Fan Memories & Stories

This little story was sent to me by someone I’d never met but the writing moved me and I wanted to share it with all our BBHC and Janis friends out there.

This was shared with me by Jack Nelson. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  • Dave Getz.

 

Janis at the Avalon

The story keeps coming back with strong feelings….. Guayaquil in 1970 still had turn-of-the-century wood and sheet metal buildings on the main street, and a neighborhood of musicians. Guitar trios you could hire to serenade your sweetheart below her balcony. The musicians would often walk the streets playing anywhere for tips. I was in Guayaquil at a restaurant on the Avenue Nueve de Octubre, with tables in the portal; the section of the sidewalk shaded by the overhanging second floor supported on columns, a feature of many tropical cities.

I was having lunch, alone at a table in the portal, watching people, street vendors and the calm traffic. A trio in their guayaberas and black pants walked in with a woman. She looked like she slept on the street, dirty grimy; run down rubber thong sandals, shapeless stained dress, frayed hair, broken teeth. An absolute wreck, perhaps forty going on sixty.

She sang. A pure strong flawless contralto, consistent through the range, brilliant phrasing, clear enunciation. I remember always one line, “Que me trates así, no merezco.” That you treat me thus, I don’t deserve. She sang the traditional songs of heartbreak and betrayal, melodious like Julio Jaramillo. Authentic. Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and this unknown unknowable derelict, lost in the wasteland. Talent is not enough.

I was there for what must have been Janis Joplin’s first public performance of Ball and Chain at…I recall the Avalon in 1966. This was when she still was with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Before they recorded “Cheap Thrills”. A raw sounding band much more complementary to her own presence than the more polished musicians she chose after fame came. Janis then was really at her peak, before drugs and Southern Comfort and exhaustion on the road took the sweetness from her timbre. Before stardom.

Sunday afternoon shows at the Avalon were low ticket price. Bands tried out new stuff, and maybe 150 people showed up. Janis wore a dark blue straight sleeveless dress and some beads. You could tell it was a rehearsed three minute song. But she wasn’t done. The band just following her lead for maybe ten minutes or more. Janis gripping the microphone stand, telling her story, tears streaming down her face, eyes closed. She sang abused love, heartless disdain, she sang impossible chords and cries of heartbreak.

By then nobody was dancing or talking, just paralyzed up in front of the stage. When she finally ran down, spent, at the mike still with eyes closed, nobody moved. Silence. It looked like she realized there was no applause. Opened her eyes and stepped back, shocked like, “What? Did everyone leave? Didn’t they like it?” Then we started screaming and stomping and whistling, a long time. Her reaction was not pride or glory but humbled gratitude.

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