Sam Andrew Interview
(Janis Joplin Remembered)
It's hard to believe, but Janis Joplin has been gone for almost 30 years now.
Gone - but not forgotten. Columbia Records released a commemorative CD Box
Set on Janis.
The band that performed with Janis - Big Brother and The Big Brother's members,
Mr. Sam Andrew talks about his time with Janis.
Q: You're writing a book about your life are you? When can
we expect to see that in print?
A: Well, I don't know. I have been writing that for about 10 years now and
there's a lot to it. There's a whole lot there but I don't know if it will
ever be published. The reason is, ‘cause there's probably about five
Joplin books in the works right now. One of them is by John Cooke, who is Alistar
Cooke's son and he's really a gifted writer. He's got all the facts. He's done
research for years and he knew Janis really well, as well as I did. Then there's
Alice Eckles who's in Los Angeles. She got a Ph.D. from Northwestern and has
really done a tremendous amount of research. She's been writing on Janis for
a long time. That'll probably be very good. That's only two of ‘em. I'm
glad that I wrote my book because it made me marshal my thoughts. It made me
think about all of that really clearly. So, I'm really glad I did it. So yes,
I'm writing a book, but I don't know when it will come out.
Q: You're also recording a new CD. What label will that be
A: Well, there are actually 2 CD's, now. Sony Records bought Columbia Records
(Janis Joplin's label) and they found some tapes of Janis with Big Brother
and the Holding Co. that were a live performance in 1968. They're basically
the songs we played on Cheap Thrills which was our big album. They are going
to release that on May 24 (1998). That will be called Janis Joplin with Big
Brother and the Holding Co. That'll be great for the band. Then, this band
as it is now has been recording since that summer and we recorded nine songs
that we're putting out on a CD.
Q: So there's still a Big Brother?
A: Yes. We still play all the time.
Q: How successful was Big Brother before you teamed up with
A: We were successful locally, that is in the San Francisco Bay Area. There
were probably four bands - The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver
Messenger Service and us. We played all the time. You know, we were famous
locally before we got Janis and we were famous locally after we got Janis for
about a year. Then we played Monterey Pop Festival and she became famous and
so did we.
Q: Did you realize just how special and unique Janis was,
as well as the era itself?
A: I actually did. That was one of those rare things in life. I didn't think
it would last this long. I thought it would kind of disappear after awhile
or change into something else. At the time I knew it was real special because
it was very unusual. More than being in a band or more than the music, just
in general, what was happening socially. It was real unusual. I knew that was
a time we'd remember for the rest of our lives ‘cause it was pretty amazing.
Q: You say, "We played some really strange dates in the South
- Alabama, Georgia and Florida." What was so strange about those dates?
A: It seemed like some of ‘em were way back in the woods and you wouldn't
think anyone there would have ever heard of Big Brother or Janis. We went and
played them. Being in the South, I was in Kozmic Blues with Janis. The saxophone
player we took with us was Black. At one place we pulled up to this fast food
restaurant and he said, ‘You better, go in by yourself.' I said, “Why?" and
he said, ‘Well, I don't know if they'll let me in there.' That just seemed
so strange to me. I didn't think at that day and age that that kind of thing
would've been a concern for him. As it was, he could go in. It was fine. Just
that there could be a question in his mind, things like that. There were some
pretty backward ways of life going on I guess.
Q: How were you touring then, by bus or plane?
A: We did it by just about every way. Mostly by plane though.
Q: Commercial or private?
A: Commercial. Then we would rent vans when we got on the ground. Anything
less than a thousand miles we would probably drive.
Q: You maintained a grueling tour schedule. Who'd you have
to work so hard?
A: You're kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you're trying
to succeed you try to work all the time you can. Once you do succeed you try
to work all the time so you can take advantage of that success and I think
that's what was happening. We were really taking off there. So, very often
we'd play 2 or 3 gigs in one day.
Q: How'd you do that?
A: Well, just visiting a school somewhere and then driving 200 miles and playing
another one and maybe doing a television show. Three would be unusual but
we would do two gigs a day, quite often.
Q: I was surprised to read that Janis said, "I'll sell out.
Just show me the sign. I mean it. I'll do whatever it takes to become a success." That
hardly sounds like someone in the counterculture, does it?
A: No, and she probably wouldn't have said it a year before that. She grew
and changed as time went on and grew out of the counterculture if you want
to put it that way. That was very late when she said that. We were in Kozmic
Blues Band and I don't think she would've said that in Big Brother and I don't
think she would've said it to anyone else in the band. By then, she was appearing
on television shows like Tom Jones. It might've been braggadocio. She might've
thought she had out grown the counterculture a little bit and that she was
Janis Joplin, as big as the counterculture. Something like that. That's just
a guess though.
Q: Were you at Woodstock with Janis?
A: No. She asked me to play but I was exhausted. I had to go back to the West
Q: John Simon produced "Cheap Thrills." He produced The Band
as well. But, you wanted Todd Rundgren on board as producer.
Q: Wasn't Todd Rundgren considered commercial?
A: I don't know. He had a band called The Nazz. Today he's sort of progressive
or kind of on the outer fringe. That's kind of the way I saw him then. I
didn't follow pop music a lot so I wouldn't have known if someone if pop
or not. He had a progressive attitude and he was a guitar player. He was
kind of outrageous and forward thinking.
Q: Were you the only guy not doing drugs in Big Brother?
A: The only guy not doing drugs in Big Brother was Peter Albin, the bass player.
I did a lot of drugs. I was right there with Janis and I regret it. It was
just the time. That's the way it was.
Q: Did you do hard drugs?
A: Yeah, we did hard drugs. We did all kinds. Then I stopped and she didn't.
Q: You got lucky.
A: That's it. That's all it was.
Q: Did Janis have male "groupies"? I don't even know was there
such a thing?
A: Yeah there was such a thing. She had them. I don't know if people recognized
that there was such a thing, but there was. There were a lot of androgynous
little pretty boys that would come and hang around. That was one kind of man
she kind of liked. It was extremes. Then she liked kind of a mountain man;
a bearded man dressed in leather who looked like he'd just come out of the
north woods. But, that's what she really liked. She always complained all I
can meet is these pretty boys. But yeah, there were a few male groupies around.
Q: What was wrong with Janis anyway? Why couldn't she have
been a survivor?
A: First of all, I think she could have. I think she just had a little piece
of really bad luck. It just happens that way. She had a huge appetite for life.
Part of life is drinking and taking drugs and all that. It doesn't have to
be but it was for her. She had a big appetite for that. That's something that's
wrong. As far as dying, you said before I lucked out and that's the truth.
It's just luck. It could've been the other way around. Insecurity was one thing
that was wrong with her. But, we shouldn't get sidetracked. She was a very
happy person. She had a really good time a lot of the time. She enjoyed life
too. It was just an accident. She came so far in her life from this little
town in Texas where people made fun of her and then all of a sudden everybody
loves her. Anyone who thinks a lot and she really thought a lot, she was real
intelligent, is gonna questions that and wonder if it's all gonna disappear
which it could.
Q: You write that Janis reached a peak in her career when
A: Well yeah. Because of that we don't know what she would've done after that.
I would've liked to have seen her do an album of jazz ballads. I think she
would've done a really great job with that. That could've been a peak. What
I meant by saying a peak was, she was at a really good point. She was very
happy. There was this guy that wanted to marry her. She had just done a album.
It was with Full Tilt Boogie Band and it was gonna be a good album. It seemed
like she was on a good path when she did that.
Q: Is there a film being made on Janis?
A: There are two people who are trying to make that film. Marc Rocco was one.
He dropped out of it. He's no longer in it. Melissa Ethridge and her girlfriend
wrote a screenplay about Janis and they took it to Marc Rocco. I didn't realize
this until late in the negotiations. I think Melissa is still trying to make
that film. Then, there's a set of people in New York and they're trying to
make that film.
Q: When you put Big Brother back together with Michel Bastian....
A: She's not with the band anymore, but go ahead.
Q: Bookings were hard to come by. Why was that?
A: Well because we're an old band. Record Co. and nightclubs want young people
who only do that and who are willing to work for little or no money and who
have a big draw. When you get older, you don't have as big a draw ‘cause
people your age don't go out as much. You want more money ‘cause you
have lives. You have real lives and children. There's a manager in this very
office who was telling me the other day about this young band and it's go
great to find them, they all have day jobs and they don't want any money.
So, it's the perfect dream for someone who doesn't want to do anything. That's
the way it is. It's just a fact of life. I understand it and I'm totally
at peace with it. But, it makes it hard for an older band. On the other hand,
what you get is a sense of history and that helps a lot too. We're working
more than we have since the 60's. It's going pretty well.
Q: I know this is going to sound pretty tacky, but why couldn't
you get a woman who looks and sounds like Janis, take the act on the road,
and clean up?
A: Well, we could. I've seen that Janis things (Legends In Concert - Las Vegas)
and they also do other dead rock stars. Theoretically we could do that. But,
I'm a songwriter and I keep on writing songs and will until I die. People don't
want to hear that. We cold stop and do that. Someday we might, although I kind
of hope not. But, we've actually done things like that, spirited the edge of
that. Every now and then a corporation will have a hippie party and they'll
ask us to come and play. They only see us in terms of that nostalgia thing
and I understand it. It's o.k. It's just that I wouldn't want to be held in
by that, but, you never know. If the price is right, if someone came up with
enough money, we might do it. I don't know.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved