposite was more true (coffee houses wondering why a girl with an accent that posh was hanging around singing the blues). To be honest Janis probably chose it for its 'ironic' racism verses anyway, the African-American Ledbelly adding that at least he's being turned down for his poverty rather than his race this time around, a verse usually cut from most readings of the song. Janis sounds a little bit more herself here than she has recently, perhaps because she's singing the blues, but she hasn't quite mastered the art of dymanics yet and sings the song at the same level more or less throughout.  Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
'You've probably heard me sing it because every time I sing I sing it'. Astonishingly [7] 'Black Mountain Blues' is the only time we ever get to hear Janis covering a song by her big idol Bessie Smith - although that said her opening speech is true, as at least five recordings of her singing this haunting piece exist. The narrator lives in an awful part of town where the men mess her around endlessly, the children 'will smack your face' and best of all even the birds are butch and 'sing bass'. Although written and performed half tongue-in-cheek you can hear a lot of the future Janis in this song and she gets better and more 'her' every time she plays it (in a Texas coffeehouse in 1962,  in an unknown San Francisco venue the same year, in a folk style for KPFA Radio in 1963, for an unknown jazz band in 1965, again for the Dick Oxtrot Jazz Band in 1965 and best of all for the 1965 Typewriter Tape).   Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[ ] 'Red Mountain Burgundy' is one of the obscurer of Janis' earliest recordings. It's so obscure, in fact, that even Janis don't know who wrote it - but as I can't find any outside reference to the song anyway and it has the same 'folk-blues' standard stylings as some of her other songs I'll join with them in saying that its 'probably' a Joplin original. Another 12 bar blues about how life so bad that only drinking works, it's interesting that the still very much upper class Janis had chosen to sing about Burgundy ('the only kinda wine that makes a fool out o' me'!) rather than Southern Comfort, the drink forever associated with her. It's good for a teenager but not as original as most of her later songs. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Only Janis would put a Christian anthem together in a medley with a rock and roll classic. [ ?] 'Medley: Amazing Grace-Hi Heeled Sneakers' is definitely one of the weirder covers in this book, a flat footed a capella rendition of the former making way for a stomping version of the Tommy Tucker classic. Janis isn't really built for either version, lacking the reverence of 'Grace' and the wit of 'Sneakers' and she sings both songs surprisingly 'straight' without the wit we know she was capable of (surely whoever first suggested doing these songs together was doing it for a laugh?) Find it on: 'Farewell Song' (1982) and 'The Ultimate Collection (1998)

Non-Album Recordings Part #2:1963
[3] 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' is more worthy but woeful stuff for a vocalist who has already found her path in the blues and will find an even more natural home in rock and roll but can't make a living so is trying to make ado as a folk singer instead. The result is like a tidal wave in a sleepy lagoon, as some wistful accordion and lazy laidback guitar is accompanied by Janis 'worrying' at every line. This Jack Rhodes/Dick Reynolds song does at least fit thematically with Janis' later songbook however, being a tale of no matter how broke or desperate she gets she'll never marry for money, just love. Other acts did this song better though - including the Grateful Dead.  Find it on 'Janis' (box set 1993) and  'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Big Bill Broonzy's [4] 'Mississippi River' is more like it, a laidback lazy blues where the river signified either a homecoming or death - either way a better path than the narrator is now travelling. Janis is joined by an unknown harmonica player on this one who all but steals the show. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Janis herself is credited for writing [6] 'No Reason For Livin', another original that could easily pass for a centuries-old blue song. It's one of her most overlooked songs, full of some truly poignant lyrics in light of what will happen ('I ain't got no reason for livin' but I can't find me no cause to die') or in light of what has happened with Janis off making her own way in the world despite her family's interests ('Well I ain't got no mama to love me - ain't got no father to care'). The melody might not be much (it's an early try out for 'Turtle Blues') but Janis has already got the world-weary sigh down pat. What a shame Big Brother never got their hands on this song as with their turbo boost it might have sounded brilliant instead of merely promising as it is here. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
This is radio station KPFA. We've got a bunch of folkies in funny clothes here in the studio - you don't know any of them yet and they barely know each other but they're a gonna busk their blues away for you. Not sure about that chick they've brought in with them though  - she just doesn't have a voice for this sort of thing and sounds like a witch about to cackle at any minute. I reckon she'd be much better with that blues troupe we had in a couple of days ago. The band played [ ] 'Columbus Stockade' and the guitarists were finger-pickin' good and it filled in five minutes while the DJ and his cat too a bathroom break and all y'all, but something just doesn't sound right somehow. How did Janis end up here singing bad Woody Gurthrie? Find it on: 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3:1964
 [2] 'Trouble In Mind' too sounds much like the Janis we come to know and love - much more so than a lot of the other early songs. This one was recorded in 1964 as a 'demo' reel in the parental home of Jorma Kaukanen - later the guitarist in Jefferson Airplane and already a leading figure on the local music scene. The first of half a dozen blues songs recorded at this session, the tape has since become known as the 'Typrewriter Tape' due to the fact that Jorma commandeered his sister's bedroom to record in (the room with the best acoustics) but only if she could stay in the room typing out a letter to a pen-friend (which unfortunately has a tendency to be louder than even Jorma and Janis). The pair's friendship is a natural one, borne out of a feeling of being an 'outsider' in conservative Texan life (though born in the area Jorma has an unusual mixed Finnish and Russian background that labelled him as 'different') and a real love for the blues; I've always wondered how much greater the early Jefferson Airplane might have been with Janis in the band - or how more stable Big Brother would have been with Jorma's discipline. Sadly the pair lost touch early on but not before giving each other the encouragement to find their own style and just perform from the heart - of all the early tapes Janis makes this early on with Jorma is by far the best and the one where she's most 'herself'. That's particularly true of 'Trouble In Mind', written by jazz connoisseur Richard Jones but perfect for two hungry blues singers ready to make their mark, with Jorma having already got the 12 bar blues strut down pat and Janis learning how to blend and blur her notes and sing at full throttle without losing emotion. It is perhaps the best of the pre-professional Janis Joplin recordings out there. Find it on 'Janis' (box set 1993) and  'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
I'm willing to bet my collection of Dick Cavett shows that [18] 'Hesitation Blues' was Jorma's choice to record. The guitarist was obsessed by the Rev Gary Davis, who has much more of a sense of humour than Janis' favourites Bessie Smith and Big Bill Broonzy, and will go on to re-record this song for the first eponymous Hot Tuna album. It suits Jorma's languid tones a bit more than Janis, who struggles to contain her inner fire for the full recording, but this is another likeable song with the pair of blues fanatics clearly bonding. Even Jorma's sister seems to slow down her typing so she can listen! Find it on 'Janis' (box set 1993) and  'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Jimmy Cox's [ ] 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out'  must have struck a chord with Janis though - the tale of a millionaire born into a rich lifestyle who wanted for nothing, who squandered it all away and now would settle for just a bit of attention. It's a song about relative worth that must have appealed to the burgeoning hippie in Janis - and no doubt horrified her traditionalist parents. John Lennon loved the song too but felt it didn't go far enough, re-writing it as the scathing 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out' for his 1974 LP 'Walls and Bridges'.  Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[11] 'Kansas City Blues' might well be Janis finding that even though she's escaped the restriction of Texas she's no better off just two states up the road (you need to pass through Oklahoma to go from one to the other). Once again it's a song about being wronged by a man and plotting revenge, hoping for more luck over the border. Jim Jackson wrote the song in the 1920s and is name-checked in the song - perhaps Janis Joplin identified with the song because they shared the initials?! Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
The last of the 'Typewriter Tapes', [ ] 'Long Black Train Blues' doesn't give Janis as much of a role, instead handing a lengthy solo over to Jorma's capable hands. However this train song is eerily fitting too, a tale of death being a train that stalks the narrator after the death of two of her friends who went before their time - and cursing the fact that she's not allowed to take the same path just yet ('I watch the headlights shinin' far as my eyes could see, wonderin' why that someone never sent for me'). Sadly one other song from this 'Typewriter Tape' that's appeared on bootleg - 'Kansas City Blues' - hasn't appeared on any official release to date. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #4:1965 Part One
Easily of the weirdest of Janis' early tapes is the one she made in 1965 with the Dick Oxtrot Jazz Band. With folk fading and the blues not yet 'in' Janis seems to have done whatever she had to do to make ends meet. Janis sounds oddly good as a roaring twenties flapper on many of these recordings, particularly Gus Cannon's [8] 'Walk Right In', but you can tell her heart isn't in this rather weird exercise and that she's cutting her vocal power down for the band. I'd love to know what her Port Arthur crowd would have made of these recordings - arguably the closest Janis ever came to sounding 'respectable', but sadly she doesn't seem to mention this era in her book of letters ('Love, Janis'). Big Brother unexpectedly revived the song for funkier, heavier treatment for a one-off show in April 1968 that sounds much more Janisy. Both versions can be heard on 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Yikes! Janis has never sounded less like herself - or given more reason why her sort of music was so necessary to a teenagership starved of music that reflected them - than [9] 'River Jordan', an old spiritual again played with the Dick Oxtet Jazz Band. Janis probably only agreed to this song at all because it has a touch of the blues about it, an old spiritual that dates back so far no one is truly sure who wrote it (it's almost definitely a 'slave' song though, with the River Jordan a key trading post back in the day). Janis sings, basically, about Heaven and a better place than here, imagining herself 'sitting at the welcome table' 'finding that blessed salvation' and 'holding hands with my master one of these days'. She sounds rather good too, impressively serious and fully in control of a song that needs to be as hard as nails  - its just a shame that the jazz quartet seem to have misunderstood the song and treated it as an opportunity for some uptempo oompah jazz. Good practice for the future when Janis and her many bands are all but singing different songs perhaps, but a bit of a lost opportunity, it would have been great to have heard a Big Brother version of this tune. Both versions can be heard on 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[10] 'Mary Jane' is so convincing a blues song that I always assumed it was another cover until I looked it up and found out its another Joplin original (some bootleggers still persist in calling it a Bessie Smith tune - it sure does sound a lot like hers but it isn't part of any discography I can find). Another of the jazz band tracks, it might have sounded better as a straight blues song but does at least give Janis an early chance to be cheeky - no doubt she's the only person in the room hip enough to realise it but 'Mary Jane' was sixties slang for Marijuana and despite Janis' attempts to portray Mary as a rather homely straight-laced person its clearly what she's thinking with lines like 'When I bring home my hard-earned pay I spend all my money on...Mary Jane!' and 'There ain't nothing that can make a man feel Mary Jane!' The tune, meanwhile, is that old friend 'Turtle Blues' which Janis will come to re-write several times down the years; arguably this set of lyrics is better even if the conservative performance isn't. Both versions can be heard on 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #5:1965 Part Two
The first of half a dozen songs recorded exclusively for an 'audition tape' which played its role in making Big Brother guitarist James Gurley interested in Janis as the band's lead singer (plus an early version of the original 'Turtle Blues'), [19] 'Apple Of My Eye' reveals how far Janis' vocals have come since her last recordings in 1964. Whilst the sound we have here is misleading (James oversaw overdubbing of electric instruments to enhance the original style), Janis is clearly working in much more of a 'rock' mould just from her vocal and guitar alone. 'Apple Of My Eye', one of the better songs on the tape, is a sped-up 12 bar blues that has a real boogie-ing rhythm to it and Janis is well suited to a song that on the one hand is so passionately sad and mad she threatens to hang herself at one point and on the other is happy go lucky in the extreme, a lion in pussycat's clothing. Janis' character knows she has a lot to keep her occupied, books that need readin' and guitars 'both big and small' but she don't care unless the apple of her eye returns. Big Brother should have added this song to their setlists as it's right up their street. Find it on: 'This Is Janis Joplin' (1996) and 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)
[ ] '219 Train' is a sleepy blues, a sort of early prototype of 'Turtle Blues' 12 bar howling but with Janis much more effeminate and laidback and with rather better lyrics. You know just where this song is going - she thinks her man is leaving her, she follows him to the station, spots in the window of a train carriage and weeps bitter tears. However while the song is a little on the ordinary said the performance is a good one, Janis showing off her more restrained 'Summertime' style voice for this one. There's an interesting chorus too about the differences between the sexes: 'When a man gets the blues, Lord, he grabs a train and rides - when a woman gets the blues, honey, she hangs down her head and she cries'. Find it on: 'This Is Janis Joplin' (1996) and 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)
 [21] 'Codeine' aka 'Codine' (both spellings have been used down the years) is introduced by Janis on the demo tape as 'a song by Buffy St Marie that I've added my own lyrics to'. The audacity of it - a unknown wannabe trying to adapt another's work and yet it's easy to see why Janis did it and why she comes so alive on this recording particularly out of all the ones on the demo tape. The facts of the original tape's complaints are all 'wrong' for Janis - she's a Capricorn not a Gemini and she was the oldest in her family with all the responsibilities that went with it rather than the ignored youngest. However the 'vibe' is right: Janis' narrator is unlucky, trodden down by a world she never wanted to be a part of anyway and with an eerie chorus that sees Janis reaching out for comfort from the mysterious 'Codine', which could either be the drug or a dog the way Janis sings it here. However it's clearly about a troubled character with an addictive personality, Janis screaming that while she loves Codine at the same time she hates it and starts with a lyric that seems to already foretell trouble: 'On the day I was born the Grim Reaper smiled, he said I'll get you yet you Gemini child...' Admittedly Janis died of heroin not cocaine and as said her horoscope is a whole seven out (or five depending which way round the 'wheel' you look at it), but her sighing conclusion that 'it'll get me in the end - that's the contract we agreed' is scarily close to the real story (Janis, remember, has sworn off all drugs in this period so this is a bad memory of her 'lapse' in 1962/63 she's determined not to repeat at the point in time when this recording was made). Of all the James Gurley overdubs on this demo tape this is the one that works the best, adding a relentless rhythm and a swampy wah-wah part that suits this track, although it would be nice to hear Janis; solo acoustic original to compare it with one day. Find it on: 'This Is Janis Joplin' (1996) and 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)
Hoyt Axton did indeed write the folky [23] 'I Ain't Got A Worry' as Janis suggets at the start of this tape, although she gets the name of it wrong - if you want to look up the original (and it's well worth seeking out) it's called 'Goin' Down To 'Frisco'. Though the song dates a lot earlier it sounds more like early 70s California Rock - lazy and hazy but very purty. Or perhaps that's just the overdubs James Gurley has insisted on adding which are at their most irritating and obtrusive here. They don't get in the way of Janis' performance which shows real control. I'm very impressed with her versatility on this demo tape, which runs the whole gamut from barely-above-a-whisper songs like this to full throttle screams. No wonder Big Brother hired her.  Find it on: 'This Is Janis Joplin' (1996) and 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)
[24] 'Brownsville' is a last song from that audition tape and it's probably the closest to Big Brother's style, built around a funky guitar riff by Ry Cooder and lyrics about a city not that far removed from Janis' own Port Arthur neighbourhood. Janis adopts the original lyric slightly, partly to change the gender of the lyrics around but partly for revenge on what's clearly an unhappy memory for her ('Just throw your jellyroll out the window and check out that garbage shack dump!' she snaps near the end). She very much sounds the part of a rock and roll hippie chic - this song probably had a lot to do with her getting her job, although sadly she never did get to perform it with Big Brother. Find it on: 'This Is Janis Joplin' (1996) and 'Blow All Your Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #6:1966
Sam Cooke's [ ] 'Let The Good Times Roll' seems an odd choice for Big Brother. A popular cover choice, usually bands tend to go for laidback jovial swing although there are a few rockers of it out there. The Big Brother version is quite different to any other version - its almost jaunty, treating the song about looking forward to the future to an almost comedy strut. I'm not altogether sure it works either, with Dave Getz particularly tripping over the song's odd time signature. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
A late burst of folk in Big Brother's set-list, 'I Know You Rider' was the sort of song that every band seemed to do in the 1960s and which everyone did slightly differently. This song starts out calm and quiet but it doesn't take long until Gurley's monster guitar is unleashed to cause havoc and which pushed Janis on to a particularly emotional performance. The song sounds rather good in Big Brother's hands actually - it's a shame 'Rider' didn't travel in the band's set more often. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
Howlin' Wolf's 'Moanin' At Midnight' is another curios from Big Brother's earliest live days. It's way more bluesy than anything the band would do by their own volition before Janis came along - and yet she gets nothing to do on it, with Peter finding his inner pain for a change. Big Brother's attempts to turn this curio song into an uptempo psychedelic rocker doesn't really work either. A shame the band didn't give this one to janis, though, as it's the sort of repetitive howl of pain she does do well. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
Another of those slightly drunken sounding Big Brother originals, 'Hey Baby' is credited to the whole band but quite what any of them threw into the pot is unclear - not much I'll bet. A noisy thrash that sounds like a prototype for punk, this song has a chorus that goes 'hey baby hey baby hey child' and goes downhill from there, courtesy of a sudden inexplicable double time march that takes even the early power of the song away. Janis ends the songs by pretending she's being sweet by letting a boy help her out - 'you can buy me a house, or anything you want' she coos as if doing him a favour. The poor boy's going to be eaten for breakfast. Like many an early Big Brother original it was only ever played on stage and never made it to album. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
[ ] 'Whisperman' is an early Big Brother song - one of the first credited to the whole group - that sounds like lots of their songs to come all being played over the top of each other. Even by Big Brother standards its a little unhinged this track, with guitar solos suddenly darting out in the middle of the simple chorus and everyone apparently playing in a different time signature to each other (this could of course just be the usual Big Brother rawness, but it sounds a bit more deliberate than that). The lyrics are, ironically for such a noisy song, all about Sam's narrator being the fountain of all wisdom because he rarely says anything and when he does it's in a whisper. The lyric is the most interesting thing about the song actually, the narrator telling us that 'I can read the back of your hand - and I can read your mind' and then switching this metaphysics into a hoary chat up line: 'What you need is body heat -and you can ask for it any ole' time!' This song might have become another winner once it calmed down a bit but even for Big Brother in 1967 it's a scarily out of control song. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
Jimmy McCracklin's noisy power-chord frenzy 'Blow My Mind' could have been made for Big Brother, especially Peter's deep rumble of a voice. It's all sweaty riffs and see-sawing with lyrics that are either profound or silly, with some random cosmic messages ('Like the sun in the morning, I'm a gonna turn you on!') The chorus of 'you blow my mind!' must have been daring for the day, but it's a shame this song doesn't a have a little more room for what Big Brother do best - those stretched out psychedelic solos and those soaring harmonies, whioch sound pretty silly just singing 'you blow my mind!' over and over again. Still, this is one of the better songs exclusive to the band's 1966 live catalogue. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
Little Richard's 'Oh My Soul' is, despite the title, a straightforward rock and roll number - though perhaps it's never been played quite as straightforwardly rock and roll as this clumsy but intense version. All the band thrash around wildly not quite sure of the chords while Sam sings dementedly what he can remember of the lyric (once again Janis seems to be out for this part of the set). It's not clever and it's not pretty but it is all rather good fun. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
A fascinating band composition, 'Gutra's Garden' may be the single most original thing the band did until 'Combination Of The Two'. A psychedelic master-class that's tightly played and patient enough to wander down all sorts of musical avenues Grateful Dead style instead of played as fast as everyone can, it deserved to last in the band's set for much longer. Lyrically this is an appeal to Gutra to end a relationship and set the narrator free - the name suggests an Indian marriage, perhaps an arranged one, which would have been pretty groundbreaking for the times although no details are given (the narrator come from Memphis, so perhaps this is only half an arranged marriage?) and this is just another Big Brother tale of love gone wrong. There's no mention of a 'garden' anywhere in the lyric by the way. Find it on: 'Cheaper Thrills' (1984), 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002) and 'The Lost Tapes' (2008)
While Big Brother were generally right in their pursuit of as eclectic a mix of styles as possible, a rocking version of Edvard Grieg's [ ] 'Hall Of The Mountain King' is arguably a step too far. To be fair you can have good rock versions of this distinctive riff - The Who recorded it for 'Who Sell Out' in 1967 (perhaps they heard Big Brother in 1966?) but sadly never released it, whilst even The Wombles do a great version of it in the late 1970s. However the problem with this cover version is that Big Brother are too reverent: this  arrangement sounds like a 'straight' translation of it from one set of instruments to another (although I don't seriously expect for a minute Big Brother sat down and notated it on proper manuscript paper with posh quills, both Sam and Dave did have classical training and had the knowledge to do such a thing had they wanted to) instead of re-imagining the piece completely for the new sounds. It's simply too slow, with a funny comic waddle in the middle that manages to end up being actually less 'rock' than the Victorian era original. To be fair though, only two live recordings of the song exists (one in concert in 1966, one for TV in 1967) and this band were notorious for their 'off-nights'; I'd hate to have to judge, say, 'Summertime' or 'Piece Of My Heart' from their two duffest performances. Find it on: 'Live In San Francisco 1966' (2002)
A jam session while Peter Albin makes up some nonsense words, 'Great White Guru' is not one of Big Brother's most distinguished moments. That's a shame because the driving riff behind all this nonsense is actually rather good, sounding a little like the middle riff of 'Roadblock' in places. Find it on: 'The Lost Tapes' (2010)
Credited to everyone except poor Dave for some reason (even though his inventive drumming is one of the highlights of this scatterbrained song), 'It's A Deal' is another of those early Big Brother 'nearly' songs. All the ingredients are there including the snarling attacking riff, the gonzo guitar solos and the screaming vocals (that uniquely use Janis as the more 'calming' influence), but somehow this track never quite gels and was probably rightly never recorded in the studio (though the song had a full three year shelf-life on the road). The lyrics don't quite make sense - there's something about how the girl always knew what she was in for so shouldn't be crying when the bell tolls, or summat, but the lyrics are subsidiary to that driving riff. Find it on: 'The Lost Tapes' (2010) and 'Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968' (2012)
A pretty and often overlooked little song, 'Easy Once You Know How' is credited to the whole band and would have fitted in nicely on the debut album. It's part psychedelic wig-out but also partly traditional folk, with a hummable chorus and an opening you could easily imagine played on top 40 radio, until things get loud and weird in the middle. Once again Big Brother prove how good they are at nailing disparate parts into the same song, with Janis coo-ing the verses, hammering the chorus and then settling down to a painful bluesy 'ooh wah ooh' while the guitars go from pretty to pretty desperate with each throw of the musical dice. An important stepping stone to the more complex songs to come, the band really get behind this one and turn in perhaps the best performance of their early years. Find it on: 'The Lost Tapes' (2010)
The Russ Meyer film [ ] 'Faster Faster Pussycat Kill Kill' came out in 1965 and shocked many for its 'gratuitous violence, sexuality, provocative gender roles and dialogue' featuring three go-go dancers who kidnap a group of car drivers and their girlfriends. The film was notoriously low budget, made for less than $500,000 which even at the time wasn't that much, and is controversial and forgotten. Naturally Big Brother were the perfect band to write the soundtrack song for it although it doesn't appear to have ever been used - in fact the only recording we have of the band playing it (from a show in San Francisco in 1966) features Peter telling the audience that the film 'will probably never see the light of day'; in actual fact it did come out in August 1965 though few saw it at the time. The song itself is short and weird, very short and very weird in fact, clocking in at a mere 90 seconds long and featuring what sounds like 'Land Of 1000 dances' played very slowly by the two guitarists before speeding up into a whirlwind crescendo in the dying minutes. It sounds like you've accidentally sat on your CD player's 'fast forward' button by accident and is perhaps an experiment too many, a rare early Big Brother song that deserved to die (as for Janis her lone contribution is the yell of 'yeah!' right near the end). Find it on: 'The Lost Tapes' (2010)
As well as the 12 tracks released on the debut album, Big Brother submitted two additional tracks. These were like the rest of the material left in the vaults until after the band's success at Monterey but were kept until after the record to go 'head to head' with the band's first Columbia single 'Piece Of My Heart'. That better known song clearly 'wins' for what the battle's worth (the band have learnt one hell of a lot in the 18 months of so since they recoded this) but A-side [26] 'The Last Time' is a pretty good tune too. Janis wrote it and the track contains much of her usual emotional honesty and desperation as she pleads with her soulmate not to mess around again - he's on his last warning and he's ready to leave if he drops the ball again. However this song is far from the straightforward blues of Janis' other early songs. Like many songs from that first album this song switches gears midway through from blues-rock hybrid to music hall novelty, with a delicate Big Brother performance at odds with Janis' full-on vocal and a 'doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo-DUM!' riff that sounds as if they're 'laughing' at her. Yep those mean boys, who promise to be listening and caring but are just going to do the same thing all over again... Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' and the 'Janis' box set (1993)
[25a] 'Coo-Coo' is the B-side of the above, Big Brother's only 'exclusive' non-album single, and out of all the dozen songs recorded at the first album sessions is the one that points most towards the 'Cheap Thrills' sound to come. An Albin song about a 'pretty bird' who 'warbles when she flies', this one could easily have been some old folk tune with its metaphors for relationships in the animal kingdom and a verse about a card game thrown in there too, but it's the instrumental backing that's a huge step forward. The whole song is based around a tricky guitar riff that sounds hell to play and it's a great excuse for Big Brother to do what they do best: fall in behind with relentless playing that builds and builds into a mesmerising hypnotic trance. You can't listen to much of the first album and immediately think 'psychedelia' but with its slightly over-worldly feel and communing with nature this is very much the sound of 1967. Only a typically 'folk' last verse (where the 'coo coo' becomes a 'cruel bird' and the love is dashed at the last minute) ruins the illusion. Great as this version is it will be recycled in staggeringly superior form on 'Cheap Thrills' as the new song 'Oh Sweet Mary' (which uses the same riff, though sounding heavier than ever, but with a whole new set of words). Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' and the 'Janis' box set (1993) with an additional live performance released on 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 1968
Perhaps the most famous Big Brother outtakes is [43] 'Roadblock', a noisy collaboration between Peter and Janis that was most notable for being performed at the Monterey show that made the band stars. It's a song about frustration: that the narrator cannot get as far as they want in their relationship because they're forever being blocked and prevented at every turn. Comparing the pair's natural journey together as a long and unwinding road (this is before The Beatles did the same by the way), the narrator adds that he's done everything 'right' : he's carried heavy loads, emotional baggage by the bootful and 'offered everything I own'. It's just right for Peter and Janis to duet on, each one stubbornly complaining about the other. A live favourite and a key contender for 'Cheap Thrills', this might have been another case like 'Ball and Chain' where the band should have substituted a live version. The studio version just doesn't 'fly' - this is after all a tricky song with several disruptive stop-start passages and some gonzo left-turns from slowly stomping around in its own miserable cage and daring bursts of guitar solos that suddenly make everything right. Big Brother just can't nail this tricky song down right under the glaring lights of the Columbia studios (sadly not actually in Columbia but in New York). However on some of their magic nights - most notably Monterey - this song really comes alive, celebrating the freedom of everything coming together rather than the misery of the problems and with Janis coming up with some great improvisations at the end. Find it on: the studio take is on the CD re-issue of 'Cheap Thrills' and additionally 'Blow Al My Blues Away', with live performances on most of Big Brother's live albums, notably 'Monterey Pop Festival'
Sam's [44] 'Flower In The Sun' is another song that should have made the 'Cheap Thrills' album. An unusual mix of the tough, with a rattling guitar riff and a solo that could slash it's way through stone, and the poetic, with lyrics about an unequal partnership. Sam complains that what used to burn with a passion has now grown 'cold and distant' and compares the love affair to a flower falling in love with a sun - the blooms look amazing for an hour but then shrivel up and die away as the glare becomes too much. While related in romantic terms it's all too easy to twist these lyrics slightly and see them from the point of view of a band breaking up, although which of the two halves is the 'sun' and which the 'flower' is open to conjecture. Note too the lines about the 'other' half of the equation 'looking up at the sky and wondering how high it is', that could well be about Janis' desires for stardom away from the band that made her famous. If Janis worked all this out though (and she was more than bright enough to) it doesn't show in her performance which is as excellent as ever, aggressive but with great use of contrasts again - actually it's Sam's rather one-note solo that doesn't quite come off. Once again, curse the fact that 'Ball and Chain' isn't an even better nine or even eleven-track album than the glorious seven track album it is already. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Cheap Thrills' and 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

 'Catch Me Daddy' is another live favourite that surprisingly never made it to record in Janis' lifetime. To be honest this group written song isn't much of a one (it's another one note song about 'sitting round in the evenin' wonderin' why did I ever leave?) but oh that performance. There are loads of live versions out there, all with their own ticks and traits (a bare knuckles rollercoaster ride on the 'Cheap Thrills' CD, a slower meandering version on the 'Janis' box set and an almost jazz rendition in rather muddy sound on 'Blow All My Blues Away'. All are fabulous, with the Big Brother mentality coming into its own and there's almost a competition to see whether the band or Janis can make the most noise, with some truly jaw-dropping guitar solos in all three. Had there been more of a song to go with Janis' passionate improvised raps and the classic see-sawing guitar riffs this might have been the best song in the book; even so it's pretty darn good. Find one version on both the 'Cheap Thrills' CD re-issue and 'Farewell Song' (1982), with a further version on 'Janis' (1993) and 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012) and a third solely on 'Blow All My Blues Away'
Another of the Big Brother highlights that got away, the band performed some terrific versions of Mark Warren Spoelestra's [46] 'The Magic Of Love' down the years but oddly never tried it on record (it would have been another fine addition to 'Cheap Thrills', although it is perhaps a little bit similar to 'Piece Of My Heart' with a similar cat and mouse feel between the verses and choruses). Unusually Janis is the 'passive' character in this love story, pleading with her man that she's changed and things are going to be different now, honest. In fact things are going to be so good they'll be 'part of a new magic race'. However the anguished guitar solo suggests otherwise, angrily screaming out the sense of betrayal and desperation only hinted at in the words. Big Brother are immense on this track, one of many you should go straight to when someone ill-informed tells you this band 'couldn't play' - the looseness  is the whole point, with this song so outrageously raw it hurts, even whilst Janis is trying to sing a classic power pop chorus. Magic indeed. Find one live version from Detroit 1968  on: the CD re-issue of 'Cheap Thrills', 'Farewell Song' (1982) and 'The Ultimate Collection' (1998), plus a second on 'Live At The Winterland 1968', a third on 'Move Over!' (2011) and a fourth on 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
A popular live Big Brother number that also sounded pretty hot in the studio, [ ] 'Misery'n' is a slow and slinky blues number with a beat that would have been another strong addition to 'Cheap Thrills'. A collaboration between the whole band, this song is an interesting combination of the 'tah-dah!' novelty of the first album in the chorus and the more authentic blues of the second. It would be nothing in most other singer's hands and relies a lot on janis working like a soul singer, huffing and puffing her way through a repetitive song about how miserable she is (sample lyric: 'Woah there's rooms are so like, you know, empty empty empty empty, filled up with sadness yeah'). However it's the peculiar vibrato on Sam's guitar that you remember most, as he disconsolately keeps shutting the passionate Janis lead back in its box, refusing to listen to her despite her pleas. Find it on: 'Farewell Song' (1982), 'The Ultimate Collection' (1998) and 'Blows All My Blues Away' (2012)
Another 'Cheap Thrills' outtake often played live, [ ] 'Farewell Song' is a strange old song. Most Big Brother songs tend to start at loud and work their way up from their (except the occasional ballads), but this one doesn't roar so much as stomp and hop from foot to foot. Another of Sam's songs which might possibly be about Janis leaving the band (though hidden in more general terms) it features Janis getting ever more emotional as she tries everything to make her former lover drop the cold shoulder act he's been giving her. However while the song is an especially good one for the twin guitarists (who slash away at the riff throughout) the stop-start arrangement doesn't give Janis as much room for manoeuvre as usual and the song falls a little flat as performed in the studio. The live versions of the period are a bit better though and point towards how good this song might have been, especially Janis' extended last verse. The title came in very handy when Columbia compiled their own outtakes in 1982 too, although the irony is that this narrator is leaving because she doesn't want to 'die a little bit more each day'. Find it on: 'Farewell Song' (1982), 'The Ultimate Collection (1998) and 'Blow My Blues Away' (2012)
Only at the Monterey Festival could you see such a sight: a girl and four guys making squeaking 'duh duh duh duh duh duh' noises like they're on TV programme 'Playschool' (or superior sequel 'Let's Pretend') being robots before Janis suddenly yells [ ] 'Harry' with a piercing shriek and the whole thing descends into feedback and chaos. The crowd go nuts - even for the summer of love this is daring and the crowd seem taken aback by just how much applause their 60 seconds of monkeynutsdom is getting. Zoom on a year though and this self-indulgent joke suddenly doesn't feel right: its 1968, the vibe is 'heavy' not experimental and Big Brother songs are becoming long not short (even if they do slow things down for this studio version). As a result this 'Cheap Thrills' outtake sounds like no one's heart is in it anymore but they'd better go through with it because they want to re-create their Monterey successes as closely as possible. They should have made it a B-side for Monterey fans perhaps, but it was never going to work like this despite Janis' ad libbed pleas of 'Harry please come home' which weren't on the original version. For the record I can find no mention of a 'Harry' in any connection with the band, so my best guess is that they did some time trravelling and based it on Crazy Harry from the Muppet Show in 1979 who liked blowing things up (they had a 'Janice' too remember and Jim Henson did once say he was a fan). Well a song this weird has to have some explanation other than 'they made it up' doesn't it?! Find it on: 'Farewell Song' (1982) and 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
One of the quirkiest Big Brother songs, [ ] 'Mr Natural' is a downright peculiar Sam Andrew song that starts with all the band pretending to be a ringing phone (with Janis the early morning call - now that would wake you up!) and seems to sum up the hippie existence: 'I don't care, my needs are few - now what am I gonna do?' Mr Natural wakes up determined to 'go out for a run' but soon feels lazy, gets stoned and ends up back in bed. However its the drugs that put the narrator in the state he needs to work as a creative artists: in Sam's words 'My brain gets loose, my stove gets hot, the music hits my ears - Lord it sounds so sweet!' One of the few 1967 songs to actually come right out and say 'taking drugs is good for you', this peculiar novelty was quite a live favourite and would have been a natural for the next Big Brother album with Janis (whose having a lot of fun with it here). Instead the band re-recorded it with Kathi McDonald for the first post-Janis album in 1970 'Be A Brother' where it isn't half as much fun as the Janis era version. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #9:1969
Bob Dylan's [55] 'Dear Landlord', a track from his 1967 album 'John Wesley Harding', has been performed by a few different people but never quite like this. Turning Bob's wordy epic into a full tilt power rocker with horns, Janis had intended this track for her 'Kozmik Blues' album before sensibly abandoning it - while fine for what it is it's very much at odds with the rest of that album, an emotional heartbreaking epic whereas this song is intellectual and wordy. While Janis does well to sing Bob's song as if it makes sense and 'tidies up' Dylan's notoriously wayward time metres and crossed lines better than most, it's not a natural fit for her style: there's simply too many words per line to sing and nothing worth getting worked up for. Janis probably picked up on the album's 'Texas outlaw' vibes and tales of ordinary people being ripped off by corporations and greed, but if so it's a shame she didn't consider recording the title track instead, a track much more her style. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'I Got Dem Ol' Kozmik Blues Again Mama!' (1969), the box set 'Janis' (1993) and the 'other' box set 'Blow My Blues Away' (2012)
Jerry Ragavoy scored his second big hit with Janis' cover of 'Piece Of My Heart'. Always fond of his material, for a time Janis sang his first big hit too, [ ] 'Stay With Me (Baby)', a co-write with George Weiss that was a big hit for Lorraine Ellison in 1966 and has been covered many times (fellow AAA star Steve Marriott does a particularly good version). Blocked from using many of Janis' famous tracks, 'The Rose' biopic originally very much based around Janis' life but then 'altered' in pre-production makes good use of this song (where Bette Midler sings it) - about the only song in the soundtrack score we know for definite that Janis performed (although its slower and sweeter than this version). This time round the Kozmik Blues sound rather good and Sam gets a rare period guitar solo that's bang on the money, but it's Janis who doesn't sound right for this track. 'Piece Of My Heart' worked because of the sudden twist of the knife between happiness and anger that Janis does so well, but this is more of a 'coasting' song that's meant to build little bit by little bit and Janis is simply too darn impatient to get the most out of the song. To be fair, though she seems to realise the fact, turning the song into one of her fast-paced improvisations that works nicely and the Kozmik Blues Band don't seem to have ever returned to this song which survives only thanks to a rare live appearance. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
Well here's an interesting one. For years [ ] 'Let's Don't Quit' has been turning on Janis Joplin bootlegs and for years we've been saying 'naaaah that isn't her' - not least because the singer is using the screechy full-on mode that Janis stopped using the minute she tries to sound like the guitarists in Big Brother in 1968. It's not uncommon for bootleggers to get carried away or hoodwinked - to this day there are some fans who think that's Janis singing on a demo of 'Leaving On A Jet Plane' even though it sounds nothing like her (my guess is it's Chantal Kreviazu from the soundtrack of the film 'Armageddon' by the way) and 'Let's Don't Quit' is the sort of thing she'd have sung in 1965 when her voice was smokier and rougher. Since it's release on a sort of 'official bootleg' however we've had to take this recording more seriously - not least because most of the tapes are meant to have comes from James Gurley's collection and he'd know a Joplin fake if anyone could. So there are a few options for this rather undistinguished rocker: either it really is Janis and 1) she had a bad cold that day 2) fancied singing in her old style 3) the dating is wrong and this is much earlier (it sounds more like 1965/66 Janis) or it really isn't Janis and we really have all been fooled. Again. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
One of Janis' closest musical friendships was with Paul Butterfield, whose Blues Band had been a fellow act at Monterey and who shared many of the same 'black soul in a white person's body' as Janis' own. Paul Rothchild, who worked with Janis on her last album 'Pearl', came to fame working with the Butterfield Band and saw a great deal of similarities between the pair and encouraged them to collaborate. Sadly [ ] 'One Night Stand' was the only song that was ever finished - ironically, really, given the lyrical pleas that this romance is so deep it must mean more than the other one night stands in the narrator's life. Written by Barry Flast and Samuel Gordon, the song is an interesting mix of the two artists' styles, with some typical Butterfield harmonica and a slightly 'tamer' vocal part set against the oh so Janis swirly organ and Kozmik horns. It's a pretty song that stretched Janis vocally and points towards the gentler style of 'Pearl' to come, if not quite living up to its 'lost classic collaboration between two blues giants' as it was considered before release in 1982. The 'Blow All My Blues Away' set includes a couple of outtakes alongside the finished product, although apart from a slower tempo and a slightly less together lead vocal there aren't any real differences.  Find it on: 'Farewell Song' (1982), 'The Ultimate Collection' (1998) and 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)

Non-Album Recordings Part #10:1970
 [ ] 'Full Tilt' is an unremarkable 'theme song' for Janis' new band that they can play whenever Janis has walked off stage or - if she's running late - before she walks. In one way it's rather a clever open-ended jam section that can be tailored to whatever the circumstances dictate - but one that's all too clearly modelled on 'Green Onions', the theme tune of Otis Redding's band Booker T and the MGs but without the same distinctive riff. It's also a poor sequel to 'Kozmik Blues', the theme tune of Janis' last band, having far less depth and 'soul', although you could argue that it's full tilt boogie-blues does sum up the ramshackle band rather well. Unreleased in Janis' lifetime, this instrumental has been released since on a handful of posthumous releases such as 'Wicked Woman - The Last Concert'  (1970/1976)
Janis could have done with fellow Texan blues singer Johnny Winter back in her early days when she felt alone with what she was doing and it's perhaps surprising the two bedfellows never met until the very end of Janis' life. However better late than never - recorded in  Madison Square Gardens in December 1969,  [ ] 'Ego Rock' is a sly put-down of outdated Texas values from two musicians who learnt that the hard way and features both on fine form, using the same tough 12 bar outline of 'Turtle Blues' once again. The song is one Janis co-wrote with Nick Gravenites and may have been an 'outside contender' for 'Pearl' (which is a such a short album something else must have been intended for it that wasn't finished besides the part-done 'Buried Alive In Blues'. The song is a highly revealing one that while no doubt intended as a comedy reveals quite a lot of bile even all these years on for Janis' un-beloved birthplace: 'I been all around this world but Port Arthur is the very worst I've ever found!' Janis screams, before adding 'I guess they just didn't understand me - do you know they used to laugh me off the streets?' Presumably the 'LBJ' with whom Winter plays 'scrabble' is president Lyndon B Johnson, born in Stonewall Texas.
[ ] 'Help Me Baby' is the second and lesser known of the two songs performed live with Johnny Winter. It's less interesting than the first, a noisy cacophonous jam with saxophones that sounds like 'Raise Your Hand' would if it had been drinking way too much caffeine. Janis doesn't sing for the first minute and when she does the quality of the tape is hard to hear with Janis barely getting beyond a plea for help. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
[ ] 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' ('Well of course I'm just calling it a Sunday but all days seem the same when you're on the streets') is the last great cover song addition to the Joplin canon and played frequently on that last Full Tilt tour, although it perhaps came along a little late for inclusion on 'Pearl'. Another Kris Kristoffersen song with a similar feel about it to 'Bobby McGee', this song was a number one hit in the country charts for Johnny Cash the year before and suits Janis' quieter, more reflective voice very well. It's a sad tale of how the narrator feels the loneliness of their life the most on a Sunday when everyone else is in church congregations or playing with their families in the park as the narrator trudges alone to their cold and lonely flat. Paul Rothchild may well have picked the song out for her in fact, as it fits with his idea of offering Janis a 'future' for her voice built on subtlety rather than power. It also makes for a neat bookend to Janis' career being ever so nearly the same song as 'What Good Can Drinkin' Do?' from eight years, the narrator suffering a hangover much bigger than just the alcohol still coursing through their system. A real shame Janis never lived long enough to give us a proper studio take of the song, although even in muddy sound on a glorified bootleg released to cover copyright problems it still sounds awfully good. Find it on: 'Blow All My Blues Away' (2012)
'Pearl' itself is a funny little curio,m like 'Buried Alive In The Blues' a seemingly unfinished song. But was it intended from the first as an instrumental (though unusual Janis did like giving her new bands a chance to strut their stuff without her from time to time)? Or is it another unfinished song Janis was meant to be singing on? And was this always intended as the title track of the album (Janis had decided on 'Pearl' early as she joked about with the band that it was her 'alter ego') or simply named that because that was the album it was meant to be on? A sleepy full orchestral weepie on similar lines to 'Little Girl Blue' and 'A Woman Left Lonely'  but with added jazz drum brushes, 'Blues' points even more towards a gospel flavour than the rest of the album and it certainly doesn't sound like her usual style. However Janis had surprised us before with what genres she was able to add to her locker so perhaps this too might have proved us wrong. Find it on: 'The Pearl Sessions' (2012)
On October 9th 1970 something unprecedented happened: one of the biggest rock stars in the world turned thirty, Unthinkable! John Lennon was one of the eldest rock and roller around (though Grace Slick and Billy Wyman were older by a year they kept that a secret as best they could) and Yoko Ono wanted an unusual gift for her husband's big day. She asked as many musicians as she could get in contact with for a 'special' message - the only officially released one is George Harrison's rather raucous 'It's Johnny's Birthday' as featured on the Apple Jam disc of his 1970 album 'All Things Must Pass', though other exist on bootleg (including a jam featuring Ringo, Stephen Stills and Klaus Voormann).  [56] 'Happy Birthday John' was Janis' contribution, a spoof Vera Lynn style croon based around the song 'Happy Trails' which actually reveals what a really lovely voice Janis had in that style had she preferred that kind of music. If I know Lennon like I think I do he'd have been spluttering in laughter at being serenaded in the musical style the pair detested (it's a shame a full collection of these songs hasn't been released actually - there are some good ones). It's a shame the Full Tilt Boogie Band haven't rehearsed a bit more though as their backing is a bit of a mess. Recorded on October 1st to be ready in the post in time, few there in the studio would have guessed that Janis herself would never reach the big 3-0 and that in fact this will be taped at her very last studio recording sessions, either before or after the similarly party-spirited 'Mercedes Benz'. Naturally Dick Cavett asked Lennon during his appearance on his show after ten months if he'd ever met Janis, one of his favourite guest stars. John says that the studio had already put the tape in the post for him before Janis' death on the fourth of October and that he was deeply moved to hear it on his birthday just five days after her death (funnily enough the song Lennon records that very day for his first solo LP is titled 'Remember', on an album all about death and the loss of people closest to him). A spooky postscript to the 'Pearl' sessions. Find it on: 'Janis' (1993) and  'The Pearl Sessions' (2012)
'Buried Alive In The Blues' was officially the only backing track recorded for Pearl that Janis never got round to finishing, with Janis hearing the finished backing track the day before her death in preparation for recording the day after (it seems odd actually that she wasn't around when the Full Tilt Boogie Band recorded it given how hands-on she was for 'Pearl' after three albums where she'd felt she'd had to 'compromise' with other musicians). While Janis wasn't averse to having instrumentals on an album this one 'sounds' as if it has all the right spaces for Janis' vocal delivery on top and it was written by Nick Gravenites, Janis' favourite writer of the period, who'd have known just what she needed. You can hear him sing it in fact as part of a low-key re-recording tribute for Janis on Big Brother and the Holding Company's 1971 album 'How Hard It Is' where its one of the highlights of the album and while the singers' styles are very different you can hear how good Janis would have sounded (seeing as both acts were on Columbia it would be nice some day if they'd add this version to one of the interminable 'Pearl' re-issues). Perhaps the one that got away, although it's still hard to tell in unfinished form and oh my goodness the irony of that title, which sums up the way that Janis lived her life for twenty-seven years. You couldn't ask for a better epitaph, even if the song itself is more about finding a way out than giving in to the 'blues' hitting the narrator from all sides. Find it on: The Pearl Sessions' (2012)


'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?