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Music Review: Big Brother & The Holding Company – Big Brother And The Holding Company

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Big Brother & The Holding Company are still on the road, but no matter what they may do or where they go or what they play or create, they will always be remembered as the launching pad for Janis Joplin.

She almost did not join the group as she had considered becoming a part of the 13th Floor Elevators in her native Texas. The thought of her and Roky Erickson even in the same vicinity boggles the mind.

Their debut album, Big Brother And The Holding Company, released during September of 1967, was recorded December 14-16 of 1966. During that recording process Joplin was just a member of the band. It was their incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival during the summer of 1967 that pushed her to the forefront of the group and introduced her to the music buying public. Her popularity would continue to build until it reached mythic proportions after her death.

Their debut album was a more subdued affair than the one which would follow a year later, yet it remained grounded in the San Francisco sound of the day. It was raw and driven by the intensity of the music. Guitarists James Gurley and Sam Andrew, drummer David Getz, and bassist Peter Albin were all important cogs in the Big Brother music machine. It is an album of short psychedelic rock/folk sound bytes as the longest of the twelve tracks clocks in at just over two and a half minutes.

Four decades after its initial release, it is the Joplin dominated tracks which shine. Her arrangement and vocals on the traditional “Down On Me” has become one of the staples in her catalogue. Her vocals are double-tracked on the first song, “Bye, Bye Baby," which gives them a unique effect. She wrote three of the songs and “Intruder,” “The Last Time,” and “Women Is Losers,” clearly show she was an adept composer even this early in her career.

Joplin’s voice is clearer on many of these performances as it had not been worn down by hard singing and a lot of hard living. Also of note is the guitar playing of James Gurley, who is one of the underrated and many times forgotten musicians of the psychedelic era.

Big Brother And The Holding Company was a unique stop for the group and for Janis Joplin, but it set a firm foundation for her future. The album not only has held up well but remains historically important as the studio training ground for one of rock’s legendary singers.

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