JANIS JOPLIN / GRATEFUL DEAD
FILLMORE EAST, N.Y. - The last show of a two day, four show stand is the moment of truth a performer must face when playing the Fillmore. It's usually the show attended by the most important and influential musical trade and press personages, who recognize that a performer needs a few shows to warm-up. For Janis Joplin and her new band, the moment of truth was a moment that should have been postponed.
What was missing from the new Janis Joplin was the total excitement that characterized her performance with Big Brother. Perhaps Janis felt that the new band was superior enough to let her relax a little, perhaps she was no longer excited. Janis will be given a second chance and probably a third and fourth, for she is too good a talent to be lost.
Paradoxically, we got the feeling that this new band will be a much stronger recording entity than the old. For awhile, we were thinking of it as Blood, Sweat and Janis, what with the horns and all, and then decided it was closer to the Electric Janis, what with the Nick Gravenite tunes. But somehow, Nick's songs don't sound right on Janis. We liked her rendition of "Maybe," the old Chantells' hit, the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." And nobody does "Summertime" better than Janis. Her two encore numbers, "Piece Of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain," were the Janis of old. But the new songs, the new sound of Janis Joplin was a letdown, and since they formed the bulk of the act, it too suffered.
Those who have never seen Janis, or have seen her on an off-night, would have been more than happy with the new show. In fact, if we had never heard, or heard of, Janis before, we would have been raving about the new discovery. Unfortunately, we know the feeling of warmth, ecstasy, of many other pleasurable things, that Janis was capable of in the past, and we can only hope she will soon be providing them again.
The Gratefull Dead were a surprise. For more than an hour, they kept us entranced by exploring every facet of rock. Though we doubt we would want to listen to the same thing on disk, we would welcome a chance to catch the whole thing again on a night when our minds were in better shape.
(from Cashbox, 22 February 1969)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys66oXW9g28 (Janis - possibly the early show)
* * *
JANIS JOPLIN'S SONG STYLE LEAVES CRITICS IN DOUBT
NEW YORK - Janis Joplin sings the blues like she means it. Her new six-man band may not even understand it.
Miss Joplin, a hard-rock-blues singer more in the tradition of Bessie Smith and Big Mamma Willie Mae Thornton than of San Francisco rock, brought the group into Fillmore East, the Lower East Side new-music emporium, last week for a New York debut.
[line missing] -ful and funky blues band. A group, say, like the Butterfield Blues Band at its peak would be ideal. There are no strong bluesmen in her present group. The band's strongest soloist is rock-oriented guitarist Sam Andrew, a holdover from Big Brother and the Holding Company, the group for which Miss Joplin once sang lead vocals.
The present group is only three weeks old. It is not the same one she had at her much criticized performance at the Stax-Volt Revue in Memphis last December. But, as the two shows last Wednesday night showed, newness has nothing to do with growth potential. The material is not there for the developing.
The band's brief experience reduced Miss Joplin to performing a limited program. Her repertoire was already circumscribed, but for her to repeat virtually the same program in the second show as she sang in the first was a sign of artistic debilitation.
In her sometimes harsh, sometimes whispering but always raw voice, she sang many of her familiar tunes, including a vigorous "Turtle Blues."
Miss Joplin continued to sing "Summertime," a winner for her. The new band has the same arrangement on the tune as the old group except for a new, charming, baroque-like introduction by two English horns.
Her interpretation of the song changes little from performance to performance. She has routine phrase patterns for each section of the song, even down to repeating, "baby, baaby, baaaby, baaaaby," always in the same way.
But repetition is characteristic of Miss Joplin's style. Her performance of "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain," which she sang last week, were done in similar patterned fashion. It is no artistic crime for her to sing like this, but it is a strike against her creative imagination if she is to be compared with the great blues singers.
Miss Joplin also sang several songs new for her, including "Maybe," a tune the Chantels popularized in the 1950s; "Work Me, Lord," a gospel-like piece, and "You're The Only One Who Knows," a recent Nick Graventies composition.
Also on the show was the Grateful Dead, a San Francisco band that played its raucous sound unrelentingly.
Not everyone who came to see Janis Joplin at Fillmore East was of the now generation. Amid the sea of faces was Benny Goodman, the legendary "King of Swing."
Clarinetist Goodman, who is in semi-retirement, came with his daughter, Rachel, to "see the atmosphere of the Fillmore."
It was his first rock concert, and after hearing several songs, he said, "I think it's quite vital. It's awful hard to put in any category, as good or bad. You have to listen to all the groups.
"The thing that shatters me is the volume. It's so loud, it's almost deafening. It's hard to see where a clarinet would fit in there."
(by Hollie West [L.A. Times-Washington Post Service], from the Portland Oregonian, 20 February 1969)
* * *
Before-show crowd sounds at the Fillmore East on Tuesday night changed from Saturday movie matinee to concert hall historic as Bill Graham made his nostalgic introduction of the Grateful Dead, calling them something like the granddaddies of them all. And they were beginning to look as if they were out of a music book history. Was that bespectacled and bearded little man a cartoon figure of the Jerry Garcia whose guitar danced me to the "midnight hour" and beyond in San Francisco just two years ago?
Musically they were sounding old too. Starting with a long blues number, they wandered all around the melody and the stage like '50s jazz musicians. Then they played a sort-of western number, coming on very country and funky. Also very long. People were saying they wanted to dance; it had been a long time since I'd heard that. Dancing would have been good, if only to keep from being bored and to see if whirling about was the sorcery the Dead used to hypnotize me two years ago.
But the historic event we had really come to see/hear was the New York debut of Janis Joplin and her new band. And with Joshua Light Show sunbursts on she comes. The band was more like Janis and the Pick-ups. [ . . . ]
Impossible not to watch Janis Joplin, but closing my eyes, trying to imagine how the brass would come across with her voice in recordings...Bessie Smith with strings? No, that's not it. Brought up around the vibrating double-pitched resonating noises of amplifiers and guitars, she is more a Big Mamma Thornton with electronically scratched vocal cords. I have never heard anyone say that they didn't like Janis after having seen her sing. Somehow it takes seeing her to know that the heart-busting sounds are quivering up from her insides instead of trickling down from her head. Her records hide it and sound forced unless you've seen it happen to her through her. But wouldn't it be great to have Janis both ways?
"Maybe," a song from the '50s originally recorded by the Chantels, may be the one that will put Janis across. Coming out like an oldie done her own way, it shows what her own way is. Blues-rock, not fake blues or tricky rock. Three more new blues songs by Nick Gravenites, "As Good As You've Been," "You're the Only One Who Really Knows," and "Work Me Lord," were done with a mysteriously personal meaning. "Work Me Lord," like a sexy revival meeting, gets the whole audience involved and could be a sympathetic flip side on a hit single with "Maybe." All of her new songs need more rehearsal and performance to cement them into solid memory mashers. The whole new band approach is definitely a fermenting thing and not a finished masterpiece.
(by Susanna, from the "Riffs" column, the Village Voice, 20 February 1969)
* * *
JANIS: THE JUDY GARLAND OF ROCK? [excerpt]
NEW YORK - When Janis Joplin danced on stage in front of her new,
as-yet-unnamed, six-piece band at the Fillmore East February 11 and 12,
she seemed to have victory within her grasp. How could she miss? There
had been a "sound test" for the band (as road manager John Cooke put it)
in Rindge, New Hampshire, a "preview" in Boston - but this was Opening
Night, the Big Debut, and the city’s rockers have been working
themselves into a lather for days. All four performances were sold out,
and ticket scalpers roamed along Second Avenue offering paradise at
prices that would have been out of line for a kilo of hash.
Tuesday’s opening night crowd had more than a hint of uptown prosperity
to it. Affluent reporters from Time, Like, Look, Newsweek, and other
bastions of slick-paper supremacy laid claim to most of the
complimentary tickets, while those hardy souls from the lower echelon
rock press either stood outside in the slush, their faces pressed
against the glass, or somehow got past the door only to huddle together
in the lobby and standing-room areas to look in vain for an empty seat.
Mike Wallace and the CBS television crew were on hand documenting the
building’s events for a March 4th segment of 60 Minutes to be called,
with true media irony, "Carnegie Hall For Kids."
balloon-filled air, the Grateful Dead, the "other half" of an all-San
Francisco program, started to play "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl."
And play they did - one of those wonderful, comfortable, one-long-song
sets that went uninterrupted for close to an hour and actually managed
to neutralize much of the inherent tension by turning the concert into
something not unlike a freebie in the park or a pleasant party at
The band played well - but, more important, gave
New York audiences something of the idea of rock as a relaxed and
relaxing way of life, not as a sporadic series of super-hypes for
super-groups. There were no artificially induced high points or low
points, no cream-in-your-jeans climax - instead, a steady stream of
satisfying music which simply went on until it stopped.
Nonprofessional response to the buildup was interesting. One long-term
Joplin fanatic, a young man named Ronnie Finkelstein, approached the
Fillmore with ecstasy and hurried to his seat just as the Grateful Dead
began their set. "I found them original and satisfying," he said. "I
wanted Janis, though."
"I rushed back when Bill Graham - the dirty
capitalist! - introduced my girl. The band futzed around for about five
minutes, and then, with a short brass intro, Janis appeared out of
nowhere. In a cape-gown sort of thing, she danced for a minute, then
threw off the cape to reveal her famous shoulder-strap pants outfit. I
Another admirer put it even more succinctly. "I’ve had a hard-on since four o’clock this afternoon waiting for this."
This consisted of an incredibly nervous Janis Joplin - hair flying,
long fingers showing white clenching a hand mike - in front of her new
group: Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company, lead guitar;
terry Clements, sax; Richard Kermode, organ; Roy Markowitz, drums;
Terry Hensley, trumpet; and a temporary bass player, Keith Cherry
(ex-Pauper Brad Campbell is expected to come down from Canada to join
the band as a permanent member as soon as he can get a work permit.)
The first song made a number of things both painfully and delightfully
clear. The potential to become a genuinely great rock singer is still
there, but so are the infamous and disheartening Joplin tendencies
toward vocal overkill. Indeed, Janis doesn’t so much sing a song as to
strangle it to death right in front of you. It’s an exciting, albeit,
grisly, event to behold. But it would seem to belong more to the realm
of carnival exhibition than musical performance.
[ . . . ]
first number, the band made all the local stops, while Janis was an
express. The singing and playing simply failed to mesh, Joplin
constantly projecting and the group continually receding. Between
verses, the vocalist as dancer seemed more a constrained Radio City
Rockette than a free-form blues singer. Every moment was stiff and
The applause was respectful. People seemed to be
biding their time, waiting for the big explosion. Janis and the band
plowed into the second song, a Nick Gravenities composition, and made it
sound a smudged carbon copy of the first. Any sense of pace was
forgotten. The audience began to pall. Joplin reached for her bottle of
booze, a trademark which had been placed proudly on top of an amplifier
with all of the deliberate care inherent in the planting of a religious
Things started to go better. "Maybe," an old Chantells
signature tune from the late Fifties, was good and hard, and
"Summertime," born of Cheap Thrills but now instrumentally processed
through Ars Nova and Blood, Sweat and Tears, brought with it flowers,
affection, a watermelon rasp, some sneaky CBS cameramen, and a more
appreciative response from admirers. Janis swayed a bit, rubbed her head
fetchingly, and hitched up her pants with a jump.
Barry Gibb’s "To Love Somebody" was rendered needlessly grotesque as
Joplin ran through her rapidly depleting bagful of mannerisms in a
desperate attempt to inject even more meaningless into the song by
almost literally wiping up the floor with it. Then, a fast one, written
by the group, which Janis said she wanted to call "Jazz for the
Jack-offs." Again, the local-express syndrome, with a real credibility
gap developing between star and support.
Came the highlight of
the new act: Joplin’s moving and only slightly overripe singing of the
beautiful new Nick Gravenites song, "Work Me, Lord." Empathy and art
formed a strong partnership at this point, and passion, throughout the
evening so misused and purposeless, finally found a home in spiritual
It is difficult to imagine a Bob Dylan or a John Lennon
peppering an interview with constant nervous interjections of "Hey, I‘ve
never sung so great. Don’t you think I’m singing better? Well, Jesus
fucking Christ, I’m really better, believe me." But Janis seems that
rare type of personality who lacks the essential self-protective
distancing that a singer of her fame and stature would appear to need.
One gets the alarming feeling that Joplin’s whole world is precariously
balanced on what happens to her musically - that the necessary degree of
honest cynicism needed to survive an all-media assault may be buried too
far under an immensely likeable but tremendously under confident
She knows the band isn’t together yet. Haven’t worked
together long enough - "Hey, it takes longer than a couple of weeks to get
loose, to be really tight, to push. But conceptually I like it, and I
think I’m singing better than I ever, ever did." This is what Janis
Joplin wants, this band, these songs, all of it. "I mean, I really dig
what I’m doing, but I just wish the band would push as hard as I am.
Hey, I’m the lead, you know-but they’re hanging back way too far for
It all takes time, she knows. Janis wants to sing and she
wants other people in the band to sing, too. You get a bunch of
musicians together so everybody can contribute to the final product,
make it something larger than the sum. "Trouble is, we haven’t really
had a chance to get into each other yet."
It’s going to get
better. She’s sure it’s going to get better. Like maybe she’ll add a new
cat next week - "great big ugly spade cat." He blows baritone and drums
like Buddy Miles. "He’s really heavy. I really need somebody to push,
you know. There’s really not enough push in the band yet."
band’s got an even dozen songs together now. Not enough repertoire yet.
But Nick Gravenites has been a big help. "Isn’t his "Work Me, Lord"
beautiful? Oh, man - whew! Man, I love that guy. His songs really say
Clive (Davis, president of Columbia records) isn’t
hassling her to record right away, and it’s just as well, Janis says.
She doesn’t understand people recording before they have a chance to
work at it. "Hey, I want to play a little more, I want to gig a little
bit so that the tunes get together before I make a record."
exudes several things at once: that the act is going fine right now;
that’s it’s not so fine; that it’s going to get better; that, despite
herself, there’s the terror that it might not, unless something happens.
She’s looking for a cat to be musical director, knows she doesn’t know
enough to do it herself. Somebody to pull it together. Like Michael
Bloomfield. Everybody’s doing arrangements now and...it isn’t working.
Maybe that will have to come first before a new name for the group can
be chosen. "I want a name that implies a band but has the person’s name
in it, right? Like the Buddy Miles Express. That has an identity in it.
We were thinking," she laughs, "of Janis and the Joplinaires - ha!" Except
that isn’t what a band is. What is the band? Too soon to say.
"Well, people say that I’m singing great, man. The whole San Francisco
scene, which I was afraid might be a little pissed at me for officially
disclaiming the familial San Francisco rock thing, has been fine. Jerry
Garcia told me that I made him cry. The Dead have
been so good to me, man. They’re so warm and everything. I really
needed that because of the pressure - I’ve been really scared because this
is important to me.
"The kids - well, they’re missing the familiar
tunes. You know how audiences are. And I really want to do the new
songs. I don’t want to have to get up there and sing "Down On Me" when
I’m eighty years old. The reason I did this was so that I could keep on
moving. Once I get the new tunes on a record, then the kids won’t mind."
It will all be better then.
Doing the 60 Minutes segment had been really funny, Janis said she just
laughed all the time at the media and the Big Build-Up she had gotten.
It was too much to take seriously. "It’s surreal. It’s got nothing to do
with me, really. I’m beginning to be able to cope with it. I don’t
believe it, you know - I mean, you can’t." One thing you’ve got to be sure
about, she thinks, is that you don’t start believing you are worth all
that attention, Janis laughed.
[ . . . ]
Janis had thought the Fillmore East "opening" had gone
well - "I’m really doing good," she thought - but the audience reaction
had been decidedly mixed.
The kid who’d kept that hard-on all
that while thought Janis was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and
didn’t want to say any more than that. But Ronnie Finkelstein liked her
better with Big Brother. Ronnie thought she was flaunting her sexuality
and that altogether it was a vulgar display. "Her thing now is
showboating. Her dancing is a drag. Everything is a big put-on." An
ex-worshiper, art director Gene Mallard, felt that success most
definitely had spoiled Janis Joplin. This new thing was a brassy
burlesque show - the old hypnoticism was gone - there was an air of boredom.
"Miss Superstar and her group," said Mallard, "are just another
put-together plasticized show."
The full article here:
(by Paul Nelson, from Rolling Stone, 15 March 1969)
The Dead's show was released on the Fillmore East 2-11-69 CD.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBEiwABOBp0&t=05m23s (10 seconds of film from the early show)