When Janis Joplin returned to San Francisco in the summer of 1966 she was indeed a much different girl than when she arrived to the city three years earlier with a head full of amphetamines, Southern Comfort, beat poetry and Ma Rainey records, evidenced from an unreleased and widely bootlegged 1964 recording session with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and his first wife Margareta playing a typewriter for percussion, which one could easily find by googling The Typewriter Tape
and .rar. She had gone back to her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, went to college at Lamar University in Beaumont, adopted a more conservative lifestyle and got engaged, occasionally performing solo gigs in Austin on the off time.
But once she made her way back out West, she reverted to her hard partying ways and cemented her place as the immortal hippie blues queen of Haight-Ashbury the moment she joined the ranks of the established local psych-rock act Big Brother & The Holding Company. By 1968, the Janis-led Big Brother was still riding high off the acclaim of their groundbreaking performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, taking their act to the east coast, playing their area debut at the old Anderson Theatre on 2nd Ave. in February of that year and then, on March 8th, becoming the very first band to play the Fillmore East before heading to Detroit for a pair of shows at the Grande Ballroom, which were recorded for a live album that never transpired. By the spring, BB&HC was preparing a return to the studio to begin what would become their breakthrough sophomore set, the R. Crumb-adorned classic Cheap Thrills
. But the band never stopped playing gigging in the San Francisco area, and now one of their most memorable shows from that year is now available for the first time on CD.
This particular performance went down on a hot June night at the Carousel Ballroom, as it was called for the few months when it was owned and operated by members of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother before Bill Graham took it over and rechristened it The Fillmore West. The concert on the evening of the 23rd of the aforementioned month was documented for posterity from the mixing board of the Carousel’s resident soundman, the late, great Owsley “Bear” Stanley, and marks the first release of the legendary archivist’s “sonic journals” that will be unveiled by his family in the future via Sony’s Legacy Recordings division. Needless to say, it is an amazing listen, capturing Big Brother in top form barreling through some of their best material, namely “Combination of the Two”, Bert Berns’ “Piece of My Heart” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain”, with the visceral electricity of a young, savage Led Zeppelin, who made their debut in ’68 coincidentally. And Janis sang as hot as she looked on that night from the looks of the photo snapped at the concert and adorned on the gatefold of Live at the Carousel Ballroom with
her fishnets and low-hanging miniskirt barely keeping her boobs from bobbling out. You can sense the raw sexuality in her voice as she purrs and wails through material like “I Need A Man” and “Catch Me Daddy”, exhibiting a freewheeling bravado unprecedented in white female singers at the time.
But the true star of this discovery is the man who was capturing all of the madness from the Carousel soundboard.
“This is Bear’s vision,” proclaims Stanley’s widow Sheilah in the liner notes to this collection. “How he heard the band live, and how he wanted to transmit that to you… this truly is Bear’s presentation of this phenomenal band and inspirational music.”
Indeed it will be most exciting to anticipate what other preserved treasures will be unearthed from Bear’s library of sonic journals to offer further insight into the history of San Francisco’s vibrant rock scene. If what’s to come is even half as good as this phenomenal recording, we are in for quite a memorable trip.