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 Interview with James Gurley 1987....the BBHC reunion « View previous topic :: View next topic » 
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 7:10 pm    Post subject: Interview with James Gurley 1987....the BBHC reunion Reply with quote

Music Lover

Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 84
Location: England

Interview with James Gurley
Big Brother guitarist shares his thoughts on Janis Joplin and upcoming reunion tour
by Jimbo Juanis

With everyone talking about the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love, word began spreading recently around San Francisco on the reunion of one of the greatest groups of that era, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Although known primarily as Janis Joplin’s band, Big Brother was formed in 1965 and played their first gig at the Trips Festival in January 1966. The band consisted of James Gurley and Sam Andrew on guitars, Peter Albin on bass and drummer David Getz.

With the addition of Janis Joplin later on in 1966, the band became an instant sensation on the San Francisco music scene and with the appearance of Big Brother at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, the group burst into the national spotlight.

In 1986, Columbia records released Cheap Thrills, which has remained one of the classic albums of all time. That LP included the million-dollar selling “Piece of My Heart” and catapulted Big Brother’s incredible leading lady to international stardom. But with success, there came the inevitable split, with Janis leaving to form “The Cosmic Blues Band” and later “The Full Tilt Boogie Band”, two bands that failed to match the intensity that she’d enjoyed with Big Brother & The Holding Company.

By the time Janis died on October 14th, 1970, Big Brother had re-formed with Kathy McDonald and Nick Gravenites on vocals and were ironically playing dates on the same bill as Janis.

Big Brother disbanded in 1972 and except for a one-shot gig at The Tribal Stomp in 1978, they haven’t played together since. So, when word spread that Big Brother & The Holding Company were getting back together with a new vocalist, I sought out founding member James Gurley for his thoughts on the old days, as well as the future of Big Brother & The Holding Company.

Relix: What can people expect from the Big Brother reunion?

J.G.: As the starting point, we’re just going to pick up from where we left off—in other words, when we broke up with Janis. We’re gonna be doing the material we were doing as if 20 years hadn’t happened in between, writing new material…and just continue on from there and, hopefully, there’s gonna be a record with new material.

Relix: When did Janis Joplin join Big Brother?

J.G.: She joined in 1966, but we’d been together then for over a year before that, we were already happening. Before we got Janis, we never even had sets. We did a lot of things that were really spontaneous, like Dave would start doing a thing on the drums and I would come in with a little rhythm on the guitar and Peter and Sam would follow. We’d play for a half-hour and nobody would know where we’d been.

Relix: How did you get Janis Joplin as your singer?

J.G.: She was doing her acoustic thing, doing a lot of blues. She had a great Bessie Smith imitation that she did. She never really got to do that on record, which was too bad. She played real delta blues in the Bessie Smith tradition. So, me and Peter had heard her at the Coffee Gallery on Grant Avenue in North Beach. When we were looking for a singer, I said I’d only seen one girl and Peter said he’d seen that girl too. So, we mentioned her to our manager at the time, Chet Helms. Chet said he knew her from Texas and he knew where she was. He called her up to get her out here. So the rest is history. That was 1966.

Relix: Was this also the time of 1090 Page Street?

J.G.: Actually, it was after that. We were rehearsing at Stanley Mouse’s (the poster artist) place. He had this real old firehouse over towards the Noe district. It was a real big place and you could just hell over there. It was great!

Relix: When did you get your record deal?

J.G: In ’66. We went to Chicago and signed with Mainstream, a big mistake! They put absolutely no money into us, held onto the pink slip and then sold it for a quarter of a million dollars a year later. We got nothing out of it, one of the many rip-offs in the music business. After we made it big, it was later reissued by Columbia.

Relix: That record had a couple of real good cuts on it.

J.G.: That album was never finished. It was never a completed album. We signed with this Mainstream character and did a few sessions (I think three or four sessions at the most), four tracks, that was it. We weren’t satisfied with the stuff, then a year later, we played the Monterey Pop Festival and all of a sudden, we were big hits. So, Mainstream put out the record with what they had. So that Mainstream record was never completed.

Relix: The Monterey Pop Festival was the turning point for Big Brother.

J.G.: We were the only band to perform twice at the festival.

Relix: Did Big Brother ever tour outside the U.S.?

J.G.: We played in Puerto Rico at the CBS record convention. We played and Blood, Sweat and Tears played. This was before Cheap Thrills was released. So, we went down to play for all the record execs.

Relix: Cheap Thrills is one of the all-time great albums.

J.G.: I couldn’t listen to that record for a long time. There were too many emotional attachments. I couldn’t be objective about it. Until very recently…I put it on…WHEW!

Relix: Unfortunately, that was the only real Big Brother album with Janis.

J.G.: There was stuff released since, but we didn’t have any say in it, like the Farewell Song album, which is a terrible album and we apologize to anyone who bought that record. We didn’t have anything to do with it. It was all the pinheads at CBS. The Farewell Song album could have been a good album. I’ve got all the unedited tapes. They had no right to re-edit or re-mix that stuff without written permission from us. They essentially just erased us off the tapes and they had another band play instead. It’s just a total bullshit record…some producers dream at CBS.

Relix: During that period, was there much camaraderie among the other San Francisco groups?

J.G.: Well, we played the Avalon, the Fillmore and the Park all the time. There was great camaraderie, but there was also a great competitive spirit. We always were trying to blow each other off the stage. We were all friends and we’d get up on stage and play our asses off and try to out-do everybody else. We all enjoyed each other’s work. The creativity, it just flowed.

Relix: Were there any memorable jams that you’d like to share with us?

J.G.: Oh, thousands! The great ones I can remember was with Jimi Hendrix in New York. We played a club called The Generation. We were there a week and he came in every single night and played till dawn. Dawn! He (Jimi) was God to me. This was 1968 and he was mega-big back then. I just loved him. I think he was probably one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met as far as really being gracious in his attitude. You would think a guy like him could be very arrogant and cocky, but he wasn’t. He had a very beautiful attitude, really a very spiritually-aware guy.

Relix: I’d sure like to hear a tape of those shows.

J.G.: Jimi made some. He brought a tape recorder and taped all the time. It was really a great week and I’ve never heard any of the tapes. He just set up a couple of mikes and let it roll. So, somewhere, there are tapes out there.

Relix: When did Janis split from the group?

J.G.: In late 1968. Sam Andrew went on with Janis and the rest of us hung it up for a year. We were burned out from the pressures and the bullshit. Everything happened so fast that it was just a blur. I was relieved at the time by the breakup…relationships were strained. When Janis announced she was gonna leave, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. And once she announced she was gonna leave, everything cooled out. The last few months we played together was the best ’cause the pressure was off. The actual last show was in Vancouver. After the breakup, I went to live in a cave in Death Valley to ponder the meaning of existence (he laughs). I found, like Mr. Natural, it don’t mean shit! (More laughs).

Relix: So Big Brother got back together again in 1970?

J.G.: Yeah, we started again with Kathy McDonald. We released “Be a Brother” and “How Hard it is”. Nick Gravenites was with us around that period too.

Relix: Did Janis ever sing with Big Brother again?

J.G.: Yeah. In 1970, we played with Janis at the Hells Angels national convention in San Rafael. Then we did a thing at the Fillmore. Bill Graham couldn’t get a band one night, somebody cancelled out…Pink Floyd I think it was…their visas got revoked or something. So Graham called us up and we were in town and Janis was in town, so we just went down and did it. Janis came in and sat in with us at The Lions Share in San Anselmo also. She came in and played with us a couple of nights. In fact, I’ve got that on tape. We played a couple of gigs opening on the bill for Janis around that time, too. One in San Diego I remember, this was right before she died, which was the last time I saw her, I think. We all took the airplane back from San Diego.

Relix: Can you tell us about the new band?

J.G.: The new band is essentially going to be the old band, except for Janis, who couldn’t make it. We’re all playing better than we’ve ever played before. We have a wonderful singer named Michelle Bastian. She’s great and I think everyone’s gonna like her. We’re starting out with the basis of the old stuff and we’re gonna do some new material. We’ve got a new song that’s kind of European operatic-sounding. The new songs are written by Sam, who wrote most of Big Brother’s material and he’s still coming up with the good stuff. We’ll be playing the old songs: “Ball and Chain”, Combination of the Two”, “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime”. Michelle does a rendition of “Summertime” that I think is even better than Janis’. She has her own style and she doesn’t sound anything like Janis. The arrangements will be essentially the same. Peter will be singing “Blind Man”. We’ve also worked up a medley of “Light is Faster than Sound”, “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Caterpillar”. We also do “Call On Me” and “Down On Me”.

Relix: Did you have to audition many vocalists?

J.G.: We had auditioned several dozen girls. Basically, we had them sing three songs: “Down On Me”, “Bye-Bye Baby” and “Piece of My Heart”. We had a lot of blues-belters and Janis imitators. They came in and wanted to screech a lot, but that’s not what we wanted. We wanted someone with her own sound and her own style. Anyone who comes to see us, don’t expect to hear a Janis clone. Michelle is really beautiful to work with. She’s a total professional and she’s also spiritually-aware. She also had the same vocal coach as Janis, Judy Davis, but we didn’t find that out until afterward. When you hear this new girl do “Summertime”, you’re really going to be blown away. I got chills when I went home and listened to the rehearsal tape.

Relix: What about the upcoming tour?

J.G.: Well, we’re all really excited about working together again. Our first real show will be at the Fillmore in San Francisco on August 29th. We’ll be touring the East coast in the fall. We’ll have dates in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other places as well. We will be touring the Northwest too (Alaska, Vancouver, Portland and Eugene). I feel great. I’m on the loose from hell, which is my true calling in life (he laughs). And that’s enough for me.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2009 7:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Music Lover

Joined: 25 Feb 2009
Posts: 76
Location: Northern CA

I love this interview. It truly is amazing that record companies were able to get away with so much. I wonder what would of come of all of the bands that were destroyed by agents, promotors, and record labels?
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