From Behind the Scenes With Janis Joplin and Big Brother, Rehearsing for the Summer of Love — November 9th, 2016
A few months from now, millions of Baby Boomers will be seized by the same disorienting flashback, in which they’ll be hurtled through time and space to San Francisco in 1967, at the height of the Summer of Love. The trigger will lurk in the coverage of this alleged cultural watershed by news organizations, magazines, and websites, all of whom will to be tripping over themselves to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what was, in fact, a marketing gimmick designed to capitalize on a scene that was already dead. To avoid taking this bummer of a trip, steer clear of images of doe-eyed young people dressed in their Goodwill finest, blowing soap bubbles and smoking doobies in Golden Pate Park while flashing the peace sign beneath beatific halos of flowers and feathers braided into their long, flowing hair.
Here’s the thing, though, that you might not know about the Summer of Love. Turns out that some of those utopian flower children were actually working pretty darned hard at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. In particular, the bands that gave the psychedelic scene its soundtrack knew what it meant to earn a buck. Take Country Joe and the Fish: In 1967, the quintet played roughly 140 gigs. Jefferson Airplane’s workload was just about the same, while the Grateful Dead logged almost 120 shows. Not bad for a bunch of hippies stoned to the gills on LSD.
Foremost among these hardworking musicians were the members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, which performed 135 concerts during 1967, occasionally grinding out two or three gigs in a single day. We know this from the unofficial historical record, but also from the photographs taken by the band’s unofficial photographer, Bob Seidemann—many of his candid shots of Big Brother rehearsing in their warehouse on Golden Gate and Van Ness avenues in San Francisco are being published here for the very first time. — Ben Marks
Not to knock Janis Joplin’s personal artistry—even today she stands incomparable—but something must be said for the band that put her on the map. Big Brother and the Holding Company did not originally feature Joplin, but her introduction to the group in 1966 a year after their inception set the whole group up to eventually define the Summer of Love with their legendary performance at Monterey Pop Festival, which subsequently made Joplin an icon basically overnight. But to their credit, Big Brother and the Holding Company is much more than Joplin’s backing band.
In some live footage uncovered from 1968, there is not a shred of ego within the group. Big Brother and the Holding Company was a young, ambitious and tightly knit group of misfits. Some interview sessions that cut in between the live recordings reveal that all of the bandmates are entirely self-taught, which is mind-blowing when seeing each individual talent work in real time. Joplin’s voice in itself is already otherworldly, but her shrieking and howling over “Down on Me” and “Ball & Chain” against the tight musicianship is something to witness. Even on tracks such as “In the Hall of the Mountain King” with minimal influence from Joplin, the band still plays out in a bluesy, soulful tune that packs just as much of a punch. The interview segments reveal a deep kinship among the band that only echoes the tight musicianship seen on stage. For a bunch of kids having the fun they want, Big Brother and the Holding Company always managed to do it all extraordinarily well. — Kurt Suchman