“I have to have the ‘umph.’ I’ve got to feel it, because if it’s not getting through to me, the audience sure as hell aren’t going to feel it either.” —Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin is undoubtedly a musical powerhouse for the ages. For many fans though, she remains a distant figurehead of music, one that is so rarely talked about and mused upon the present day, unlike acts like The Doors or The Grateful Dead. However, if there was one sure-fire way to understand why every muso worth their weight in musical notes loves Joplin, it is to watch this incredible live performance of the classic ‘Cry Baby’.
The track was originally performed by Garnett Mims and The Enchanters but only found notoriety when Joplin picked up the mic and added her own capsizing lungs to the track’s proceedings. Recorded by Joplin for her solo record Pearl, the singer would sadly pass away before the single was released in 1971 when it was backed by the B-Side ‘Mercedes Benz’. It remains today as one of the most powerful performances Joplin has ever given.
“So what?” We hear you ask. Well, the difference between Janis Joplin and pretty much every other singer since was that, above all else, she saw herself as a vocal artist, a sonic performer, an actor of music. Joplin was not at the front of the stage for glory or the gold, she put herself under that spotlight so she could use her vocal brush strokes to paint a raw, emotive and impassioned picture of expression. Looking back, there’s truly no better canvas for Joplin than a song like ‘Cry Baby’.
‘Cry Baby’ hangs on Joplin’s delivery. It’s a performance which is perfectly encapsulated in the song’s first fledgeling moments, even more beautifully shown in the video below. As the opening notes kick out, Joplin’s wail sounds guttural yet gilded.
The scene in Toronto is dark and vulnerable, soon Joplin’s eagle-like vocal comes screeching from the mountains, dutifully lit by the spotlight, as the singer goes about delivering a sensational performance.
It’s the beginning of a quite triumphant rendition of the track which not only sees Joplin ad-lib notes on the world around her, both near and far, but also switches from Janis’ wonderful sense of humour to her expression of lost-love pain in a swift and succinct instant, always feeling utterly unique and authentic.
As Joplin continues to find the humour and the pain in every moment of the song it becomes truly apparent that there truly will never be another performer quite like Janis Joplin.
Watch below as Janis Joplin delivers a mesmeric performance of ‘Cry Baby’ in Toronto, 1970.