Her tragic, untimely death only made her even more admired by rock fans. Here are some Janis Joplin's photographs that show her long road to short fame.
There’s this bar on LA's Sunset Strip that has tons of photographs of famous rockstars and signed guitars hanging on the walls. I happened to grab a beer there once with a friend on a Friday afternoon, and our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the bartender’s reaction to a song that started playing. Within the first couple of piano notes of this record, the 50-year-old bartender placed her hands on the counter and started singing “Cryyy…. baby ...,” at the same time as Janis Joplin’s voice did on the played record.
There was no doubt that this bartender was a true fan of the ‘60s singer, whose short career and magnificent voice was more than enough to capture the hearts of millions of fans. I looked around the bar and saw Joplin's photographs all over the place. They showed her singing, smiling, and even posing naked. How did this singer from Texas conquer an industry dominated by men? I asked myself during that moment. These photographs of the Cosmic Witch helped me understand the mystery surrounding her life and the power of her unique voice.
Before Joplin became famous, she struggled to find opportunities to sing. She came from an ordinary family in Port Arthur, Texas, where as a little girl she would rock her church’s choir and show her talent as a performer. As a teen, she faced many difficulties because she had to deal with bullies who would often make fun of her looks. It was when she enrolled in college that she found herself and started feeling comfortable in her own skin. While other girls wore pattern skirts and summer dresses, she would wear men's pants, tons of bracelets, and wear her long, wavy hair dow, which always reflected her hippie personality (we can see this in her pictures). That was her essence: a free spirit, –some would say a rebel– connected to nature and her emotions, which she transmitted through her raspy voice and sharp high notes.
The beginning of her career
As was mentioned before, Joplin’s road to success was not easy or short. It took her a very long time to get recognition and become part of a band. She knocked on many doors in different cities, but many didn’t open for her. I guess we could say she lived through a time when society still thought of women as housewives. Despite all prejudices towards her singing, decisions, and image, she found a band that felt her voice was the missing instrument they needed to succeed. And in 1966, Joplin was asked to audition for the San Francisco band Big Brother. During this audition, Joplin blew the members away with her unique voice, this encouraged them to participate in the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, where Joplin amazed the audience by singing a version of “Ball and Chain.” After that, it was nothing but great news for Joplin and the band.
Right after her big success at the festival, Columbia Records decided to sign the band and produce their major hit album Cheap Thrills (1968). This album featured classics like “Summertime” and “Piece of My Heart,” but the band started noticing a bigger interest from fans and the music industry on Joplin, not the group. This caused jealousy issues among the band’s members. After a while, Joplin decided to go solo, feeling frustrated with the band’s jealousy and unable to fully exploit her career; she felt like she was being held back. Joplin released her first solo “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!” in 1969 and also did other collaborations with bands while she finished her last album: Pearl (1971). This album was released after her tragic death and it became her most famous one.
Throughout her life, even in high school, Joplin used various drugs, and this prevented her from achieving a successful career sooner. Some people point out that it was the era in which she lived, an era famous for drug abuse that went from weed to LSD. Joplin died from an unfortunate accidental overdose on October 4th, 1970, while she was staying at Hollywood's Landmark Hotel. She is one of many famous artists to have died at the age of 27. Furthermore, she didn’t get to present her last album. It was released by her producer the following year, when the news of her death had already spread. The album was a total hit that reached the top of the charts.
As a rebel, Joplin always struggled to find her place in society; she was an outcast. In an industry dominated by men, she struggled to be accepted all the time and this brought her a lot of stress –probably why she consumed so many drugs– she had too much pressure on her shoulders. Over the years, her legacy has turned her into one of rock music’s most famous icons, and her songs are still inspiring singers who see her as an idol. Joplin broke all barriers and stereotypes with her music. There are many other stories about her life that are worth telling, but the most important one is the fact that with less than five years of a recognized career, she still managed to leave a huge mark in the industry that will last forever.