By Gavin Menu
Oct 28, 08
There are veterans of the American rock-and-roll revolution of the
1960s who stumble when they try to distinguish the difference between
their own musical legends and the complex political and social
reality of the times. And the memories can seem especially cloudy
when they were made in and around the psychedelic crossroads of Haight-Ashbury.
During an era in which social mores and conventional expectations
were questioned by an entire generation in America, a culture was
born in San Francisco where young men and women struggling to find
their way instead found an outlet for their philosophy through music.
"I will always think of the artists and the music of the 60s as
coming from very adventurous times," said Sam Andrews, who in 1966
helped found the band Big Brother & The Holding Company, which will
perform at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on Saturday night.
"It was a time when people were willing to take a chance."
Shortly after Mr. Andrews, Peter Albin, James Gurley and Chuck Jones,
who was later replaced by David Getz on drums, formed Big Brother,
the band took a chance of its own on a young singer from Texas named
Janis Joplin, a giant of a vocalist in a diminutive package who would
lead the band to new heights and become one of the most recognizable
voices of rock-and-roll.
With Ms. Joplin at the forefront, Big Brother shot into the national
spotlight after a live show in June 1967 at the Monterey Pop
Festival, a performance that received praise from fans and critics
alike from across the globe. And although Ms. Joplin left the band in
1968 and later died of a drug overdose in October 1970, Big Brother
remained tight over the years and has continued to perform on and off
together in the 40 years since.
The show at Bay Street on Saturday night will be the band's only New
York area performance. And while the audience is sure to have a
number of baby boomers in dusted-off tie-dyes hoping for a stroll
down memory lane, Mr. Andrews, who is now 66, said he would not be
surprised to see a younger element in the crowd as well.
"I'd say a third of our audience is our age, but I will often look
out from the stage and see 18-year-old girls mouthing the words to
'Piece of My Heart,' and that is very gratifying," Mr. Andrews said
during a recent phone interview from his home In California. "I think
they wish they had their own musical revolution going on."
Mr. Andrews, who returns to Bay Street after working as the musical
director on "Love, Janis"a musical based on Ms. Joplin's letters
homewhich spent some time at Bay Street in the summer of 2000, said
the band has remained a draw, in large part, because they helped
introduce the world to one of the most famous rock vocalists in
history. But it was the sound Big Brother helped createeven before
Ms. Joplin arrivedand Mr. Andrews' signature guitar play that, along
with bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, helped
define the psychedelic era of the late '60s and early '70s in San
Francisco. Mr. Andrews said the band's sound blended perfectly with
Ms. Joplin's raspy, yet soulful, voice.
"Janis was the first of those women, like Joan Jett, Melissa
Etheridge and Patti Smith, who were all real strong and very
committed to the music," Mr. Andrews said. "She was loose, but at the
same time she had studied these other singers and really knew what
she was doing. We might not have been as good as her, but we were
open to new things just by the nature of who we were."
Big Brother's second album, "Cheap Thrills," included the hit single,
"Piece of My Heart," which put the band on top of the Billboard
charts for the first time. The album sold a million copies in its
first week, and Big Brother began to enjoy riches to go with its
fame. Relentless touring brought the music of Big Brother and the
powerful voice of Ms. Joplin to the masses.
But the party would not last long. After an East Coast tour, the band
returned to San Francisco and Ms. Joplin announced she was leaving
the band. Big Brother & The Holding Company performed for the last
time with Ms. Joplin on vocals on December 1, 1968.
"Later, we always went with a woman instead of a man" on vocals, Mr.
Andrew said. The formula had obviously worked, and the band continued
to perform with several different female vocalists until they finally
broke up in 1973. The band's original members reunited in 1987 and
have been touring and making albums together ever since.
"I think we will be together from here on out, which, at our age,
isn't too far away," Mr. Andrews joked. "We took a couple of breaks,
but we all get along and we're having a ball."
"Music, as an art, is fresher than, say, painting," he said, turning
more serious, "because when you play a tune you have to actually play
it every time. So that makes it new in itself."
The band's current lead singer, who will perform at Bay Street on
Saturday, is Sophia Ramos, who Mr. Andrews had particular praise for
during his recent interview.
"She is amazing, a real artist," Mr. Andrews said. "She's definitely
one of the best women we've ever played with."
And considering the comparisons begin with Ms. Joplin, that is lofty
Big Brother & The Holding Company will perform at Bay Street Theatre
in Sag Harbor on Saturday, November 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65,
available by visiting www.baystreet.org or by calling the Bay Street
box office at 631-725-9500.