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Big Brother & the Holding Company

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Big Brother are primarily remembered as the group that gave Janis Joplin her start. There's no denying both that Joplin was by far the band's most striking asset, and that Big Brother would never have made a significant impression if they hadn't been fortunate enough to add her to their lineup shortly after forming. But Big Brother also occupies a significant place in the history of San Francisco psychedelic rock, as one of the bands that best captured the era's loosest, reckless, and indulgent qualities in its high-energy mutations of blues and folk-rock. Big Brother were formed in 1965 in the Haight-Ashbury; by the time Joplin joined in mid-1966, the lineup was Sam Andrew and James Gurley on guitar, Peter Albin on bass, and David Getz on drums. Joplin, a recent arrival from Texas, entered the band at the instigation of Chet Helms, who (other than Bill Graham) was the most important San Francisco rock promoter. Big Brother, like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, were not great songwriters or singers. They didn't entirely welcome Joplin's presence at first, though, and Joplin did not dominate the group right away, sharing the lead vocals with other members. It soon became evident to both band and audience that Joplin's fiery wail -- mature and emotionally wrenching, even at that early stage -- had to be spotlighted to make Big Brother a contender. But Big Brother weren't superfluous to the effort, interpreting folk and blues with an inventive (if sometimes sloppy) eclecticism that often gave way to distorted guitar jamming, and matching Joplin's passion with a high-spirited, anything-goes ethos of their own. Big Brother catapulted themselves into national attention with their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, particularly with Joplin's galvanizing interpretation of "Ball and Chain" (which was a highlight of the film of the event). High-powered management and record label bids rolled in immediately, but unfortunately Big Brother had tied themselves up in a bad contract with the small Mainstream label, at a time when they were stranded on the road and needed cash. Their one Mainstream album (released in 1967) actually isn't bad at all, containing some of their stronger cuts, such as "Down on Me" and "Coo Coo." It didn't fully capture the band's strengths, and with the help of new high-powered manager Albert Grossman (also handler of Bob Dylan, the Band, and Peter, Paul & Mary), they extricated themselves from the Mainstream deal and signed with Columbia. The one Big Brother album for Columbia that featured Joplin, Cheap Thrills (1968), wasn't completed without problems of its own. John Simon found the band so difficult to work with that he withdrew his production credit from the final LP, which was assembled from both studio sessions and live material (recorded for an aborted concert album). Cheap Thrills nonetheless went to number one when it was finally released, and though it too was an erratic affair, it contained some of the best moments of acid rock's glory days, including "Ball and Chain," "Summertime," "Combination of the Two," and "Piece of My Heart." Cheap Thrills made Big Brother superstars, a designation that was short-lived. By the end of 1968, Joplin had decided to go solo, a move from which neither she nor Big Brother ever fully recovered. That's putting matters too simply: Joplin never found a backing band as sympathetic, but did record some excellent material in the remaining two years of her life. Big Brother, on the other hand, had the wind totally knocked out of their sails. Although they did re-form for a while in the early '70s with different singers (indeed, they continued to perform in watered-down variations into the '90s), nothing would ever be the same. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Albums by
Big Brother & the Holding Company

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    12 songs

    On Air

    Big Brother & The Holding Company

    13 songs

    On Air

    Do What You Love Extended Version

    10 songs

    On Air

    Be a Brother

    10 songs

    On Air

    How Hard It Is

    14 songs

    On Air

    Big Brother & the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin

    11 songs

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills

    13 songs

    On Air

    Can't Go Home Again

    13 songs

    On Air

    Joseph's Coat

    14 songs

    On Air

    Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968

    12 songs

    On Air

    Hold Me: Live in Germany

    12 songs

    On Air

    Hold Me: Live in Germany

    13 songs

    On Air

    Cheaper Thrills

    31 songs

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills/Kozmic Blues/Pearl

    27 songs

    On Air

    Big Brother & the Holding Company Live

    12 songs

    On Air

    Big Brother & the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin [LP]

    14 songs

    On Air

    Big Brother & the Holding Company [Japan]

    7 songs

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills [LP]

    7 songs

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills

    21 songs

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills [Legacy 2-CD]

    1 song

    On Air

    Cheap Thrills

    14 songs

    On Air

    Live in San Francisco, 1966

    12 songs

    On Air

    Cheaper Thrills

    7 songs

    On Air

    Ball & Chain [Video]


Top Songs by
Big Brother & the Holding Company

  1.   Song
    Popularity
  2.   Piece of My Heart
  3.   Down on Me
  4.   Ball and Chain
  5.   I Need a Man to Love
  6.   Combination of the Two
  7.   Summertime
  8.   Turtle Blues
  9.   Light Is Faster Than Sound by Janis Joplin
  10.   X Factor
  11.   It's Cool
  12.   (Come on Baby) Let the Good Times Roll
  13.   Caterpillar by Janis Joplin
  14.   Blindman by Janis Joplin
  15.   House on Fire
  16.   Keep On
  17.   Ghost Riders
  18.   Ghost Riders in the Sky
  19.   Drivin' Stupid
  20.   Tired of It All
  21.   Three Times Last Week
  22.   Call On Me (2)
  23.   Flower in the Sun
  24.   Easy Rider
  25.   Bye Bye Baby
  26. See All Songs

Stations & Shows Featuring
Big Brother & the Holding Company

    On Air

    Classic Rock

    On Air

    '60s Rock

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    '60s Hits

    On Air

    '60s Deep Dive

    On Air

    The Current


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