Sam Andrew, the guitarist and founding member of Big Brother and the Holding Company who also helped launch the career of Janis Joplin, passed away February 12th, ten weeks after he suffered a heart attack which was followed by complications from an open-heart surgery. Andrew was 73.
Big Brother and the Holding Company posted on their official Facebook page, “Yesterday, ten weeks after his heart attack and the open-heart surgery that followed it, Sam lost his gallant fight to hold onto the life he lived so well. He died peacefully in [wife] Elise’s arms at 5:15 pm. There will be much more to say about him in the days to come and there will come a time when we will gather together to remember him… For now we can all remember him in our own ways until we can remember him together. He lived his life in music and art and a loving marriage. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Andrew and bassist Peter Albin formed Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1965 out of the San Francisco folk scene. It was their manager Chet Helms that convinced a young blues singer out of Texas named Janis Joplin to join Big Brother instead of her native Austin’s psychedelic rockers the 13th Floor Elevators.
With Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company recorded two albums, their 1967 self-titled debut and their 1968 classic Cheap Thrills, one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, as well as performed a legendary set at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967.
Those two LPs also yielded singles now found on Joplin greatest hits collections like “Down on Me,” “Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Combination of the Two,” which Andrew penned. By the end of 1968, Joplin and Andrew left Big Brother and the Holding Company so the singer could pursue a solo career. Together they recorded Joplin’s solo debut I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
The following year, Andrew rejoined a newly reformed Big Brother and the Holding Company to record Be a Brother; that lineup would stick together for three years before disbanding in 1972. In 1987, Andrew and Albin again reunited Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the two founders, along with drummer Dave Getz, would continue to perform together as recently as October 2014. In addition to Big Brother, the guitarist also fronted his own Sam Andrew Band.
In January, Sam Andrew’s Facebook page alerted fans that the guitarist was in poor health following heart problems and an infection. “His medical team is trying numerous interventions to resolve it but results have been up and down and his condition is deteriorating,” his wife Elise Piliwale posted. “So it is with great sadness I inform you that although everything possible will continue to be done for Sam, his prognosis at this time is poor.”