Janis Joplin and the Classic Blues Resurrection


Today is the birthday of Janis Joplin (1943-1970). No need to trudge over well-trod territory and gab about what you already know about her here. I’m more interested in another element anyway, one of more moment to the usual themes of this blog. While everyone knows that old school blues was always an element of Joplin’s later rock, soul and psychedelic period, less well known is her earlier phase when she performed traditional blues with the diligence and focus of the folk freaks who were clogging college campuses back then. Turned on to Bessie Smith, Leadbelly and Ma Rainey while still in high school, she later added the full panoply, including Big Mama Thornton, Odetta and Billie Holiday into the mix. Later, she worked a hippie version of the Classic Blues Queen look, (all those feather boas, jewelry and headdresses), and emulated their style in other ways (booze, drugs and other carousing, along with an adventuresome nature in the bedroom.) But it’s just startling to hear her recordings from 1964 and 1965, before she got together with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Sounds like it’s 40 years earlier. I’m crazy about that kind of music! Here from one of those early sessions, is her cover of Bessie Smith’s “Black Mountain Blues”

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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