Sydney Recording Studio: In January 1963, Joplin ditched school to check out the emerging music scene in San Francisco with friend Chet Helms. But this stint out west, like her first, proved to be unsuccessful, as Joplin struggled to make it as a singer in the Bay Area. She played some gigs, including a side-stage performance at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival—but her career didn’t gain much traction. Joplin then spent some time in New York City, where she hoped to have better luck getting her career off the ground, but her drinking and drug use (she’d begun regularly using speed, or amphetamine, among other drugs) there proved to be detrimental to her musical aspirations. In 1965, she left San Francisco and returned home in an effort to get herself together again.
Back in Texas, Joplin took a break from her music and her hard-partying lifestyle, and dressed conservatively, putting her long, often messy hair into a bun and doing everything else she could to appear straight-laced. But the conventional life was not for her, and her desire to pursue her musical dreams wouldn’t remain submerged for long.
Joplin slowly returned to performing, and in May 1966, was recruited by friend Travis Rivers to audition for a new psychedelic rock band based in San Francisco, Big Brother and the Holding Company. At the time, the group was managed by another longtime friend of Joplin’s, Chet Helms. Big Brother, whose members included James Gurley, Dave Getz, Peter Albin and Sam Andrew, was part of the burgeoning San Francisco music scene of the late 1960s; among the other bands involved in this scene were the Grateful Dead.
Sydney Recording Studio: Janis Joplin – Big Brother
Joplin blew the band away during her audition, and was quickly offered membership into the group. In her early days with Big Brother, she sang only a few songs and played the tambourine in the background. But it wasn’t long before Joplin assumed a bigger role in the band, as Big Brother developed quite a following in the Bay Area. Their appearance at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967—specifically their version of “Ball and Chain” (originally made famous by R&B legend Big Mama Thornton) brought the group further acclaim. Most of the praise, however, focused on Joplin’s incredible vocals. Fueled by heroin, amphetamines and the bourbon she drank straight from the bottle during gigs, Joplin’s unrestrained sexual style and raw, gutsy sound mesmerized audiences—and all of this attention caused some tension between Joplin and her bandmates.