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Big Brother and the Holding Company


Big Brother and the Holding Company

Big Brother and the Holding Company
Left to right: Getz, Joplin, Andrew, Gurley, Albin. c. 1967
Background information
Origin San Francisco, California
Genres Blues rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock,[1] hard rock
Years active 1965–1968, 1969–1972, 1987–present
Labels Columbia, Mainstream
Associated acts Country Joe and the Fish, Full Tilt Boogie Band, Kozmic Blues Band
Members Peter Albin
Dave Getz
Tom Finch
Darby Gould
Tommy Odetto
Past members Sam Andrew
James Gurley
Chuck Jones
Janis Joplin
Nick Gravenites
Kathi McDonald
Dave Schallock
Mike Finnigan
Ben Nieves
Cathy Richardson

Big Brother and the Holding Company is an American rock band that formed in San Francisco in 1965 as part of the same psychedelic music scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane. They are best known as the band that featured Janis Joplin as their lead singer. Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills is considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco; it reached number one on the Billboard charts, and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone‍ '​s the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album is also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


  • Band history 1
    • Roots in San Francisco 1.1
    • Janis Joplin 1.2
    • Mainstream Records debut 1.3
    • Mantra-Rock Dance 1.4
    • Monterey Pop Festival 1.5
    • National success 1.6
    • Cheap Thrills and split with Joplin 1.7
    • 1969–1972 1.8
    • 1987–present 1.9
  • Controversy 2
  • Personnel 3
    • Members 3.1
    • Lineups 3.2
    • Timeline 3.3
  • Discography 4
    • Studio albums 4.1
    • Live/compilation albums 4.2
    • Singles 4.3
  • Filmography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Band history

Roots in San Francisco

Leader Peter Albin, a country-blues guitarist who had played with future founders of the Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia and Ron McKernan, met Sam Andrew, a professional rock & roll guitarist with a jazz and classical background. After playing together at Albin's home, Andrew suggested they form a band.[2] The pair approached guitarist James Gurley, the resulting threesome playing open jam sessions hosted by entrepreneur Chet Helms in 1965. Helms found them a drummer, Chuck Jones, and Big Brother and the Holding Company was formed at their first gig, the Trips Festival in January 1966. In the audience was painter and jazz drummer David Getz, who soon displaced Jones.

Big Brother went on to become the house band at the Avalon Ballroom, playing a progressive style of instrumental rock. Feeling a need for a strong vocalist, Helms contacted Janis Joplin in Austin, Texas, who at the time was considering joining up with Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators. She traveled to San Francisco and debuted with Big Brother at the Avalon on June 10, 1966.[3][4][5]

Janis Joplin

Joplin sang for the first time with Big Brother in 1966. Years later, guitarist Sam Andrew described the band's first impressions of her:

We were the established rock and roll band. We were heavy. We were like: all right, out of three or four bands in this city, we are one of them. We're in the newspapers all the time. We're working out. We are doing this woman a favor to even let her come and sing with us. She came in and she was dressed like a little Texan. She didn't look like a hippie, she looked like my mother, who is also from Texas. She sang real well but it wasn't like, "Oh we're bowled over." It was probably more like, our sound was really loud. It was probably bowling her over. I am sure we didn't turn down enough for her. She wrote letters home about how exotic all of us were. The names of the bands. That kind of thing. In other words, we weren't flattened by her and she wasn't flattened by us. It was probably a pretty equal meeting. She was a real intelligent, Janis was, and she always rose to the occasion. She sang the songs. It wasn't like this moment of revelation like you would like it to be. Like in a movie or something. It wasn't like, "Oh my God, now we have gone to heaven. We have got Janis Joplin." I mean she was good but she had to learn how to do that. It took her about a year to really learn how to sing with an electric band.[6]

It took a while for some of the band's followers to accept the new singer. Her music was completely different from that which Big Brother was playing at that time. Big Brother had a very experimental and non-conventional sound, but with Joplin, they became more conventional musicians, their songs adopted a more conventional structure, and the band started to increase its popularity in the underground San Francisco psychedelic scene.[7]

Mainstream Records debut

In September 1966, with no money to return to San Francisco, Big Brother signed a contract with Mainstream Records. They recorded four of the songs for the album Big Brother & the Holding Company in a studio in Chicago at the end of their four-week stint at Mother Blues on Wells Street. The club had paid them for only the first two weeks.'[8] The remainder of the record was recorded in Los Angeles December 12 through 14th. Mainstream was known for its jazz records, and Big Brother was the first rock band to work with them. This may have influenced the final result, since the album sounded very different from what the band expected: acoustic and folk instead of heavy acid rock. The first single released was "Blind Man" b/w "All Is Loneliness," both from the album sessions, in July 1967. It was popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, but did not garner much national attention. A second single, "Down On Me" b/w "Call On Me" was released along with their self-titled debut album in August 1967, following the band's national success after the Monterey Pop Festival. The album debuted on Billboard charts on 9/2/67, peaking at No. 60. It stayed on the charts for a total of 30 weeks. The Pop Chronicles criticized the record as difficult to find and "technically disappointing".[9] "Down On Me" had a long gestation in the marketplace and finally debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on 8/31/68, peaking at No. 43. It stayed on the charts for 8 weeks. Other singles from the album were released through the end of 1967 and 1968. One final Mainstream single, "Coo Coo" b/w "The Last Time," was released after the band's second album came out on Columbia Records, in Nov. 1968. These last songs were from the original album sessions, but were not included on the album until Columbia Records bought the rights to all the Mainstream material and reissued the LP in the 1970s.[10][11]

The band then moverd to Lagunitas, in Marin County California, to a communal house. Later in 1967 they put an ad in The Oracle with the apparent intention of moving back to the "City". The ad read: Big Brother is returning to the city. Need rehearsal hall and a place to live. Write to B.B.& the H.C. at Box 94 Lagunitas [12]

Mantra-Rock Dance

The Mantra-Rock Dance poster featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company.

One of the band's earliest major performances in 1967 was the Mantra-Rock Dance—a musical event held on January 29, 1967 at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. Big Brother and Janis Joplin performed there along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, Allen Ginsberg, Moby Grape, and Grateful Dead, donating proceeds to the Krishna temple.[13][14][15]

Monterey Pop Festival

The band's historic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 attracted national and international attention. The band was scheduled to play on Saturday afternoon, with a set which included "Down on Me", "Combination of The Two", "Harry", "Roadblock" and "Ball and Chain". However, the band's manager decided not to allow Pennebaker's film crew to film and record them without paying them, and ordered the crew to turn its cameras off. The festival promoters thought the band performance was great, and asked them to play again the next evening in order to record it on film, but they played only two songs: "Combination of The Two" and "Ball and Chain." "I remember being amazed that this white woman was singing like Bessie Smith," said Michelle Phillips once. "I was astounded". They signed a contract with Columbia Records that November, and Albert Grossman became their manager.[16]

National success

Having received national recognition after the Monterey Pop Festival, Big Brother was booked by Columbia for engagements around the country. A well-known band on the West Coast (especially in San Francisco), Big Brother played their first East Coast concert in New York City on February 17, 1968 at the Anderson Theater, 66 Second Avenue. Columbia's marketing department featured Janis Joplin as the star; before that time, some of the band's audience regarded James Gurley as of equal or more importance. In New York the press criticized the band for playing out of tune and for amplifiers set at maximum volume. The Village Voice, while noting that “ears came out ringing” after the Saturday night performance, cited Joplin as ranking in sexual pizazz with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, and praised “her belting, groovy style,” mixing Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. “At times she seemed to be singing harmony with herself.” With a little help from Stephen Ryder's notorious persistence and gift of gab, Big Brother was the first band to play in the legendary Fillmore East, in New York City, on March 8, 1968.[17]

Cheap Thrills and split with Joplin

Their first album with Columbia was due to be recorded the spring and summer of 1968, and released later that year. It was eagerly anticipated, after the first album had been largely ignored. Initially planned as a live album, the band played two concerts at Grande Ballroom in Detroit, but the recorded results did not satisfy the producer John Simon or the manager Albert Grossman. The live album project was canceled, and Columbia decided to record most of the songs in studio. ("Down on Me" and "Piece of My Heart", taken from the Grande Ballroom concerts, were later released as part of Joplin's live album In Concert in 1972.) However, it was difficult adapting their raw sound and unorthodox work habits with the realities of a professional studio. The progress was slow, and the pressure from Grossman, Columbia, and the press increased. A few of the band members believed that John Simon should not be the producer, believing that he came from a different musical style and did not understand the band's psychedelic, guitar based sound.[18]

The album was initially named Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but Columbia asked them to change it to just Cheap Thrills. For the cover, Columbia had the band photographed naked in a hotel room bed, but the band did not like it, so the band asked underground comic-book artist R. Crumb to create something. What was originally meant to be the back cover became the classic cover of the album, for the back cover Columbia chose a black & white picture of Janis Joplin. "Ball and Chain" is the only song on the album recorded entirely live, and even though the cover credits assert that the live material was recorded at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium, it was actually taken from a concert in Winterland Ballroom in 1968, the same version that appears on the album Live at Winterland '68, released in 1998.[19] (The performance of "Ball and Chain" as released on the Winterland disc features a different opening guitar solo by Gurley, indicating that he'd dubbed a different intro for the Cheap Thrills issue.) The album was released in the summer of 1968, one year after their debut album, and reached number one on the Billboard charts in its eighth week in October. It held the number one spot for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks, and the single "Piece of My Heart" also became a huge hit. By the end of the year it was one of the most successful albums of 1968. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. on October 15 that year for $1 million worth of sales, with subsequent sales pushing the total over a million units.[20] Even though the album was released with only seven songs, the other eight songs which were not included were released on subsequent albums. "Catch Me Daddy" and "Farewell Song" were among their most popular songs. These plus "Magic of Love," a medley of "Amazing Grace" and "Hi-Heel Sneakers," and an outtake of "Harry" first appeared on Farewell Song, a posthumous Joplin release in 1981; they also appeared on the 3-CD set Janis in 1993. "It's a Deal" and "Easy Once you Know How" were released in Joplin's Box of Pearls in 1999. "Flower in The Sun" and "Roadblock" were released on the Cheap Thrills reissue CD as bonus tracks.[21][22][23] "Piece of My Heart" would be reissued on a single in the Columbia Hall of Fame oldies series---backed by the title cut from Joplin's first solo album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!.

At the end of the summer of 1968, just after appearing at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival in San Francisco, Joplin announced that she was leaving Big Brother in the fall of that year. The official reason given was her desire to go solo and form a soul music band. Sam Andrew and Stephen Ryder also left the band to join Joplin in her new project. Joplin played with Big Brother until December 1, 1968, at a Family Dog Benefit concert in San Francisco. Twenty days later she and Sam played in Memphis for the first time with her new band, later called Kozmic Blues Band.[24]


After Joplin and Ryder left Big Brother, Dave Getz and Peter Albin joined Mike Finnigan. The band remained with this lineup until 1972 but drugs, loss of management, lack of gigs and internal squabbles caused them to gradually fall apart and disband during that year. During the next 15 years they re-united once to play "The Tribal Stomp" in 1978 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.


"Legendary Artists: Sounds of San Francisco" at an Audio Engineering Society convention in 2012. Left to right: Mario Cipollina, Albin, Joel Selvin, Country Joe McDonald

The latest incarnation began in 1987, and has been touring part-time ever since with most of its classic lineup; including Sam Andrew, Peter Albin, Dave Getz, and James Gurley. James left in 1997 because he did not support his colleagues' idea to hire a female singer to replace Joplin.[25] He was replaced by Tom Finch.[26] Big Brother did not have a fixed lead singer until 2011; Michel Bastian, Lisa Battle, Halley DeVestern,[27] Lisa Mills, Andra Mitrovich, Kacee Clanton, Sophia Ramos, Mary Bridget Davies, Lana Spence, Chloe Lowery, Jane Myrenget, Lynn Asher, Darby Gould, Maria Stanford, Jeri Verdi, and Superfly's Shiho Ochi were among the singers that have played in concerts with them. Cathy Richardson became the band's official lead singer in 2011, with Ben Nieves having replaced Finch as guitarist in 2008.[28] In 1999 the band released the album Do What You Love, with Lisa Battle as the lead singer. The album contains some new versions of classic tunes like "Women is Loser" and a few new songs. The "Hold Me" album, with Sophia Ramos as lead singer and Chad Quist as guitar player, was recorded live in Germany in 2005, and released in 2006. In 2008 they released the two-CD set The Lost Tapes, with songs recorded at concerts between 1966 and 1967 in San Francisco, and featuring Janis Joplin as lead singer. Some songs had already been unofficial releases, but there are 12 never-before-released songs.[29][30]

Former guitarist James Gurley died on December 20, 2009 of a heart attack, just two days before his 70th birthday.[30] Sam Andrew died on February 12, 2015, following complications from open-heart surgery due to a heart attack suffered ten weeks prior.[31]


In 2007, following the induction of Cheap Thrills to the Grammy Hall of Fame, former guitar player James Gurley, described Big Brother as the most maligned band ever, since they never received appreciation for the arrangements they did and all the engineering tricks he came up with. Gurley also believed that Clive Davis told Joplin to leave the band and record her songs with studio musicians, who could play better.[25] In the documentary Nine Hundred Nights, Peter Albin said that the manager Albert Grossman told Joplin to leave Big Brother and form her own band, with studio musicians, in order to spend less money on recording sessions. Sam Andrew said later that Joplin left due to artistic and financial reasons: Joplin usually asked the band to have some keyboard or horns on at least some songs, but they said "No! You are going to change the Big Brother sound!" The band was also doing the same songs a lot, sometimes three times a day, so she started feeling trapped. The band was splitting the money in five equal ways, by leaving she could have all the money and just pay some employees and have a new band.[32]

In 1982, Columbia released the Janis Joplin album Farewell Song. The release displeased Big Brother's living members, since their original instruments were all replaced by studio musicians without consulting the band. James Gurley spoke about that in 1987, before the band's reunion: "It’s just a total bullshit record...some producer's dream at CBS."[33]






Studio albums

Title Album details Peak chart positions
U.S. 200 U.S. R&B
Big Brother and the Holding Company 60 28
Cheap Thrills
  • Released: 1968 (1968)
  • Label: Columbia
1 7
Be a Brother
  • Released: 1970 (1970)
  • Label: Columbia
How Hard It Is
  • Released: 1971 (1971)
  • Label: Columbia
Can't Go Home Again
  • Released: 1997 (1997)
Do What You Love
  • Released: 1999 (1999)

Live/compilation albums


Year Song US Hot 100
1967 "Bye, Bye Baby"
"Down On Me" 43
1968 "Coo Coo" 84
"Piece of My Heart" 12
"Women Is Losers"
"Combination of the Two"


  • Monterey Pop (1968)
  • Petulia (1968)
  • Janis: The Way She Was (1974)
  • Comin' Home (1988)
  • Nine Hundred Nights (DVD) Pioneer Entertainment (2004)
  • Rockin' at the Red Dog: The Dawn of Psychedelic Rock (2005)
  • Hold Me (LIVE in Germany) (DVD) Ryko Distribution (2007)
  • Janis Joplin with Big Brother: Ball and Chain (DVD) Charly (2009)

See also


  1. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Big Brother & the Holding Company | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  2. ^ "Keeping The Music Alive". Cincy Groove. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  3. ^ Brant, Marley (2008). Join Together: Forty Years of the Rock Music Festival. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 16. 
  4. ^ Sinclair, Mick (2004). San Francisco: a cultural and literary history. Interlink Books. p. 204. 
  5. ^ "Chronology". 1998–2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Big Brother & The Holding Co". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  7. ^ Joplin, Laura (2005-08-16). Love, Janis.  
  8. ^ Love, Janis, by Laura Joplin, 2005, P. 201 It Publishing
  9. ^ "Show 41 - The Acid Test: Psychedelics and a sub-culture emerge in San Francisco. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  10. ^ Joplin, Laura (2005-08-16). Love, Janis. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-075522-9.
  11. ^ Big Brother and The Holding Co. 1999 CD reissue booklet, with notes by Sam Andrew.
  12. ^ The Oracle vol1 no.6
  13. ^  
  14. ^  
  15. ^ Joplin, Laura (1992), "Love, Janis",  
  16. ^ Rolling Stone, The Fortieth Anniversary Special Edition, Issue 1030/1031, July 12–26, 2007.
  17. ^ Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 0-517-58650-9.
  18. ^ [9]
  19. ^ "Live at Winterland 68: Music". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  20. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 236.  
  21. ^ [10]
  22. ^ [11]
  23. ^ "Janis Joplin - Unofficial Discography". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  24. ^ [12]
  25. ^ a b Fessier, Bruce (2007-02-10). "Janis Joplin News Articles - Kozmic Blues". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  26. ^ [13]
  27. ^ Dominick A. Miserandino (2000-11-29). "DeVestern, Halley". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  28. ^ [14]
  29. ^ [15]
  30. ^ a b [16]
  31. ^ "Sam Andrews, Founding Guitarist of Big Brother & the Holding Company, Dead at 73". Billboard. Retrieved 14 February 2015. 
  32. ^ "Big Brother & The Holding Co". 1997-07-21. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  33. ^ "Big Brother & The Holding Co. :: View topic - Interview with James Gurley 1987 the BBHC reunion". Retrieved 2013-09-09. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Janis Joplin website
  • Big Brother & the Holding Co. discography at the Grateful Dead Family Discography
  • Book about Big Brother & the Holding Co.
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