Big Brother & The Holding Company
For a brief period, Big Brother & The Holding Company sat atop the heap of the San Francisco music scene. In the ’60s, Frisco suffered an embarrassment of riches when it came to launching game-changing rock ’n’ roll bands. Of course, a young Port Arthur, Texas–native named Janis Joplin mainly fueled Big Brother’s popularity. Janis had visited SF earlier when the Haight-Ashbury scene was just kicking into gear. Then, she met up with future Jefferson Airplane member Jorma Kaukonen for a few collaborative sessions. But drugs interfered and Janis moved back to Texas for a few years later to attend school. Still she again found life in Port Arthur stifling and made frequent forays down to Austin for occasional gigs. She was eventually lured back to the Bay area by Big Brother & The Holding Company’s manager and soon found herself a full-fledged band member. The group eventually became a favorite among the local hippies and even members of the biker community. The turning point was a historic, legendary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (along with Hendrix and others), and Big Brother soon found themselves a highly sought-after commodity by most of the major record labels, which descended upon the whole SF scene looking for bands to sign.
After stealing them away from the small indie label that had released their first album, Columbia Records released Cheap Thrills in late 1967. The album artwork was penned by R. (Robert) Crumb, he of Zapp Comics fame and even included the words, “Approved by Hell’s Angels Frisco,” surrounding the HA Death Head logo. The bluesy “Piece of My Heart” became the number-one single but FM stations regularly played every track on the album. Rock critics and even the mainstream press all hailed Janis as one of the greatest rock singers ever—male or female. Her gritty vocals introduced a new generation to artists like Big Mama Thornton, whose “Ball and Chain” was the album’s centerpiece. Even the Gershwins’ “Summertime” was given a special Janis reworking, who turned it into a bluesy rock jam. Janis had become the new queen of rock and her career was off to a fast, albeit too brief, start. Listening to Cheap Thrills today is like a trip back into time, though it stills sounds better than a lot of the junk on radio these days. If there was a Biker Music Hall of Fame, Cheap Thrills would easily be near the top.
Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy
That Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) rock guitarists of all time is unquestioned. Fortunately, the steady stream of Jimi Hendrix recordings is seemingly never-ending, with more projects released posthumously than when Jimi was alive. And this is all right, because it’s not the usual crappy outtakes and basement stuff recorded in a closet at some motel. Winterland features never-before-released music from six performances recorded over three days in October of 1968 at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland Ballroom.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience had been together just two years and was set to release the epochal Electric Ladyland. Winterland is an extraordinary showcase for Hendrix’s spectacular guitar work. Highlights include “Manic Depression,” “Are You Experienced?,” “Tax Free,” “Little Wing,” a classic cover of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” (joined by Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady and Jorma’s partner in Hot Tuna), as well his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” There’s enough music here to get you from Sturgis and back, especially if you opt to purchase the four CD box set. There’s also a single disc highlights edition, plus eight LP albums for those of you still riding around on Panheads and have turntables at home.
The box set also comes with a 36-page booklet with plenty of notes and rare photos, just so you have something to do when you’re not riding. Put this one on your early holiday list!