In 1966, Janis Joplin's bluesy vocal style attracted the
attention of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the
Holding Company, a band that had gained some renown among the
nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. She was recruited to
join the group by Chet Helms, a promoter who had known her in
Texas and who at the time was managing Big Brother. Joplin joined
Big Brother on June 4, 1966. Her first public performance with
them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Due to
persistent persuading by keyboardist and close friend Stephen
Ryder, Joplin avoided drug use for several weeks, enjoining
bandmate Dave Getz to promise that using needles would not be
allowed in their rehearsal space or in the communal apartment
where they lived. When a visitor to the apartment injected drugs
in front of Joplin, she angrily reminded Getz that he had broken
his promise. A San Francisco concert from that summer was
recorded and released in the 1984 album Cheaper Thrills.
On August 23, 1966, during a four week engagement in Chicago,
the group signed a deal with independent label Mainstream
Records.They recorded tracks in a Chicago recording studio, but
the label owner Bob Shad refused to pay their airfare back to San
Francisco. Shortly after the five band members drove from Chicago
to Northern California with very little money, they moved with
the Grateful Dead to a house in Lagunitas, California. It was
there that Joplin relapsed into hard drugs.
In early 1967, Joplin met Country Joe McDonald of the group
Country Joe and the Fish. The pair lived together as a couple for
a few months. Joplin and Big Brother began playing clubs in San
Francisco, at the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Avalon
Ballroom. They also played at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles,
as well as in Seattle, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia,
the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, Massachusetts and the
Golden Bear Club in Huntington Beach, California.
The band's debut album was released by Columbia Records in August
1967, shortly after the group's breakthrough appearance in June
at the Monterey Pop Festival. Two songs from Big Brother's set at
Monterey were filmed. The film captured Cass Elliot in the crowd
silently mouthing "Wow!" during Joplin's performance.
In November 1967, the group parted ways with Chet Helms and
signed with top artist manager Albert Grossman. Up to this point,
Big Brother had performed mainly in California, but had gained
national prominence with their Monterey performance. On February
16, 1968, the group began its first East Coast tour in
Philadelphia, and the following day gave their first performance
in New York City at the Anderson Theater. On April 7, 1968, the
last day of their East Coast tour, Joplin and Big Brother
performed with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie
Havens, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop at the "Wake for
Martin Luther King, Jr." concert in New York.
TIME magazine called Joplin "probably the most powerful singer to
emerge from the white rock movement," and Richard Goldstein, in
Vogue magazine, wrote that Joplin was "the most staggering
leading woman in rock... she slinks like tar, scowls like war...
clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave...
Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener."
Big Brother's second album, Cheap Thrills, featured a cover
design by counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb. Although Cheap
Thrills sounded as if it was mostly "live," only one track ("Ball
and Chain") was actually recorded live; the rest of the tracks
were studio recordings. The album had a raw quality, including
the sound of a cocktail glass breaking and the broken shards
being swept away during the song "Turtle Blues." With the
documentary film Monterey Pop released in late 1968, the album
launched Joplin's successful, albeit short, musical career.
Cheap Thrills, which gave the band a breakthrough hit single,
"Piece of My Heart," reached the number one spot on the Billboard
charts eight weeks after its release, remaining for eight
(nonconsecutive) weeks. The album was certified gold at
release and sold over a million copies in the first month of its
release.Live at Winterland '68, recorded at the Winterland
Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968, featured Joplin and Big
Brother and the Holding Company at the height of their mutual
career working through a selection of tracks from their albums.
The band made another East Coast tour during July-August 1968,
performing at the Columbia Records convention in Puerto Rico and
the Newport Folk Festival. After returning to San Francisco for
two hometown shows at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival on August
31 and September 1, Joplin announced that she would be leaving