Janis Joplin…The First Female Rock Star

Janis Joplin

 I want to thank Lisa from Tao-Talk for publishing this post on March 19, 2023. Every March she does a Women Music March with a post on a female artist every day. Please go visit her site and see the artists she has featured this month. 

On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people, then I go home aloneJanis Joplin

When I think of female artists…Janis Joplin is the first one that comes to my mind. My top two female singers are Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Both are legends and both unique.

I cannot express how much I love this woman. She had the most powerful voice I have ever heard. She could sing with beauty, grit, and she could sing with a sound like Southern Comfort pouring through razor blades. There was soul, confidence, strength, and vulnerability in her voice that came through in every song. She was one of the authentic singers. You can hear the pain in Billie Holiday’s and Bessie Smith’s voice…you can hear pain in Janis, yes it was a different kind but pain all the same. It all started with a Janis Joplin greatest hits album I got when I was 11 and the love affair has never ended.

You really can’t compare her to her female contemporaries. She was not like Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Mama Cass, or even Grace Slick. Janis hit you between the eyes and never looked back. Sweet ballads were not her style, but she could do them. She could hold her own against anyone…she had more in common with Robert Plant than the other female singers. She was also a kind thoughtful lady.

Bessie Smith died in 1937 but a headstone was never bought for her. In August 1970, just two months before Joplin’s own death, she and Juanita Green, who worked in Smith’s house when she was younger and went on to become the president of the North Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, pitched money to buy a proper headstone for Smith. For the epitaph, they chose the following line: “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”

Her childhood was spent in Port Arthur, Texas. Janis’ mother was a businesswoman, and her father was an engineer, and as the oldest child, she was given all the care she needed but soon discovered that she was different. Being different in Texas at that time was not good.

In high school she was groped and bullied by many of the football team including Jimmy Johnson the football player, coach, and now analyst for Fox Sports. He and his teammates spread rumors that she’d slept with their friends because she “looked and acted weird.” He was a star linebacker on the football team. He said, “Janis looked and acted so weird that when we were around her, mostly in the hallways at school, we would give her a hard time…she ran with the beatnik crowd.” He continued to occasionally degrade her after she died.

She would go to college in Austin Texas, but Austin wasn’t “weird” yet at the time. Alpha Phi Omega sponsored its “Ugliest Man on Campus” contest as part of an effort to raise money for charities. Fraternities would nominate one of their members and dress them up in old clothes and they would be voted on. Someone nominated Janis and it hurt her bad. Joplin’s mother, Dorothy Joplin, admitted that her daughter wrote an “anguished letter laying out all the gory details of how the contest had affected her.”

She moved from Texas to San Francisco and became part of the San Francisco music scene with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Her influences were Billy Holiday, Bessie Smith. Big Mama Thornton, Odetta, and Leadbelly.

She played with Big Brother and the Holding Company who were as raw as you could get, and they played at the Monterrey Pop festival and broke through. She went solo with a couple of backing bands… The Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band. She later played at Woodstock and traveled in a train to concerts all around Canada with the Grateful Dead and other artists that can be seen in the movie The Festival Express.

There are few artists who give everything they have all the time. Bruce Springsteen is one…Janis was one. On film it comes through…she gave everything she had and more. The last recording, she made was a fun birthday message to John Lennon.

Her nickname was Pearl and that was the name of her last album. Her last album is a classic. Janis with the help of the producer Paul Rothchild learned how to control her voice and not belt everything out. He wanted her to have a voice when she turned 30. It worked…it was her most successful album. It showed how great of a voice she had…she wasn’t just a screamer.

Janis would not make 30…she will be 27 for eternity. She died on October 4, 1970, from a heroin overdose after working on her album. She left $2,500 for her wake…. 200 guests were invited with invitations that read” Drinks are on Pearl.” The guests showed up with the Grateful Dead (as she had requested in her will) as the house band. Her body was cremated, and the ashes scattered from an airplane near Stinson Beach.

I only wished she could have survived and been alive today. Much like Jimi Hendrix, I hate to think what we missed out on.

She was the ultimate take me as I am person.

Joplin on Porshe


Studio Albums solo and with Big Brother:  4

Live Albums: 7 (after her death)

Compilation Albums: 14

Singles solo and with Big Brother:  13

Filmography from Wiki

Monterey Pop (1968)

Petulia (1968)

Janis Joplin Live in Frankfurt (1969)

Janis (1974)

Janis: The Way She Was (1974)

Comin’ Home (1988)

Woodstock – The Lost Performances (1991)

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director’s Cut) (1994)

Festival Express (2003)

Nine Hundred Nights (2004)

The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (2005) Shout Factory

Rockin’ at the Red Dog: The Dawn of Psychedelic Rock (2005)

This is Tom Jones (2007) 1969 appearance on TV show

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director’s Cut) 40th Anniversary Edition (2009)

Janis Joplin with Big Brother: Ball and Chain (DVD) Charly (2009)

Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)

Things to Share

The quantity and more importantly the quality of her work was incredible in a short window of time. In 1995, Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In November 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum honored her as part of its annual American Music Masters Series. In 2014 there was also a commemorative Janis Joplin stamp issued by the US Postal Service.

I’ll close this with a couple of short stories. Janis did not suffer fools gladly. At a party Jim Morrison was getting drunk and became obnoxious, rude, and violent. Morrison saw that Joplin was there and started to hit on her. Joplin had admired Morrison but not on this night. By this point, she shot him down at every turn and eventually tried to leave with Paul Rothschild (her producer) and nearly got away before Jim, wobbling along, followed her to her car and reached in, grabbing Janis by her hair in an attempt to pull her out. BAD move Jim… Janis then took her bottle of Southern Comfort and cracked him over the head with it, immediately knocking the Lizard King out cold. Now normally, this would have been the end of things…but the next day at rehearsal, Jim was absolutely smitten with Janis,  begging Paul Rothschild to give him her phone number…he didn’t get it.

Her road manager John Cooke was the son of Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke and the great grand-nephew of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Janis also punched Jerry Lee Lewis when Lewis told Laura Joplin (Janis’s sister) something offensive. She had to be pulled off him.

This is her on the Dick Cavett show and it says a lot about her. This was in 1969, before the Morrison party.


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

51 thoughts on “Janis Joplin…The First Female Rock Star”

  1. As I previously noted on Lisa’s blog, shockingly, I’m 100% with you, brother Max!😆

    Janis Joplin was a truly exceptional artist. With her distinctive vocals and oftentimes sheer boundless energy, I would go as far as saying she was in a league of her own. Tunes like “Cry Baby”, “Piece of My Heart” and “Try (Just a Little Harder)” give me chills every time I listen to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. She was amazing. Every Joplin fan needs to hear Willie Mae Thornton. Big Mama wrote “Ball and Chain” and recorded the authentic version of “Hound Dog”. And like any good student, Janis learned from the masters and then took it to another level.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. From what I read…she asked Willie Mae Thornton for permission to sing Ball and Chain…and Thorton liked that Joplin put her own spin on it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I like both of those as well… I agree about the intensity… that is why I mentioned Bruce…the ones that give everything on stage.


      1. Yes…they are up there also. Plant was certainly influenced by her because he loved the San Francisco sound and those bands.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Janis put everything into her performances, she never held anything back and it must have been great seeing her live. When Jefferson Airplane lost their lead singer Singe Anderson, they thought about asking Janis to join them, till they found out about her arrest for shoplifting.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Holey shit! Did you run out of ink? My first intro to Janis was ‘Cheap Thrills’. I had to take my life in my hands to sneak listen to my brother’s record. Worth every bruise. Thanks for the nudge to Lisa’s takes on the woman folk. Some very cool stuff over there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yea it’s a long one but it was a joy to write…I just couldn’t stop. Lisa does have some cool artists there. Some I was introduced to.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to admit not knowing too much about her – but a Greatest Hits compilation is in my collection – she would probably be my favourite female vocalist of that era .. her and Maggie Bell, who has a similar style about her. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

      1. From Glasgow, my home town…. and actually not far from where I lived. Her band was STONE THE CROWS who were excellent. They also featured Alex Harvey’s brother, Leslie, who tragically died during a soundcheck. (Alex is he of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The more I hear Maggie Bell the more I like her. I totally agree…they were influenced by the same people I believe.


  6. A fine little bio of her, Max! Interesting read…SF was definitely the place for her to be back then. I’ve heard other bad things about JJohnson through the years, so it seems believable… ironically Clive Davis said she tried to seduce him but he adored her…as a friend and talent (later of course he came out as gay). I’m not universally fond of her music but she had a great voice & stage presence. ‘Pearl’ was a leap ahead for her, who knows what she might have attained on the next album had she the chance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Dave…it was a pleasure to write for sure. It was a lot of fun to write and as you see I didn’t want to stop lol.
      Of course after reading a book…that means a couple of Janis posts are gonna come. She changed herself with this album…even the live stuff around this time had her using her natural voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah, she was a trend setter- non of this sweet little cornsyrupy Anita Bryant type goody two-shoes. tosh for her. There WAS no handbook on how a female Rock Star must/should act, so she had to deal with all the crud that comes with being a pioneer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved the story about Jim Morrison…I do think it was over due probably. I learned a lot by writing it…I come to appreciate her even more. Thanks for reading Bruce! It was longer than my normal ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A wonderful write-up Max. Janis was so genuine, honest and real, a rare quality in many artists and celebrities. It was such a tragedy and terrible loss that both she and Jimi Hendrix died of heroin overdoses at only 27 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jeff…that means a lot coming from you being in that era and location. I just finished another book about her… just sad in so many ways.


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