After a miserable childhood as Port Arthur’s “freak,” “creep,” and “pig” she went to found a crew of like-minded people in Austin’s University district. Janis sang vocal jazz, blues, country, folk, and bluegrass. In 1963, she left for the West Coast and spent time as a bohemian in North Beach. She moved up the coast and connected with the thriving folk scene that spread across several coffee houses. She recorded several demos accompanied by Jorma Kaukonen (later of The Jefferson Airplane), but got caught up in the speed scene, left town for NYC, came back, and was urged stock, The Band, Buddy Guy, The Dooto dry up at home. Back in Port Arthur she shed her wild life style and cultivated a slow domestic life style. In San Francisco, Chet Helms, who knew Joplin from Austin, managed a new psychedelic band called The Holding Company, and he thought she would be perfect for the gig. He sent mutual friend who convinced Janis is was time to return.
With Janis Joplin on board with The Big Brother and The Holding Company it didn’t take long before the band was known for raw-energy live shows. During the summer of ’66 the group moved next to the Grateful Dead; Janis and Pigpen soon had a little summer fling going. Big Brother’s major breakthrough occurred the following summer at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was appeared in D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop film. Big Brother and The Holding Company’s eponymous debut followed a few weeks later. The media loved the Janis’ raw vocals and wild demeanor, both on and off stage, but the rest of the group wasn’t equally excited about her commanding place in the spotlight.
Cheap Thrills followed in early ’68 and its single, “Piece of My Heart,” rose to the top of the Billboard chart. The continued to tour and Janis sunk deeper into her cravings for heroin. Columbia Records declined her suggested name for the album, yet it pretty much summed up where she was at: Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. Tensions mounted and Janis Joplin left Big Brother at the end of 1968, ready for her “own” band. Joplin sought help to assemble the Kozmic Blues Band in early 1969 and they soon recorded I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! The Kozmic Blues Band backed her up later that year at the fabled Woodstock festival, but critics urged her to disband, which she did only a year after its inception. Janis Joplin was much more involved in selecting her final band, which she named the Full Tilt Boogie Band. “It’s my band,” she raved to a journalist. “Finally it’s my band.” Joplin weaned herself off heroin, but filled the void with even heavier drinking.
During the 4th of July week in 1970, Janis and Full Tilt rode and performed on the Festival Express tour through Canada (other acts included Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Buddy Guy). She was drunk, but seemed happy. Unfortunately it didn’t last long. Over the course of that summer, Joplin was back on the needle.
In September 1970, she and the band started recording Pearl in Los Angeles with Paul Rothchild (who had previously produced The Doors). Janis Joplin sadly died of an overdose of heroin during the recordings on October 4, 1970. She was 27 years old and was scheduled to add vocals to “Buried Alive In The Blues” the following day.