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Boomer Blues: Janis Joplin Debuts “Ball and Chain” at Monterey Pop


“I’d rather have 10 years of super-hyper-most than live to be 70 by sitting in some goddam chair watching TV” — Janis Joplin

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970), nicknamed “Pearl” Janis Joplin becomes the reigning goddess of the new hippie love generation at the Monterey Pop Festival, belting the blues epic “Ball and Chain” with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. A Texas girl relocated to San Francisco, Joplin is a nobody before she comes to Monterey, but she steals the show. In the Monterey Pop movie, you can see Mama Cass in the audience shake her head and say, ” Wooow ” – and that says it all.

Sitting down by my window
Honey, looking out at the rain
Lord, Lord, Lord, sitting down by my window
Baby, looking out at the rain
Something came along, grabbed a hold of me
And it felt just like a ball and chain

Long ago — in another lifetime — in another country — in another world — I knew Janis briefly. Very briefly. In person, she came across as a very small, very slight, very damaged soul who was, in the absence of alcohol, somewhat shy and painfully aware of her bad skin.

But when she stopped being Janis in her real life and became Pearl on stage, her pipes could and did cure the blues for millions. And then give them another dose.

Mad teenage Texas drove Janis into the dark. She never really climbed out. Once the needle goes in, it never comes out.

I don’t understand,how come you’re gone, man. I don’t understand why half the world is still crying, man, when the other half the world is still crying too, man. I just can’t get it together. I mean, if you gotta’ care for one day, man.

I don’t mean, if you, say maybe you wanna’ care for 365 days, right? You ain’t got 365 days. You got it for one day, man.

Well I tell you that one day man, better be your life man, because you know you could say oh man you could cry about the other 364 man, but you’re gonna loose that one day man, and That’s all you got.

You gotta’ call that love, man. That’s what it is, man. If you got it today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. ‘Cause you don’t need it. ‘Cause as a matter of fact, as we discovered on the train, tomorrow never happens, man. It’s all the same fucking day, man.

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  • Dan Patterson October 19, 2018, 11:08 AM

    One thing I noticed as a kid is some jazz and blues musicians, no matter their race, lose themselves to the song and perform without the limits I would impose on myself. Maybe because of a bashful and conservative nature, or fear of ridicule or failure, but I am impressed by those who bare their interpretive artistic souls whether anyone approves or cares. I saw in genuine folk musicians the same pattern; the Carter Family, Roscoe Holcomb, etc. all just did what they did. Joplin had the same trait – just listen to her a Capella with “Me and Bobby McGee” – she damn sure left it all out there.

  • ghostsniper October 19, 2018, 11:46 AM

    Just listened to BnC last night.
    No, not my wife.
    Janis.
    Hear that guitar being tortured in that thing?
    Nah, it’s not tortured, it was made to do that.
    And that Marshall amp.
    good gaw, does it get any better?

    I have played that very guitar.
    Yep.
    It’s a Gibson ES345. Varitone.
    With the chicken head.
    Stereo.
    Go price one out right now.
    I dare ya.

    My cousin bought it in 1973 and a few months later he showed me the workings for Stairway to Heaven on it. Sweet. Smooth. Beckoning. Urging. All that. I played it a few more times over the next year or so. Then I didn’t see it again til about 2005 when I dropped by his Florida house. I had a lot more experience this time and I showed the cuz a few things, on that guitar. And some of his other guitars. My cuz is wealthy, worked as a nuclear engineer at Three Mile Island for 30 years. No, not during THAT period. Right after. He was also on a nuclear sub in the navy. The Dace. Thats a fish. Like all other subs of that era.

    He’s a guitar collector. Very high quality. Remember the Gibson Black Beauty Les Paul Peter Frampton played in “Do You Feel Like We do”? He doesn’t own that guitar but the back up version that is identical. I played it. That middle pickup throws you off. But scream? On full gain that thing will wail for decades, or until you let off’n it. My Ibanez JS100 Joe Satriani’s like that, unbelievable sustain. I’ll keep it til I die. He has one of Carlos Santana’s early SG’s and I played that one too. Amazing harmonics all over the neck. I played Gimme Three Steps on that thing just using harmonics!!! It’s beat to death but fits like a glove. It just does. That can only happen through years of playing and constant tweaking. Like almost parallel lines, eventually they meet, and when they do it is natural music.

    I never played BnC on that infamous 345 because I don’t know how and it didn’t even occur to me at the time to try. I have a lot of stuff in my quiver. The hollow body’s are light and a pleasure to strap on. For hours. And I did. Rather than whole songs I play a medley of hundreds of songs, anywhere from 10 seconds worth to several minutes depending. I get overwhelmingly bored very fast and most songs are boring. So I change over a lot. Medley’s as my wife calls them. Always different, different order. Always something new. That 345 was warm when I set it down an hour or so later. Released from my ball and chain.

  • pbird October 19, 2018, 11:54 AM

    I did not like her work when she was current. Still don’t. I think she was a poor miserable person.

  • jwm October 19, 2018, 11:57 AM

    Ball and Chain is one of my all time favorites. Big Brother and the Holding Company were hot as hell. With this one song Janis absolutely pwn3d the Blues.

    JWM

  • Anderson October 19, 2018, 12:02 PM

    I remember an interview with Kris Kristopherson (with whom she was romantically linked) in which he admitted that he had no idea that she had recorded his song Me and Bobby McGee just before her death. He summed it up thusly: “She sang the hell out of it”. She did that on a lot of songs.

  • AmericusMagnus October 19, 2018, 1:01 PM

    I picked up a left-handed guitar 34 years ago, taught myself to play and never looked back.
    When you plug in, start playing and reach that point where you lose yourself – and leave the room – it’s pure magic…

  • Casey Klahn October 19, 2018, 1:28 PM

    I love it. I was always impressed with the way she looked like she was gonna eat that mic. She had this way of playing balls out.

    Which is fine for music, but don’t try it with the visual arts. Around here we like it Mitch Miller-like.

    OK. I had to say that. There’s a thread to everything expressive in art. Gerard, you met her, huh? That is very cool and I’d call it a brush with fame.

  • Dr. Jay October 19, 2018, 2:06 PM

    I like sitting in a chair watching TV. On a side note: I don’t believe said chair is damned. We have the Pearl album ON VINYL!

  • Vanderleun October 19, 2018, 3:40 PM

    Oh, I brushed.

  • Sam L. October 19, 2018, 4:10 PM

    Didn’t like Janis when I first heard her. Took me a while.

  • steve walsh October 19, 2018, 5:49 PM

    Was barely a teen when Janis, Jimi, and Jim died. I really only knew and appreciated them and their work posthumously. Love Janis, that song is great but I think Summertime is better. I was a Boy Scout then abouts. On long hikes it was not unusual for someone to start singing ‘Mercedes Benz’; we knew all the words and even attempted the same inflection.

  • Mary Ann October 19, 2018, 8:49 PM

    So…one of the hardest things I ever had to do was let ALL my vinyls go after my husband died and I had to sell the house and downsize b.i.g.t.i.m.e. But, there is Spotify and Prime Music and my music goes on though I’d prefer it coming from 4 EV speakers. When I was sad and young I’d listen to “Little Girl Blue” and now that I’m not young….I still do.

    https://youtu.be/FVpDOIPx_sY

  • Anon October 19, 2018, 8:49 PM

    She was bi-polar. It is probable that moast “artists” are bi-polar. What you saw/heard was her manic self. This is not to take anything away from her and what she did but more to explain her personality and why she isn’t here and died young.

  • Mary Ann October 19, 2018, 8:52 PM

    And then to feel better, I’d listen to this.
    https://youtu.be/mZmiefQ5y4U

  • ghostsniper October 20, 2018, 4:26 AM

    Mary Ann – You could have purchased a system that would have converted your vinyl to MP3.
    I purchased the one below for my wife last year at Christmas.
    She played flute in her high school band and they cut an album in her senior year, 1972.
    She wanted to hear that album on her computer.
    This one did the conversion painlessly.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01GRYDU5Y/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

  • Jeff Brokaw October 20, 2018, 5:45 AM

    Pretty revolutionary, for that audience at that time especially. Amazing vocal ability ie using her voice like a musical instrument to convey emotion. Truly one of a kind.

  • Fuel Filter October 20, 2018, 6:17 AM

    Saw BB twice at the Fillmore West in ’67. Insane shows. She always knocked it out of the park.

  • Rob De Witt October 20, 2018, 10:36 AM

    Amazing vocal ability ie using her voice like a musical instrument to convey emotion. Truly one of a kind/em>

    You never heard of Billie Holiday?

  • Jeff Brokaw October 20, 2018, 12:36 PM

    Rob – point taken. Two of a kind?

    Ten of a kind, maybe. Still pretty special.

  • Eskyman October 21, 2018, 1:48 PM

    Had a chance to see her in Frankfurt, Germany back in ’69. My buddy went & invited me along, but I was more into Judy Collins so I didn’t go.

    Oh, I have some regrets in life, I do. What a show I missed, what a talent I never got to see in person!

  • Skorpion October 22, 2018, 4:15 PM

    Always noticed she was especially popular with women. I think it’s because her music was deeply suffused with *distinctly female experiences* of power and pain, and she communicated them both brilliantly.

  • Suburbanbanshee October 23, 2018, 5:16 PM

    You don’t have to have that kind of pain to be a great artist. As Spider Robinson pointed out in a story. However, just as the great saints tend to attract some very harsh attention from the insecure, so do people who are brilliant, charismatic, and tell the truth about the world. So a lot of great artists end up very broken, either before they achieve mastery of their art, or during their achievement.

    The problem is that such people have a particularly hard time dealing with the contradiction between the beauty and the pain in the world, or the fact that they aren’t loved in a good way by the people who should be protecting them and helping them grow. So the Muse that should turn outward tends to turn inward.

    The other side of it is that most performing arts include a certain amount of enjoyment for the performer, but a lot more work and throwing your gifts to others. So people can do a really great job, and feel empty afterwards. People try to use drugs or sex to fill the emptiness, whereas really it’s a matter of just being patient.

    (Again, similar things happen with prayer lives — early on, there are lots of “consolations,” but experienced people don’t expect that stuff most of the time. Feeling temporarily empty, sometimes for a long time, is part of the life cycle of having gifts pour through you that are meant for others. Kinda stinks, but it makes you stronger and wiser when you can get through it.)

  • brinster October 27, 2018, 10:11 AM

    Saw her twice. Once at a music festival in Palm Beach County FL in late ’68, then in mid-69 in Jacksonville FL. Both gigs were post-Big Brother. At the festival, she told her sax player, who was black, “you look like a Campbell’s soup can.” His response? “Eat me!”
    The Jacksonville gig was a small venue, a high school perhaps. The crowd was cued up outside, and she came out to talk to somebody. Everybody was so freaked, noone said a word to her! I was amazed at how small she was. She put every bit of her being into her performances.