In 1969, when Janis Joplin was in the process of creating her debut record with the Kozmic Blues Band when they decided to deliver an impromptu cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Landlord’ while in the studio. The rendition, which somehow didn’t make the I Got Dem ‘Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! record despite all of its magnificence also remained largely unknown until shortly after her death when the rare outtake was released.
It’s a reminder, not only of Dylan’s cracking song, which is forgotten all too often. But that Janis Joplin could turn her juggernaut vocals to any song she came across and still deliver something entirely unique. That’s because., unlike any other artist, Joplin could empathise with expression and reshape it for her own life and loves.
The track, which originally featured on Dylan’s 1967 record John Wesley Harding, is rather quaint in comparison to Joplin’s performance of it. Her ferocious yet soulful vocals breathe new life into the song and transform it from folk ditty into a completely different entity capable of bringing the house down.
Before she became the megastar she is remembered as today, playing to half-full coffee houses in San Franciso, a young Janis Joplin approached Bob Dylan: “Bob, I just love you,” she said and went on to tell him that one day she would be famous, too. It’s a bold strategy that very rarely pays off.
Dylan, quite often unflustered in these meetings with his admirers, simply replied: “Yeah, we’re all gonna be famous.” Whether he was being sincere or offering up some platitudes, the fact remains that he was certainly right on the money with this one. Joplin, like Dylan before her, would become the voice of her generation, if only for a tragically short while.
By the time of recording her Dylan cover, Joplin had gone from being an obscure San Franciso-based singer-songwriter, a powerhouse performer, to rising success with her band Big Brother in just a matter of months, gathering acclaim and praise wherever she went. She then broke free into her own right and fastly became one of the defining voices of the decade as it was beginning to draw to a close and she was set to dominate the 1970s.
Tragically, however, Joplin would succumb to an accidental overdosed on heroin in 1970 which cut one of the most distinctive and pioneering musical careers painfully short. It was shortly after her passing that more rare recordings would be released posthumously, a body of work that further cemented her legacy as a one of a kind talent.
Listen to Janis Joplin’s stunning tribute to her idol Bob Dylan on ‘Dear Landlord’, below.