It is both a tragedy and a blessing when we have the rare opportunity to come across a performer that encapsulates the full spectrum of living — complete with all the ups and downs that life itself entails. Performers like this are usually like a candle that burns on both ends. As such, they are a timebomb waiting to explode. They live their lives like every day is their absolute last.
Janis Joplin is one of the most revered and impassioned soul and blues singers of her generation; some called her Bessie Smith incarnate, while others dismissed her as an idle drug-using hippie. If anything, Joplin had an infinite amount of passion and a set of lungs that could blow an entire stadium out of its place. Her stage presence was that of no other.
Joplin died far too young at the tragically tender age of 27 in 1970. She would subsequently join the mythologised 27 rock ‘n’ roll heaven club, which would help put her in the same conversations as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. In truth, she put herself in those conversations with a career emboldened by authentic passion and sincere performance.
Joplin got her start in the San Fransisco music scene during the mid to late ’60s with Big Brother and The Holding Company. With Joplin as their frontwoman, The Holding Company garnered attention at the Monterey Pop Festival — once Joplin began singing, the audience were left mesmerised. Following some chart success with the band, Joplin, who was rarely held down, decided to make moves as a solo artist and established her own backing band.
These guys would be called the Kozmic Blues Band. The main difference with the Kozmic Blues Band would be the newly added feature of a brass section, which was something that the Holding Company didn’t want. Joplin led the Kozmic band, and she was able to call more of the shots. Under this new artistic direction, she created a nice blend of soul, blues and R&B, all underpinned by Joplin’s unique viewpoint on life.
The opening track of her debut album, ‘Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)’, has some Motown elements to it and definitely marked a significant shift away from the Holding Company material. I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! would be the only solo album she released while alive. Of course, the highly acclaimed Pearl would come out in 1970, after she lost her life.
In April of 1969, Janis and the Kozmic Blues Band embarked on a European tour, in which they found themselves in Frankfurt, Germany. Rare footage of some of that show has recently surfaced, and it gives the viewer a glimpse into the magnetic live aura that Joplin possessed.
As feverish as she is impassioned, the singer below raises herself above any earthly band and confirms herself as one of the greatest lead singers of all time.
Watch the footage of Janis Joplin performing ‘Try’ below.