Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura Growing up her parents felt Janis needed more attention than their other children and at school she was never part of the crowd and proved to be a misfit. She was overweight, had a poor complexion and was regularly taunted by her classmates. At high school she befriended a group of outcasts, enjoyed painting, singing blues and folk music with friends. Her favourite artists were Leadbelly, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton.
She left high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer, and later the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Janis was a barefoot beatnik and performed with a folk trio called the Waller Boys. She made one recording on a friends tape recorder in 1962. Drawn more to blues and beat poetry than her studies and soon dropped out.
In 1963, Janis headed for San Francisco and settled in Haight Ashbury, where she hooked up with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane) and his wife, Margareta. Together, they recorded a suite of songs with Margareta, providing the beat on her typewriter. At the time the album failed to raise any interest and Janice was drank heavily, a 'speed freak' and occasional heroine user. Her friends encouraged her to go back to Port Arthur, Texas and clean up.
Back in Texas she enrolled as an anthropology major at Lamar University, but continued to sing as a solo performer. She changed her lifestyle by avoiding drugs and alcohol, and got engaged to a computer geek, Peter de Blanc. Unfortunately, de Blanc took cold feet and the marriage was called off. Janice Joplin recorded several studio tracks in 1965, which were only released later as 'This Is Janis Joplin 1965,' in 1995.
In 1966, she returned to SF on the invitation of promoter, Chet Helms who also managed an instrumental psychedelic-rock band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Helms thought Janis would provide the right vocals. The band had become the house band at the Avalon Ballroom and the new line up was Peter Albin (country-blues guitarist), Sam Andrew, (guitar) James Gurley (guitar), Peter Albin (bass), David Getz (drums),and Janis Joplin (lead vocals, tambourine, maracas). At first the band were unimpressed with their new singer but shoe soon won over the fans. Janice initially managed to avoid recreational drug use with the help of friends. The band lived in a commune and often partied with the Grateful Dead. Janice had a brief relationship with Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. The band were invited to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and met with an enthusiastic audience and critical reception.
The band went to Chicago, for a series of gigs but were left stranded after the promoter ran out of money. They quickly signed to Bob Shad's record label Mainstream Records and started recording their first album. Unhappy with the outcome the band returned to San Francisco to complete the recordings. They released "Blindman" and "All Is Loneliness" in Los Angeles as a single but it did not sell well.
Julius Karpen replaced Chet Helms as the band's manager in in 1966, before they were taken over by manager Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan, the Band, and Peter, Paul & Mary), and Columbia took over the band's contract and re-released the album, adding two extra tracks, and putting Joplin's name on the cover. It peaked at No. 60, in the Billboard Charts and remained there for a total of 30 weeks. The single "Down On Me" b/w "Call On Me" eventually peaked at No. 43 in the US singles charts.
In early 1967, Joplin had a brief relationship with Joe McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish).
Janis Joplin and Big Brother made their nationwide television debut on The Dick Cavett Show in early 1968. The band was billed as "Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company which caused resentment within the band. At their hiegh of live performance they recorded Live at Winterland '68, but the recording only became available to the public in 1998.
>br> The band released their second album, Cheap Thrills (1968). The album was the last with Janis as lead singer, is now considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco. The album stood at #1 on the charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks and Joplin won rapturous praise for her vocal intensity. The album cover was drawn by Robert Crumb. Joplin announced she was leaving Big Brother and they played their final three-night gig at the Fillmore West. The opening acts were Chicago (Chicago Transit Authority) and Santana. Janis actually carried on as lead vocalist with the band as they toured the United States. Janice Joplin finally left the group in December for a solo career.
Janis put together a group of session musiciansand called them Kozmic Blues Band in 1969. The line was Sam Andrew (guitar), Brad Campbell (bass), Cornelius “Snooky” Flowers (baritone saxophone), Terry Clements (tenor saxophone), Luis Gasca (trumpet), Richard Kermode (keyboards), Gabriel Mekler (Organ), Maury Baker or Lonnie Castille (drums). The band was influenced by the Bar Keys and other Stax-Volt rhythm and blues bands of the 1960s and Janis wanted a horn section similar to Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago). They had a more bluesy, funky, soul, pop-oriented sound than most of the hard-rock psychedelic bands of the period. Janis meantime had started using heroin again and had to be monitored daily during the recording of I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969). It was less commercially successful than Cheap Thrills, despite being technically better. The record company released "Kozmic Blues" as a single, which peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Janis Joplin reluctantly agreed to appear at Woodstock in 1969. There were long delays and under the influence, her performance, was marred by a hoarse voice and wheezy phrasing , she also found it hard to dance. None the less, the crowd loved her and cheered her on for an encore, to which she replied and sang "Ball and Chain".
Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured Europe.
In 1970, Janis Joplin had a new backup band, called, the Full Tilt Boogie Band from Canada. The line up was John Till (guitar), Richard Bell (piano), Brad campbell (bass), Clark Pierson (drums), and organist Ken Pearson. Before embarking on the "Festival Express" tour of Canada, Janis performed in two reunion gigs with Big Brother at the Fillmore West, in San Francisco, and the Winterland. Janis and the Full Tilt Band joined Buddy Guy, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and Eric Andersen, and Ian & Sylvia, among other artists for their tour of Canada.
In September 1970, Janis Joplin and the Full Tilt Band were in Los Angeles to record Pearl with producer Paul A. Rothchild. The album would be her last and showcased beautifully the singer’s mastery of virtually all pop genres. Janis Joplin died, from an accidental drug overdose in 1970, at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, aged 27. Pearl, was posthumously released a little more than three months after her death, and reached number 1 on the charts.