It took legendary rock ‘n’ roll singer Janis Joplin two attempts before she found her place, and voice, within the 1960s San Francisco music scene.
Joplin, who was born in Port Arthur, Texas on this date 80 years ago, initially left the gulf port town for the Bay Area in 1963. Her first stint lasted a couple of years, but heavy drug use led to her return to Port Arthur in 1965. A year later, Chet Helms – Joplin’s friend from her first period in San Francisco – coaxed her back to the Bay Area and she was soon fronting the band Helms managed, Big Brother & The Holding Company.
Of course, most remembered is Joplin’s second stint in San Francisco and her prominence in the bustling psychedelic movement centered in the city’s Haight district. With Big Brother & The Holding Company (and later the Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band) Joplin scored worldwide acclaim for her signature raspy and raw vocal delivery that was influenced by the Black blues and jazz pioneers that came before her like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Leadbelly.
While this era produced such standouts as “Piece Of My Heart,” “Ball & Chain,” “Cry Baby,” “Summertime,” “Down on Me,” and others, including the posthumously released “Me & Bobby McGee,” a significant part of Joplin’s musical journey can be heard in a recording she made in San Francisco in 1964, prior to returning home.
After years of circulating as a bootleg, Joplin’s at-home recording session with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen was finally officially released last year for Record Store Day Black Friday. Kaukonen, who would shortly after go on to form the iconic Bay Area psychedelic rockers Jefferson Airplane, met Joplin at a hootenanny held in San Jose, California (likely in early 1963, not long after Joplin’s first arrival in the Bay Area).Advertisement
In 1964, Kaukonen and his then-wife Margareta were living in a house on Fremont Street in Santa Clara, California while he attend the University of Santa Clara. Kaukonen recounted meeting Joplin in an interview with KQED, stating:
“I’d just flown out to California, and was going to the University of Santa Clara. I’d been overseas for a while with my parents and I had lived on my own in New York, so when I came back to Santa Clara, back in a dorm again, it was sort of a social regression for me on some levels. I remember I took the Greyhound Bus down from San Francisco, got to Santa Clara and I got into my dorm room. I’m walking around the campus and there’s a mimeograph sign about a hootenanny in the upcoming weekend at a place called the Folk Theater.
“I went, ‘Wow. It’ll be like I’m back in New York or in Washington, DC.’ I grabbed my guitar and somehow I got a ride over to San Jose to First Avenue, near First and Edwards. And in that first weekend that I was there, I met Janis, and a guy named Richmond Talbot, who’s passed away since, and Jerry Garcia and Pigpen. I think Herb Pedersen might have been there with the Dry Creek Ramblers. A whole host of people that became known later on were there at this little hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse that first weekend.
“Being backstage with all these people in this little room the size of a closet, I met Janis and we got to talking. I’d just flown up from the East Coast. We realized that we had some music in common. She asked if I wanted to back her up. The songs that she wanted to do, if I didn’t already know them, were sort of intuitive anyway. So that’s what we did.”
Kaukonen explained to KQED about the time Joplin visited his home to rehearse a few songs together. Notoriously dubbed The Typewriter Tape, the at-home recording session featuring Kaukonen on guitar and Joplin singing captured Margareta typing a letter on a typewriter and providing an unintended rhythmic base.
“I met [Margareta] in Russia the year before, because my grandparents took us back to Russia. She was a Swede,” Jorma told KQED. “People ask, ‘Was that a rhythm track’ She was just writing a letter home. Janis and I were rehearsing and Margareta was writing a letter home.”
Joplin and Kaukonen had their rehearsal for a show in North Beach on June 25, 1964. Captured by Kaukonen on his Sony TC-100 reel-to-reel machine, the tape contains six songs recorded by the pair with typewriter accompaniment. The practiced blues “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Trouble in Mind,” “Long Black Train,” “Kansas City Blues,” “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” and what became a staple of Kaukonen’s repertoire with Hot Tuna, “Hesitation Blues.”
One of two banter tracks opens the official release, which also features another track of talking before the final song. Stream the The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House below:Advertisement JamBase Collections BirthdaysCover Songs