Fact-filled and authoritative, the new Janis: Her Life and Music (Simon & Schuster) by Holly George-Warren gives an intimate glimpse into how Janis Joplin became the queen of rock, soul and blues in the late 1960s.
“I’ve been waiting for the right person to write the definitive biography of Janis Joplin!” says Grammy Award winner Roseanne Cash on the book’s back cover. George-Warren’s book fills a void no one knew was empty.
Joplin burst onto the music scene in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival with San Francisco psychedelic band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She didn’t stop until a shot of heroin laid her down in 1970 in a Los Angeles hotel.
In between, her voice and aspirations changed popular music forever and opened the door to other women who wanted to be more than a “chick singer” in an all-male band.
Born in 1943, Janis Joplin grew up in conservative Port Arthur, Texas; smart, talented and outspoken, she quickly became a rebel and an outsider. While still in high school, she traveled to roadhouses in Louisiana, drinking in black music and filling her soul with country blues.
Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Odetta and Lead Belly were her icons. (A YouTube interlude with all these musicians provides a good basis for what Janis Joplin achieved.) She started out with a delicate folk soprano, but soon traded it for a rough enthusiastic howl.
Joplin’s meteoric rise to stardom contrasted with her need to get high and to escape Port Arthur. She ricocheted between home and the West Coast three times, playing small coffeehouses before fame found her.
George-Warren details the day-to-day of Joplin’s too-few years: her letters, her feelings, her addictions and her flings with both men and women. George-Warren describes what Joplin sang on the Monterey stage, the origin and evolution of her songs, what Joplin was wearing during 1967’s Summer of Love.
The book is also filled with Joplin’s associations with dozens of other musicians: The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe McDonald, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison…the list goes on. Joplin also had links to record biz notables (Lou Adler, Albert Grossman, Bill Graham etc.) and film directors Richard Lester and D.A. Pennebaker.
Biographer George-Warren, a two-time Grammy nominee, (one for writing the liner notes for Joplin’s “The Pearl Sessions”) has the perspective to tell it like it was. She’s written dozens of books and articles about music and musicians, including the biography, A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Times of Alex Chilton, the Box Tops/Big Star singer songwriter who was “alternative when there was nothing to be alternative to,” comments Buelligan88 on YouTube. Remember 1967’s “The Letter?”
An acclaimed, earlier book, Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin by Myra Friedman, concentrates on the years Friedman was Joplin’s publicist during the singer’s rise and fall. The book was nominated for a National Book Award for biography.
A 1992 biography Love, Janis by Joplin’s sister, Laura, is a compassionate portrait as seen through the eyes of Joplin’s family and friends.
And for a take on the realities of the 1960s counterculture, read I Ran Into Some Trouble by Peggy Caserta, Haight-Ashbury hippy boutique owner and one of Joplin’s many lovers.
Janis, Her Life and Music is now available.
About Holly George-Warren:
Holly George-Warren is a two-time Grammy nominee and the award-winning author of sixteen books, including the New York Times bestseller The Road to Woodstock (with Michael Lang) and the biographies Janis: Her Life and Music, A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, and Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry. She has written for a variety of publications, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and Entertainment Weekly. George-Warren teaches at the State University of New York in New Paltz.