Long considered the greatest female rock singer of the 60s, the heavily blues influenced and hard living Janis Joplin only lived to see one of her solo recordings released, the classic 1969 effort I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! At the time of her heroin overdose in Hollywood in 1970 at age 27, she was in the process of recording Pearl, the collection that includes her most memorable posthumous hits "Me and Bobby McGee" (written by friend Kris Kristofferson) and "Mercedes Benz," written by Ramblin' Jack Elliott.
Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, a small Southern petroleum industry town, she gravitated to artistic interests cultivated by parents Seth and Dorothy Joplin. She broke with local social traditions during the tense days of racial integration, standing up for the rights of African Americans whose segregated status in her hometown seared her youthful ideals. Along with a fellow group of beatnik-reading high school students, she pursued the non-traditional via arts and literature, especially music. They gravitated to folk and jazz, but Janis was especially taken with the blues.
Discovering an inborn talent to belt the blues, Janis began copying the styles of Bessie Smith, Odetta and Leadbelly. She played the coffee houses and hootenannies of the day in the small towns of Texas. She later ventured to the beatnik haunts of Venice, North Beach and the Village in New York, eventually landing in Austin, Texas as a student at the University of Texas. When old Austin friend, Chet Helms, then in San Francisco, called to offer her a singing audition with an up-and-coming local group, Janis moved West to find a vital San Francisco community, turned upside down by the flower children of 1966 and discovered her spiritual home; soon thereafter, she began singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Big Brother played their psychedelic rock up and down the California coast and signed with Mainstream Records for one album.
Then during the summer of 1967--the "Summer of Love"--Big Brother, fronted by Janis, played at The Monterey International Pop Festival. Joplinâ€™s version of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" made her an overnight sensation. Big Brother signed a three-record contract with Columbia Records, which released Cheap Thrills in August 1968; the gold album featured the Joplin-sung hits "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime." Not surprisingly, the act was billed "Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company." The pressure mounted, drugs, and Janis' already heavy drinking began affecting their performing and work relationships, leading to the groupâ€™s breakup in early 1969.
Janis formed a new group, oriented more toward blues and released I Got Dem 'Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama in September of 1969. Finally recognizing the problems in her life, Janis tried to quit her heroin use. She formed a third outfit, called the Full Tilt Boogie Band, which reflected a tighter, more professional sound. Janis felt she'd finally found her unique style of white blues. While recording her next album Pearl, she chanced into using heroin again. Obtaining a dose more pure than usual, she accidentally overdosed in a motel in Hollywood. Pearl was released posthumously. It was her most successful album to date.
Janis's albums have since gone gold, platinum, and triple-platinum. Several releases followed her death, including a critically acclaimed boxed set, simply called Janis. A movie of her life is currently in production.