Hard Rock International When the plane carrying Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper…
- Posted on Oct 4th 2010 12:30PM by James Sullivan
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
But Joplin owned 'Piece of My Heart' the way she commanded all of the material she sang during her brief lifetime, from the Gershwins' 'Summertime' to 'Me and Bobby McGee,' written by her onetime lover Kris Kristofferson. "I'm gonna show you, baby/That a woman can be tough": Without that attitude -- pure Janis -- rock music would sound a lot different today.
Singers as widely divergent as Faith Hill, Cat Power and Grace Potter have acknowledged Joplin's influence and covered her songs. Renée Zellweger, Lili Taylor and the late Brittany Murphy are just a few of the actresses who have been mentioned as candidates to play her in the long-awaited feature film based on her life; so have Pink and Zooey Deschanel.
"I think Janis's greatest gift to music was her 'loud and proud' attitude," Heart's Ann Wilson told Spinner. "Whatever insecurities or troubles she may have had in her private life, onstage she was a force of nature."
"I sing and push that sound out and that's the best feeling," Joplin once told Sam Andrew, founding member of her original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. "It hurts so good, like first-time love."
On the 40th anniversary of the singer's death of an overdose at age 27, the thought of Joplin at as a senior citizen might boggle the mind. Yet her presence, always powerful, is about to get stronger.
Joplin's sister Laura and her brother Michael, who oversee the singer's estate, are exploring several new ventures designed to raise her profile. Projects in the works include a documentary and a touring theatrical production. On top of that, the feature film, so long embroiled in legal issues, may be finally getting under way.
"I've read so many scripts, and they always emphasize Janis as this power-hungry, drug-crazed person," says Andrew, who briefly left Big Brother to help start Joplin's first solo backing band, the Kozmic Blues Band. It wasn't like that, he says: "There was nothing to take over. Nobody had any money, any fame, anything."
'Piece of My Heart' was recommended to the group by Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady. "Erma's version was beautiful, mystical, churchlike," says Andrew. "We put a hard-rock intro on it, and Janis made it her own. The chord changes were like 'Wild Thing,' 'Like a Rolling Stone ' -- one-four-five. Real elemental."
Besides her ferocious singing voice, Joplin was also a style icon. Her siblings have authorized a line of clothing and accessories called Made for Pearl. Her psychedelic, hand-painted Porsche Cabriolet remains one of the most popular attractions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And tattoo pioneer Lyle Tuttle has credited Joplin with opening the art form to women, who now make up a huge portion of the business.
Tuttle did two tattoos for the singer, a wrist bracelet and a small heart on her breast. The one on her wrist, Joplin once said, was for everyone to enjoy. The other was private: "Just a little treat for the boys," she said, "like icing on the cake."
You can see an example of Janis Joplin's unique fashion sense in an iconic photo taken by world-class photographer Baron Wolman, who recalls in the PhotoSynthesis gallery below that "Janis always claimed that because of that poster [in the background] -- because she was semi-nude in it -- that she was the first hippie pinup ever."
PhotoSynthesis: Baron Wolman
If Janis Joplin were alive today, says Andrew, she'd probably be "like the rest of us, maybe a little puffy." Maybe she'd be doing Broadway. "Based on her reading of 'Summertime' and [Rodgers and Hart's] 'Little Girl Blue,' she probably would have made a great album of jazz standards."
Joplin would have loved to hear that. For all her bravado, she was forever asking friends and colleagues about her performances, how she was doing.
"She wanted to pass the test, real bad," says Andrew. Though she had such a short time to study, she nailed it.