Janis Joplin is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock singers of all time, following her stunning success in the 1960s. But considering the star died at the age of 27, it'll perhaps come as no surprise that her signature gutsy tones came from a place of pain and tragedy. And here’s a look at her heartbreaking journey, including failed relationships and fatal substance abuse.
A misfit from the start
Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in January 1943. She started performing in her teenage years — and was quickly outcast by her peers. The children at her high school called call her names such as "pig," "freak," or "creep." She later stated, "I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I thought."
In 1966 she moved to San Francisco (for the second time). Here, she became a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company. The psychedelic blues outfit had struggled to make any notable impression before Joplin’s appointment. But she soon elevated them to chart-topping fame.
Making moves in music
The band first caught national attention after Joplin’s mesmerizing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. After signing to Columbia Records, their album Cheap Thrills reached pole position on the Billboard 200 a year later. But Joplin had even bigger aspirations, so she left the band to forge a solo career.
By this point, though, Joplin had already picked up both a criminal record and a substantial drug problem. She had been arrested for shoplifting in San Francisco in 1965 and started regularly using all kinds of drugs.
Striking out on her own
Her career, however, went from good to great. The press started to see Joplin as the lead of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and so it was little surprise that in 1969 Joplin assembled her very own backing group. With the Kozmic Blues Band, she released her solo debut album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
Featuring the popular tune “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” the album pursued a more polished soulful sound. But some reviews noted that Joplin’s new band lacked the freewheeling spirit that made Big Brother and the Holding Company so captivating.
"It's my band. Finally, it's my band!"
As a result, Joplin recruited another group of more versatile musicians, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, for her second and final solo album, Pearl. Produced by Paul Rothchild, the LP spawned several Joplin classics including “Get It While You Can” and “Mercedes Benz.” Sadly, she didn’t live long enough to see it hit the shelves.
She obviously would have been proud of it, though, as she had taken a much more prominent role in putting together The Full Tilt Boogie Band. "It's my band. Finally, it's my band!" she once said.