"I always wanted to be an artist, whatever that was, like
other chicks want to be stewardesses. I read. I painted. I thought"
Over the decades, a number of celebrities have died drug overdose deaths.
Janis Joplin possesses an innate talent to convey powerful emotion through heart-stomping rock-and-roll singing. She led a both a triumphant and tumultuous life. Janis Joplin was perhaps the premier blues-influenced singer of the '60s, and certainly one of the biggest female stars of her time. Even before her death, Janis Joplin tough blues-mama image only barely covered her vulnerability. The publicity concerning Janis Joplin's sex life and problems with alcohol and drugs made her something of a legend. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
Janis Lyn Joplin was born at St. Mary's Hospital in the oil-refining town of Port Arthur, Texas, near the border with Louisiana. She was the oldest child of a working class family. Her father was a cannery worker and her mother was a registrar for a business college. As an overweight teenager, she was a folk-music devotee. Janice Joplin was labeled "eccentric" by all who came in contact with her. Nonetheless, her parents saw immense artistic talent in Janis, and urged her to explore and cultivate her gift. Socially outcast by the time she was 14, Janis admittedly retreated into a private world of art and music, studying the sounds of blues legends like Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and Bessie Smith. Janis Joplin felt like an ugly duckling because she didn't fit anyone's notion of beauty. As a teen, her skin broke out so badly she was left with deep scars which required dermabrasion. Port Arthur was a one-high-school town, and to be rejected by the school was to be rejected by the town. Janice Joplin ran away from home at age 17 and began singing in clubs in Houston and Austin, Texas, to earn money to finance a trip to California. Janice Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin, though she did not complete her studies. The campus newspaper ran a profile of her in 1962 headlined "She Dares To Be Different."
"When I sing, I feel like when you're first in love. It's more than sex. It's that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it's gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills".
Cultivating a rebellious manner, Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines and, in part, after the Beat poets. Her very first song recorded on tape, at the home of a fellow student in December 1962, was "What Good Can Drinkin' Do." She left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, living in North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. In 1964, Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards, further accompanied by Margareta Kaukonen on typewriter (as percussion instrument). She quickly became a favored regular in San Francisco and Venice Beach coffeehouses and clubs.
After two years in California, Janis was out of control, abusing alcohol and amphetamines daily. She returned home to Port Arthur, Texas and her family for inspiration and encouragement. Realizing she couldn't adapt to small town life again, Janis returned to California within a year. Chet Holms, friend and promoter, recommended Janis as the lead vocalist for an existing band known as Big Brother and the Holding Company. The almost unheard of rock band took part in the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival in California, where Joplin gave a mesmerizing performance of the blues classic, "Ball and Chain." Janis Joplin and Big Brother stopped the show at the Festival and Albert Grossman agreed to manage them. Joplin was on her way to becoming a superstar. After a fairly successful first LP in 1967 with Big Brother, Columbia Records signed the group and Cheap Thrills, with the hit single “Piece of My Heart” (#12, 1968), became a gold #1 album. Within a year Janis Joplin had come to overshadow her backing band, and she left Big Brother taking only guitarist Sam Andrew with her to form the Kozmic Blues Band, which was orientated more toward blues.
The Janis Joplin of legend set the standard for the blues mama image of white female singers. Blues mamas have to be hard-livin', hard-lovin' and, of course, hard drinking. By early 1969, Janis Joplin was addicted to heroin, allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day, although efforts were made to keep her clean. During the recording of "I"Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" Gabriel Mekler, who produced the Kozmic Blues, told publicist-turned-biographer Myra Friedman after Joplin's death that the singer had lived in his house during the June 1969 recording sessions at his insistence so he could keep her away from drugs and her drug-using friends. Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured North America and Europe throughout 1969, appearing at Woodstock in August. By most accounts, Woodstock was not a happy affair for Joplin, although an awestruck crowd egged her on during the landmark festival in Bethel, New York.
Janice Joplin toured constantly and made television appearances as a guest with Dick Cavett, Tom Jones, and Ed Sullivan. Finally recognizing the problems in her life, Janis quit her drug use. She formed a third band, called Full Tilt Boogie Band, which evolved more professional popular sound. Janis felt she'd finally found her unique style of white blues. She was never happier with her new music, and was engaged to be married. While recording her next album "Pearl," she chanced into using heroin again. Obtaining a dose more pure than usual, she accidentally overdosed in a motel in Los Angeles at the age of 27. Her third album was released posthumously to wide acclaim, launching the popular songs "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Mercedes Benz." Janis's albums have gone gold, platinum, and triple-platinum. Her "Greatest Hits" album still tops the charts in Billboard. Several new releases have followed her death, with wide acclaim for her boxed set, "Janis." She was the subject of a 1973 feature documentary, "Janis," and numerous TV documentaries, the most notable being VH-1's Legends program.