Big Brother and the Holding Company
Sam and Janis live
Interview by Randy Patterson, Part 2
"You know," Sam adds, "I've been a drug addict. Somebody doesn't make you do it. It's the other way around. You're asking for it. You're bugging them for it. And they're saying, 'You gotta cool it.' People are trying to be responsible. Janis was no one's victim... ever. She was the biggest user of all, of everything. She ate the most. She talked the most. She was the smartest. She did the most dope. She drank the most. Whatever it was, she did the most of it. So, the Estate, Laura and Michael Joplin, have finally come to understand that. But they've never said to us, 'Gee, I want to apologize to you for those years when we thought you were kooks and devils out to destroy our sister.'
I interject, "I don't think it's in their DNA to apologize."
"Well, no. It's not at all. Laura had... she's got that school-teacher thing, too, but she got it ALL. You know what I mean? She thinks she's the smartest person in the room, and often she is, but she's nowhere near as intelligent as Janis was, and she wasn't there when we did all that. "
Sam then begins to give the background on the play that is derived from Laura Joplin's book, Love, Janis.
"The reason Randal Myler wrote the play is that the mother died and they went through her effects and they found many letters from Janis under her bed. And they brought them to the playwright because, at first, he had no inclination to do a play about a one dimensional person. He said, 'I'm not going to write about this blues mamma', you know? And, now, they found these letters and they bring them to him and he says, "Oh! This is different. This is really a thoughtful person. There's a play here." That's his story. He tells that in every interview. And it's truth, by and large"
I bring up Sam's article, "Janis – First Person" and ask about the details behind it.
"Well, the reason I did that 'Janis – First Person' thing, they're going to make a movie about her one of these days – it's just a matter of time. Although, it's been a long time, now, since anyone has talked about it." I opine that The Rose was the closest to the real Janis story.
Sam continues, "Yes, in feeling, it is. It definitely is. Although, it's not close but some of these movies – you should read these scripts. It's like, 'who IS this person? 'They're talking about this power-mad, sex-driven, crazy woman and she comes to rehearsal the first day with Big Brother and she goes in the bathroom and says, 'How can I take over this band?' I mean, there was nothing to take over! We were all building this thing together! We didn't have anything when Janis came to us, and neither did she. The work was all ahead."
"So, greed and an urge to dominate was the farthest thing from how Janis was, at that point. She had her foibles, definitely. But these Hollywood scriptwriters are all writing their own self-portrait. That's all you can write.
"So, there's Melissa Etheridge and her significant other, Julie Cypher. I saw the screenplay she wrote and it's, like, HORRIBLE. It's this Hollywood – disgusting, ego – real shallow, mind game travesty." Surprised, I say, "You would think they would want to do it perfectly."
"But they did do it as perfectly as they know how. It was all they could see. What you see is what you get. That's all Julie Cypher could see, you know? She's looking BACK at a successful person instead of tracing a tentative beginning.
"Somebody made an interesting comment the other day. They said, 'Well, Melissa was going through a lot of turmoil at that time, and Julie was projecting her difficulties onto the Janis story.' And, you know, I never thought about that. It makes sense, but I know Melissa and she's a worthwhile person. She doesn't really seem to like the Janis in the screenplay, either.
"Anyway, you wouldn't believe how disgusting the script is. It's so far – if you read it, you go, 'Huh? Who's this, Joan Crawford or someone? What is this, Mommy Dearest?' There are no spiritual moments or anything. Janis had a lot of beautiful moments. She was real. The screenplay misses that entirely. And that's only one script. There've been several and I've seen them and they're all – I understand, they have to write and titillate people and they have to sell tickets to these movies. There has to be some dramatic heightening and selection to get people into the seats."
Continuing on about "Janis – First Person," Andrew says, "So, I sat down and wrote this in self-defense. I said, 'I'm going to remember everything Janis ever said to me. Really remember it. Not the way it was for an interview, where she had practiced and honed the words, but something she said to me in the car on the way home from a gig, the first time she said it, before she got to the interview.
"So I just wrote down all these things just so I'd have them preserved and really, frankly, in case there's really a decent screenwriter with some soul, get with her or him and say, 'Hey, do you want to team up on this and really write something worthwhile about a developing artist and human being?'"
I suggest that maybe Oliver Stone would want to take on the project.
Sam replies, "Yeah, but maybe The Doors was enough for him. But, yeah, that's true. I liked, especially, the first part of that "Doors" movie. It felt like what it was like at the beginning - that sweet innocence of the Hippie scene. He did that well. Later, there was some distortion, but that's inevitable.
"So that's why I wrote, 'Janis – First Person' – kind of in self-defense, just so I wouldn't lose my sanity by reading these stories and forgetting who Janis was. She's vivid to me and I hung out with her a lot. I knew her, I think, better than anyone, although, probably every person in her life thinks that. You know, she's that kind of person.
"I spent a lot more time with her than anyone. I definitely played more nights with her than any musician in her life. We had many a ride home from the gigs and she'd say all these things in a stream of consciousness manner. I remember those moments and how she sounded.
"So, one of these days, they're going to make a movie. And, when they do, I'm going to call the screenwriter and say, 'Just do me a favor. Take a look at this thing I wrote. Are you writing anywhere close to this? Because, this is who she was.'
Sam brought up Melissa Etheridge, so, I ask him for his opinion of her and her cover of "Piece of My Heart."
"I LOVE Melissa! She's a real musician, for one thing. She's really sincere. She's really talented. And, she took the trouble to learn all of our names. This is political but she knew who everybody was when she came to the band. I'm talking about when we did an engagement at the Maritime Hall. When we were talking about this movie with her and Julie, part of her research was to come and do "Ball and Chain" and "Piece of My Heart" with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
"And, so, she came and it was a big deal. She was in a dressing room here and we were here (another dressing room), and, at a certain point, Melissa is led in and she took the trouble to memorize everything and she did a great job. It was, like, hot! The audience – there were a lot of lesbians there. This is San Francisco, so it was great to see her playing to her crowd. People were really affected her – what she did - and it was sincere and real. So, I like her. I'm a big fan. She goes for it and she gets it done, too."
In talking about Etheridge, he again discusses her screenplay about Janis.
"The film company cleared all the rights and paid a million dollars to use – to just USE 'Piece of My Heart.' Not to own it or anything. It was the highest amount ever paid for the rights of a song in the history of film. So they spent all this money and – they're visual people in Hollywood. They forget they don't have a script! No real story. What are you going to do?! You don't have anything. It's the most important thing but they have always neglected writers in Hollywood. They're famous for it, as Nathaniel West, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway among legions, would attest. You can't escape from the need for a good story. I'm sorry."
Andrew then sheds some light on other proposed movie projects about Joplin that have come and gone.
"Nancy Savoca, on the East Coast, made some indie films. She was going to do a version and she was going to have Lili Taylor play Janis, which was not a bad idea because Lili Taylor is edgy and 'street.' She's not going to look like Janis Joplin but she's got that spirit. And, Francine Prose, a very serious New York writer, wrote the screenplay. I didn't get to see Francine's version, but, for some reason, this all fell apart, just as the Melissa/Julie project did. It is very difficult to get a film made.
"So, they don't have the real Janis yet. That's why I wrote that 'Janis – First Person,' because that piece is her. That's the way she sounded in real life, I guarantee that."
Our conversation migrates to Big Brother's tour with the "Heroes of Woodstock" and the success of other tour ensembles such as HippieFest as well as Barry McGuire's and John York's "Trippin' the 60's." Sam zeros in on "Woodstock," which he feels is an awful name, thinking McGuire's "Trippin' the 60's" is a little better. In a sigh of resignation, he concludes, "Yeah, I guess that there's no good word for a tour celebrating that special moment in the 1960's. There was no word or phrase, even then. Certainly not 'Summer of Love'."
Likening the retrospective tours to a high school reunion, he says, "We (the various bands and artists) knew each other when we were 20 to 25, and not famous and not known at all, being crazy together and, now, we're ripe and mature people in our 60's instead of IN the 60's. And, everybody's kids and grandkids and 'what's happening with your prostate and heart?', and all this stuff. So every time – it's rich. There's a rich thing about seeing these people all the time. So many layers, so many years. It's wonderful. Do I sound like a telephone company commercial?" he says as he dabs his eyes with a handkerchief.
We discuss some of the regulars on the tours, like Leslie West of Mountain ("Yeah, he's a stalwart on these things."), Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, and the Turtles. Andrew becomes animated when discussing the Turtles.
"Like The Turtles is a BIG draw. There for a while, every movie that came out had that song in it. Remember that song, "So Happy Together"? Every movie! And there was one movie that had it in the title! (Laughs) I know how much you make on those things and they made a lot of money."
We also chat about Johnny and Edgar Winter. "They're the real deal, both of them. I'm amazed that they don't have them on "Woodstock." That's so typical, because, Johnny was – when we saw him, we just couldn't believe him. And Janis knew him in Texas. She knew him, but we didn't and he was AMAZING! And he's always been, really, kind of unbelievable. So is Edgar, both of them are gifted by the gods. I'd love to be with him Edgar sometime."
See Part III of the Sam Andrew interview
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