Living with the myth of Janis Joplin
The history of Big Brother & the Holding Co. 1965-2005
by Michael Spörke (English Translation by Sam Andrew)
“The fame of Big Brother is like a golden
albatross, it hangs around your neck like
a curse. But the curse is made of gold.”
— Dave Getz (BBHC drummer)
Friends and fans of Big Brother and the Holding Co. have long bemoaned the next book inevitably about the adventures of ‘Janis Joplin and the Holding Co.’ Which has always begged the question: “But what about the band!” Michael Spörke’s newly translated book Living with the myth of Janis Joplin: The History of Big Brother & the Holding Co. 1965-2005 (originally published in 2003/Germany under the title: Big Brother & the Holding Co. 1965 – 2003: Die Band, die Janis Joplin berühmt machte) finally provides the first in-depth look inside the group that introduced Janis to the world, while having most of their own groundbreaking contributions to the era fade into the background.
Big Brother’s signature sound grew more from the psychedelic experience itself along with influence from jazz saxophonist John Coltrane rather than from the standard roots of rock music. “Big Brother and the Holding Company was a prime example of a band where the chemistry was right, where the whole was greater than the sum of it’s parts.” (Sam Andrew, BBHC lead guitarist). The clarion call to arms came from the rather astonishing guitar work of James Gurley, who by consensus is described as the first truly psychedelic guitar player in rock.
Based on Interviews with family and friends of the band such as: Peter Coyote, Joe McDonald, Nick Gravenites, Wavy Gravy, Dan Hicks, Chet Helms, Lisa Law, Taj Mahal, Stanley Mouse, Mark Naftalin, David Nelson, Bob Seidemann and Baron Wolman to name but a few, Spörke’s book also explores the eclectic backgrounds of the band members: Sam Andrew studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the Berkley School of Music and Dave studying Fine Art at Cooper Union Art School in NYC, while Peter Albin was beginning “his musical research on a plastic ukulele,” and James Gurley displayed himself on the hood of a car acting as a Human Battering Ram in a traveling stunt show!
A very entertaining and informative read, the history of Big Brother & the Holding Co. offers a detailed musical analysis of some of their most famous compositions from the players themselves, along with intriguing anecdotes about their individual playing styles, the times on and off the road, and of course how they all felt about Janis in the beginning and at the end of her tenure with the band. As with any book about the 60s era there are bits of fabulous nostalgia and yet this is more than a look back in time, in point of fact it ends with the future staring back at us – awaiting the next concert from Big Brother and the Holding Co. Until then, Living with the myth of Janis Joplin – The history of Big Brother & the Holding Co. will keep you more than occupied.
— Hammond Guthrie, 2009
Learn more, or purchase Living with the myth of Janis Joplin: The history of Big Brother & the Holding Co. here.