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Big Brother and The Holding Company

by Anthony DeCurtis - Rolling Stone
Live at Winterland '68

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY were exhausted when they crashed into their hometown of San Francisco to play a weekend of dates - dates that produced Live at Winterland '68. Their tumultuous performance at the Monterey Pop Festival the year before had propelled Big Brother to national prominence, and they were in the midst of recording Cheap Thrills, an anguishing process. At the same time that singer Janis Joplin was being hailed as a rising superstar, the band - guitarists Sam Andrew and James Gurley, bassist Peter Albin and drummer David Getz - were being pummeled by critics for its lack of technical chops. A month after Cheap Thrills was released, in August 1968, Joplin quit Big Brother, taking Andrew with her. Two years later, Joplin was dead. "It was a mistake for her to leave the band that early," Andrew says now. "She lost her moorings. She never got back to what she had with Big Brother. I think we had more to do with Janis becoming who she was than we were given credit for."

"PIECE OF MY HEART" "That came to us through the Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady," says Andrew. "Janis immediately latched onto the song, which was by Erma Franklin, Aretha's sister. Our version was very much the way a bunch of young white kids would do it. Erma's version was beautiful - mysterious, sacred, restrained. Then we came along and wrecked it."

"DOWN ON ME" "We often opened with this. I think Janis had been disappointed a lot, particularly for someone so young. She had a phrase, that life was 'the Saturday - night swindle - it's not what you think it's going to be, so you may as well not expect much.' 'Down on Me' and 'Ball and Chain' embody that view; Janis just related to it."

"MAGIC OF LOVE" "It was unusual for us to do a folk-rock song, a sweet little thing. There's a phrase in it: 'mystic silk.' Janis almost gagged on it, so she kind of threw it away every time. They were flowery, folky words - not really congenial to her."

"BALL AND CHAIN" "We heard Big Mama Thornton do this in a jazz club on Divisadero Street. She did it as a shuffle, almost a throwaway. We put it in a minor key and slowed it down, made it real kind of mystical. When Janis really got carried away, she'd stomp the floor, so all those hits in the song are in response to her body language. There were nights when that was truly great. Just to hear that much energy is joyful, a kind of a vindication for us."



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