The Billie Holiday of boogie
I was 12 in 1971.
The house I grew in is now destroyed and the land buried under the M2 in West Pennant Hills, Sydney. The entire road no longer exists. I lived there from the time we had moved from Melbourne, 1967? until around Christmas 1972. Exact years are not certain, as per usual.
The house was a four bedroom house. We had it built, or bought it off a plan in 1967. Around 1971 we had a pool installed. At that time I thing that there were 5 of us living there, my parents, sister Judy, and brother Richard. My eldest sister, Jenny, probably was married around this time. She married very young, 18. I think she saw marriage as a chance for freedom.
Across the road from us was virgin bush land with a small creek flowing through. Beyond the bush were orchards, slowly being turned to suburban developments as Sydney grew. Our dog, Kim, would occasionally raid the surrounding properties and bring home live chickens. My mother would wander into the laundry to discover a happily panting beagle and a bewildered looking chicken. Fantastic stuff for a kid growing up. We would disappear into the bush in the morning and return for lunch or dinner. We once found a freshwater crayfish in the creek. We bought is home in a bucket and wanted our mother to cook it.
It is often said that the innocence of those days is gone and children cannot be brought up that way in our current world. To be honest, that world never existed. Innocence is shattered so many ways, it has always been that way. Innocence should be broken gently as the crust of a creme brulee. Our world has rarely been that kind.
By late 1970 the Beatles had broken up and both Jimi Hendrix (aged 28) and Janis Joplin (aged 27) were dead. Janis died of an accidental heroin overdose October 4th 1970. The age of flower power was over. Time for a new transition. This album is a mature and powerful album, smooth and polished. Pearl is almost a restrained album, if you can have restrained boogie. She was on the way to becoming a major recording career with this her fourth album. It was recorded in late 1970 and released posthumously.
The album starts with the great track, ‘Move Over’, with lead guitar following Janis’s vocals. She had travelled across Canada on the Festival Express train with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. By the time they were recording, they were a tight band who knew each others playing very well. [The Festival Express tour can be seen on the movie by the same name, as she travels with members of Sha Na Na, The Grateful Dead, and The Band]. Apart from her voice, the stand out on this as on other tracks is the boogie piano. The other tracks you would know, or should acquaint yourself with are; ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and “Mercides Benz’.
Me and Bobby McGee was written by Janis Joplin’s lover, Kris Kristofferson two years earlier and was covered by Roger Miller (embrassingly, maybe the first concert I saw) and then by both Kenny Rogers and by Gordon Lightfoot. Joplin’s version is straight country and you can hear hear Texas drawl. As the song builds the piano boogie is fantastic, and carries you away. This maybe my favourite cover.
Mercedes Benz, on the other hand, is a one take vocal. Being a posthumous album, who knows what may have been built from these vocals. As they stand it is a testament of the fun, strength and confidence of Janis Joplin and her voice.
Due to the death of Janis, the album is incomplete. The track ‘Buried Alive in the Blues’ is left as an instrumental, waiting for Janis’s vocals. It is very weird and sits in the middle of the album sounding the theme song for a ’70s sitcom.
This is not not a glamorous Julie London. Like Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin’s voice is raw with emotion. But unlike Billie, this final album is a worthy tribute.