Earlier this month, Glide
had a chance to talk with one of the founders of the legendary 60’s band, Big Brother & The Holding Company. Sam Andrew, who still tours in a version of the band to this day, shared memories of his time playing with Janis Joplin during the heyday of the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love and the release of Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968,
a remarkably sharp and pristine recording that sat in perfect hibernation at soundman Owsley Stanley’s home for years. For music fans who have always focused their attention on the breathtakingly otherworld vocals of Joplin, this recording will be a surprise as it brings to the forefront the talent of Big Brother as a whole band.
As a spry gentleman just entering his 70’s, Andrew still enjoys performing and helping to spread the good stories about his former band mate, Janis Joplin. As Night Ranger’s Joel Hoekstra, who met Andrew while working on the stage production of Love, Janis, shared recently, “Working with Sam was/is great. A true artist and a great sense of humor too.” So while enjoying a warm day near San Francisco, Andrew took us on a field trip back to the glorious 60’s when music encompassed as much spirit as the people who made it.What did you think when you heard this recording from the Carousel Ballroom that Owsley had tucked away after all these years?
Well, I heard it maybe about five years ago. Owsley called us and he said, “Hey, I found this tape of you guys and I’ve been working on it over here in Berkeley;” so we went over to listen to it. We had just played a month before that show at Winterland in San Francisco, and Sony had released that about a month before and it’s called Live At Winterland
. We played a good set that night. Just like you, bands have good days and bad days and average days and that was a real good day we had with a good performance. We were happy with it and then on the Owsley tape, I mean, it was brilliantly recorded but we weren’t having our best night, you know what I mean. It was maybe 80 percent or something like that. So no matter how well you record something if the band doesn’t feel like it’s the best night, they’re not going to be happy. So we tried to explain that to him that day when we went to hear the tape in Berkeley and I’m not sure he really understood it and I don’t know why. It seemed like it would be easy to understand but he released it and now that he has it’s funny, we’re all happy with it. It’s worth it having it out there.Why was now a good time for him to put it out there?
That’s a good question. He recorded hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours of bands back then. He recorded the Grateful Dead a lot. That’s why I was surprised when he focused on us because we all thought of him as THE guy who records the Dead and that was his big thing. You know, he held on to that thing for a long time and I don’t know if you know but he died about a year ago in an auto accident in Australia. So I think his family wanted for this to be kind of a legacy. It was important to his family and that had a lot to do with our agreeing for it to be released. That was their father and husband and they wanted to honor his memory so that’s why we ok’d it. I’m glad we did cause now I get to talk to people like you about it because each of you make me realize that there is something there. We were just focusing on our own performance [that night] and forgot about the recording.
It definitely brings you back in time listening to this; the spirit and the sound of how it was back then. Do you think the 60’s, or specifically San Francisco in the 60’s, has been over-romanticized to where it was maybe a place that never really existed?
(laughs) I do think that, of course. Like when you think back to when you were a child, you probably remember all the great stuff and it seems like golden times to you. But human memory is such that we kind of select out the good memories and we forget about living day to day at the time, which living day to day is a little more confusing and diffuse. But you forget about years past and you remember the really nice stuff. And that’s what’s happened with that era in the Haight-Ashbury. People filtered out and forgot the difficult day to day things that can happen. So yes, it’s over-romanticized. People give it a purpose and a direction that it really didn’t seem to have at the time if you really think about it. It was a lot more confusing than it seems to be now. It’s just inevitable; that’s the way it is with human memory.How did you first get involved in music?
Well, my father played the guitar. He was in the Air Force but he played the guitar at home and not my mother herself but all of her people played music a lot. At home they’d sit out on the porch and play music. So I guess it was important; it seems like it was. There was a guitar around the house so I just picked it up and started playing. I would ask him questions and he would say, “If you’re going to play, you have to learn to play it by yourself” (laughs). So I did and I guess it was good advice.Is it true that you had your own little TV show when you were a teenager?
Yeah, I had a band in high school and it was pretty good, a pretty good band, and one of these days I’m going to write the history of that. I had it from when I was like sixteen to eighteen. We were living on Okinawa, Japan, so they needed people to play on television and stuff. All the grown-ups were in the service, they were in the military, so the kids had to do a lot of things that the adults would do elsewhere. So that was one of them.How did you start Big Brother & The Holding Company?
I was walking down the street one day in the Haight-Ashbury and I heard some music coming out of a window, some guitar playing and it was really good. I walked in and it was Peter Albin, who is the bass player now but he was playing the guitar. I just thought it was a great sound and I asked him if he wanted to start a band and he didn’t at first. It took a long time to talk him into it. But we jammed and it kind of evolved into a band finally.Big Brother was together about a year before your manager Chet Helms brought Janis in, correct?
Yeah, just about a year. From the time I heard Peter and we started jamming, that was the spring of 1965. But it took it a little while to coalesce into a band, then Janis came in about a year later, in about June of 1966, when we were already playing gigs and we were in the newspaper and that kind of thing. We were a known band.How did you feel about Janis coming in? Because with your reputation you really didn’t need a singer.
Yeah, we could have gone on without a singer but I loved having Janis in the band from note one, from the first time she sang. I loved hearing her sing. But she displaced a couple of guys in the band. She displaced Peter as a leader and she displaced James Gurley, who was the other guitar player. He was kind of the star of the band and she displaced him as that. They both had kind of conflicting emotions about her being there even though they loved her. But I didn’t because I wasn’t the leader and I wasn’t the star. I was the songwriter and she was the singer so all of a sudden I had this great voice to write for. My emotions about her coming into the band were very uncomplicated. I was really glad she was there. Plus, personally, she was a really funny person and I always respond to that a lot. She made everybody laugh almost all the time and was a lot of fun.What is one of your special memories of hanging out with her?
I remember once when we were all backstage and there was a big crowd there and everyone was really loud, laughing and having a good time, there was this young girl sitting over in the corner and she was kind of alone. People kind of ignored her, she wasn’t flashy and that kind of thing. And Janis noticed her and picked her out and talked to her and made her feel at home. And that meant a lot. It means a lot to you when you see someone and Janis didn’t have to do that, she didn’t need that girl, you know. But she had compassion for her so she went over and helped her join in and become part of everyone else, made her feel at home. And that’s a good thing to be that way.What do you remember most about the Monterey Pop Festival?
(laughs) I remember Otis Redding the most; well, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. It’s a tie, very close between them. I liked Ravi Shankar, who was a classical musician from India and was very good. As far as us playing there, I loved it. I always loved performing and performing is always a lot of fun. I loved being at Monterey but I love every time I get to play. Really, it’s Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar.Did you see Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones walking around?
Yes, I saw Brian Jones and if I’m not mistaken, Marianne Faithfull was there. Everyone there was remarkable. Even people who weren’t known, who weren’t famous, and maybe some of them were the most remarkable; the way they were dressed and the way they acted. Everyone was a star then. Just people on the street then in Haight-Ashbury, the way they would look and the way they had created themselves. It was real interesting.When Janis decided to leave Big Brother, how did you feel about that?
You know, I had heard it so long before, like two or three months or something she said she was going to leave the band. If I had to do over again today, I would have tried my best to talk her out of it. But I didn’t try to talk her out of it. I was like, “What are you going to use for a band?” And she said, “Well, I really don’t know.” So I offered to put one together for her, to put a band together, and that became an interesting project. I got to talk to a lot of musicians around the United States and there was no talk of my going with her whatsoever. I didn’t think that was going to happen. So I called people and tried to help her do it and finally she asked me if I wanted to go along and I said yes. I liked Janis. I liked her more than anyone else in the band. I talked to her more, was closer to her, so I was curious what would happen with her. So finally I went.
It was a mistake for me to go with her and it was a mistake for her to go at the time she did. She wasn’t ready yet and that was part of the problems that came later. I was over there a while, six to nine months or something like that, and then she fired me because we were both getting real stoned, not really doing what we should be doing. They were trying to save that band and started throwing people out. They had like five or six drummers. They were just kind of grasping at straws kind of. Then she wound up with the Full-Tilt Boogie Band, which was a good band for her. If she would have lived, they would have done some really great things. As it is they did great things. Sony has The Pearl Session
s, as they call it, and that’s come out too and it’s real good. That was a good band for her. When you went back to Big Brother, how did that feel? And how did the other guys accept you or not accept you back into the fold?
They accepted me fine, which surprised me. I’m not sure I would be that lenient if one of them would have done that but our focus was on something else. We started playing with some people who were really good players, a lot better than each of us were. I guess that took the focus off and the music started sounding so great and all that stuff about the past kind of went away. It turned into a really good band, we made a couple of albums and they still sound really good today. But yeah, I’ve always been curious about that too: why they were so placid about that.When Janis died, do you remember who told you?
I’m in a place called Marin County today, just a little north of San Francisco, and we were in this county and she died in Los Angeles. Her equipment manager was an old friend of ours and he called us and said, “Janis died last night.” So we got together and we had a little wake for her, remembering her, playing some of her songs and that kind of thing. That was it, you know.Was it a shock or did you see it coming?
Both. It was both a shock and I saw it coming. That was quite a year. A lot of people were dying that year, famous and non-famous. The 60’s had a lot of great bands in San Francisco. What can you tell us about the Jefferson Airplane?
Well, out of all those bands, that’s the band we play the most with these days, the Jefferson Starship. They’re all really nice people. When Peter and I were stumbling around trying to find our way to be a band, Jefferson Airplane was already completely together, completely capable and amazing and they sounded really good. Those bands, and I say those because I’m thinking of like the Grateful Dead and the Airplane, we’d all gone through like a folk music period just before that whole psychedelic thing. To me, they were like folk music carried into overdrive (laughs). And the Dead too. They were like folk ensembles that were electrified. Even though it was rock & roll, it wasn’t like the Rolling Stones rock & roll, it wasn’t like Big Brother rock & roll; those were kind of blues influenced. With the Dead and the Jefferson Airplane it was like folk music in overdrive. It was fun and to this day they’re all really great people, nice people.So what are you up to these days besides playing with Big Brother?
I’m writing this history of the band. I’m on part nine, 1993 or 1994 or something like that. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to finish this up. We’re leaving for Europe on the 5th of June so I’m trying to get this kind of in shape before we leave.Do you plan to publish this history?
I don’t know. I’m going to write it first and then see what happens. I’ll probably definitely sell it somehow just to keep it from disappearing cause if you put something on a website, then somebody takes the website down, which has happened to me before; it disappears. And I don’t want that to happen so it’s a protection against that happening and I’m going to publish it somehow.Speaking of writing, what do you think is the song that you’ve written that you’re the most proud of?
(laughs) Well, I like them all. I like “Call On Me” a lot because they use it sometimes in movies as a love song or when something else great is happening. Then “Combination Of The Two”, which starts off the Cheap Thrills album, they make movies in Hollywood, obviously, and every now and then they need a fast rock song from Janis and they’ll try to get one of hers and they’ll be too expensive to get the rights for so “Combination Of The Two” will be a song that Janis is on that they can get relatively inexpensively. It’s the first cheap song that Janis is really singing on that they can get (laughs). So they’ll get that a lot because it’s like a bargain basement price (laughs). But she sings great on it.MY ROOTS will be on vacation next week but will return the following week on June 9 with an indepth interview with one of rock’s roaring females – Lita Ford.