February 2, 1999
It's hard to believe, but Janis Joplin has been gone for almost 30 years now. Gone - but not forgotten. Columbia Records released a commemorative CD Box Set on Janis.
The band that performed with Janis - Big Brother and The Big Brother's members, Mr. Sam Andrew talks about his time with Janis.
Q: You're writing a book about your life are you? When can we expect to see that in
A: Well, I don't know. I have been writing that for about 10 years now and there's a lot to it. There's a whole lot there but I don't know if it will ever be published. The reason is, ‘cause there's probably about five Joplin books in the works right now. One of them is by John Cooke, who is Alistar Cooke's son and he's really a gifted writer. He's got all the facts. He's done research for years and he knew Janis really well, as well as I did. Then there's Alice Eckles who's in Los Angeles. She got a Ph.D. from Northwestern and has really done a tremendous amount of research. She's been writing on Janis for a long time. That'll probably be very good. That's only two of ‘em. I'm glad that I wrote my book because it made me marshal my thoughts. It made me think about all of that really clearly. So, I'm really glad I did it. So yes, I'm writing a book, but I don't know when it will come out.
Q: You're also recording a new CD. What label will that be on?
A: Well, there are actually 2 CD's, now. Sony Records bought Columbia Records (Janis Joplin's label) and they found some tapes of Janis with Big Brother and the Holding Co. that were a live performance in 1968. They're basically the songs we played on Cheap Thrills which was our big album. They are going to release that on May 24 (1998). That will be called Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Co. That'll be great for the band. Then, this band as it is now has been recording since that summer and we recorded nine songs that we're putting out on a CD.
Q: So there's still a Big Brother?
A: Yes. We still play all the time.
Q: How successful was Big Brother before you teamed up with Janis?
A: We were successful locally, that is in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were probably four bands - The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and us. We played all the time. You know, we were famous locally before we got Janis and we were famous locally after we got Janis for about a year. Then we played Monterey Pop Festival and she became famous and so did we.
Q: Did you realize just how special and unique Janis was, as well as the era itself?
A: I actually did. That was one of those rare things in life. I didn't think it would last this long. I thought it would kind of disappear after awhile or change into something else. At the time I knew it was real special because it was very unusual. More than being in a band or more than the music, just in general, what was happening socially. It was real unusual. I knew that was a time we'd remember for the rest of our lives ‘cause it was pretty amazing.
Q: You say, "We played some really strange dates in the South - Alabama, Georgia
and Florida." What was so strange about those dates?
A: It seemed like some of ‘em were way back in the woods and you wouldn't think anyone there would have ever heard of Big Brother or Janis. We went and played them. Being in the South, I was in Kozmic Blues with Janis. The saxophone player we took with us was Black. At one place we pulled up to this fast food restaurant and he said, ‘You better, go in by yourself.' I said, “Why?" and he said, ‘Well, I don't know if they'll let me in there.' That just seemed so strange to me. I didn't think at that day and age that that kind of thing would've been a concern for him. As it was, he could go in. It was fine. Just that there could be a question in his mind, things like that. There were some pretty backward ways of life going on I guess.
Q: How were you touring then, by bus or plane?
A: We did it by just about every way. Mostly by plane though.
Q: Commercial or private?
A: Commercial. Then we would rent vans when we got on the ground. Anything less than a thousand miles we would probably drive.
Q: You maintained a grueling tour schedule. Who'd you have to work so hard?
A: You're kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you're trying to succeed you try to work all the time you can. Once you do succeed you try to work all the time so you can take advantage of that success and I think that's what was happening. We were really taking off there. So, very often we'd play 2 or 3 gigs in one day.
Q: How'd you do that?
A: Well, just visiting a school somewhere and then driving 200 miles and playing another one and maybe doing a television show. Three would be unusual but we would do two gigs a day, quite often.
Q: I was surprised to read that Janis said, "I'll sell out. Just show me the sign. I
mean it. I'll do whatever it takes to become a success." That hardly sounds like someone in the
counterculture, does it?
A: No, and she probably wouldn't have said it a year before that. She grew and changed as time went on and grew out of the counterculture if you want to put it that way. That was very late when she said that. We were in Kozmic Blues Band and I don't think she would've said that in Big Brother and I don't think she would've said it to anyone else in the band. By then, she was appearing on television shows like Tom Jones. It might've been braggadocio. She might've thought she had out grown the counterculture a little bit and that she was Janis Joplin, as big as the counterculture. Something like that. That's just a guess though.
Q: Were you at Woodstock with Janis?
A: No. She asked me to play but I was exhausted. I had to go back to the West Coast.
Q: John Simon produced "Cheap Thrills." He produced The Band as well. But, you
wanted Todd Rundgren on board as producer.
Q: Wasn't Todd Rundgren considered commercial?
A: I don't know. He had a band called The Nazz. Today he's sort of progressive or kind of on the outer fringe. That's kind of the way I saw him then. I didn't follow pop music a lot so I wouldn't have known if someone if pop or not. He had a progressive attitude and he was a guitar player. He was kind of outrageous and forward thinking.
Q: Were you the only guy not doing drugs in Big Brother?
A: The only guy not doing drugs in Big Brother was Peter Albin, the bass player. I did a lot of drugs. I was right there with Janis and I regret it. It was just the time. That's the way it was.
Q: Did you do hard drugs?
A: Yeah, we did hard drugs. We did all kinds. Then I stopped and she didn't.
Q: You got lucky.
A: That's it. That's all it was.
Q: Did Janis have male "groupies"? I don't even know was there such a thing?
A: Yeah there was such a thing. She had them. I don't know if people recognized that there was such a thing, but there was. There were a lot of androgynous little pretty boys that would come and hang around. That was one kind of man she kind of liked. It was extremes. Then she liked kind of a mountain man; a bearded man dressed in leather who looked like he'd just come out of the north woods. But, that's what she really liked. She always complained all I can meet is these pretty boys. But yeah, there were a few male groupies around.
Q: What was wrong with Janis anyway? Why couldn't she have been a survivor?
A: First of all, I think she could have. I think she just had a little piece of really bad luck. It just happens that way. She had a huge appetite for life. Part of life is drinking and taking drugs and all that. It doesn't have to be but it was for her. She had a big appetite for that. That's something that's wrong. As far as dying, you said before I lucked out and that's the truth. It's just luck. It could've been the other way around. Insecurity was one thing that was wrong with her. But, we shouldn't get sidetracked. She was a very happy person. She had a really good time a lot of the time. She enjoyed life too. It was just an accident. She came so far in her life from this little town in Texas where people made fun of her and then all of a sudden everybody loves her. Anyone who thinks a lot and she really thought a lot, she was real intelligent, is gonna questions that and wonder if it's all gonna disappear which it could.
Q: You write that Janis reached a peak in her career when she died?
A: Well yeah. Because of that we don't know what she would've done after that. I would've liked to have seen her do an album of jazz ballads. I think she would've done a really great job with that. That could've been a peak. What I meant by saying a peak was, she was at a really good point. She was very happy. There was this guy that wanted to marry her. She had just done a album. It was with Full Tilt Boogie Band and it was gonna be a good album. It seemed like she was on a good path when she did that.
Q: Is there a film being made on Janis?
A: There are two people who are trying to make that film. Marc Rocco was one. He dropped out of it. He's no longer in it. Melissa Ethridge and her girlfriend wrote a screenplay about Janis and they took it to Marc Rocco. I didn't realize this until late in the negotiations. I think Melissa is still trying to make that film. Then, there's a set of people in New York and they're trying to make that film.
Q: When you put Big Brother back together with Michel Bastian....
A: She's not with the band anymore, but go ahead.
Q: Bookings were hard to come by. Why was that?
A: Well because we're an old band. Record Co. and nightclubs want young people who only do that and who are willing to work for little or no money and who have a big draw. When you get older, you don't have as big a draw ‘cause people your age don't go out as much. You want more money ‘cause you have lives. You have real lives and children. There's a manager in this very office who was telling me the other day about this young band and it's go great to find them, they all have day jobs and they don't want any money. So, it's the perfect dream for someone who doesn't want to do anything. That's the way it is. It's just a fact of life. I understand it and I'm totally at peace with it. But, it makes it hard for an older band. On the other hand, what you get is a sense of history and that helps a lot too. We're working more than we have since the 60's. It's going pretty well.
Q: I know this is going to sound pretty tacky, but why couldn't you get a woman who
looks and sounds like Janis, take the act on the road, and clean up?
A: Well, we could. I've seen that Janis things (Legends In Concert - Las Vegas) and they also do other dead rock stars. Theoretically we could do that. But, I'm a songwriter and I keep on writing songs and will until I die. People don't want to hear that. We cold stop and do that. Someday we might, although I kind of hope not. But, we've actually done things like that, spirited the edge of that. Every now and then a corporation will have a hippie party and they'll ask us to come and play. They only see us in terms of that nostalgia thing and I understand it. It's o.k. It's just that I wouldn't want to be held in by that, but, you never know. If the price is right, if someone came up with enough money, we might do it. I don't know.
Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.