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Big Brother & The Holding Company

 

Janis Joplin's Original Band

Evolving out of the San Francisco rock scene of the mid-1960s, Big Brother was in the forefront of the psychedelic music movement. The band was formed by Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, James Gurley and Chuck Jones  in a Victorian mansion-cum-boarding house owned by Peter’s uncle at 1090 Page Street in the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco. During the summer of 1965, Sam Andrew began to frequent 1090 Page Street, and before long he and Peter Albin had formed a band. Originally called the Blue Yard Hill, with various members floating in and out, Big Brother became a reality in September of that year. The name was selected by legendary concert promoter Chet Helms from a list of names that the band was reviewing for consideration. “Big Brother” was near the top of the list and “The Holding Company” close to the bottom; with a decision to combine the two, Big Brother and the Holding Company was born.

They played their first official gig in January 1966 at the Open Theater in Berkeley. Within a short time they became the house band for Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom and began to develop a loyal following of fans. The band had what Sam Andrew described as a “progressive-regressive hurricane blues style” in the early days. During the winter of 1966 Chuck Jones left the band and was replaced by Dave Getz. The band also decided they should begin looking for a female lead singer, which was an up and coming trend with many other San Francisco bands. Chet Helms suggested Janis Joplin, a transplanted Texan who had performed in the Bay Area in 1963-64, and on Chet’s urging, Janis auditioned for the band and was invited to join them.  Janis debuted with Big Brother on June 10, 1966, at the Avalon Ballroom, and with fans approving of the addition, Janis became an instant hit.

 When Janis joined, the musical direction of the band began to change. In the early days they regularly launched into extended, fifteen minute, improvisations.  However, after Janis joined, the format became more structured to accommodate a vocalist. In August 1966 Big Brother went to Chicago for an engagement at Mother Blues, and it was there that they signed their first record contract with Mainstream Records. Throughout the winter of 1966 and the spring of 1967 their popularity and their audience continued to grow and in June 1967 the band was invited to play at the Monterey Pop Festival. It was their performance at Monterey -particularly Janis and her “screamingly mournful vocals and potently sexual stage act” - that truly shot Big Brother into the national spotlight. But though Janis was hailed as a great blues singer, Ed Denson of the Berkeley Barb observed that “it was the instrumentalists who really made the group out of sight.”

By the close of 1968, Janis Joplin had decided to leave the band. Sam Andrew joined her in her new Kozmic Blues Band, and Peter Albin and David Getz joined Country Joe and The Fish. Big Brother ceased to exist for a period of months; but by the early fall of 1969 the band was resurrected.  Over the next ten years the band members would briefly get together for some shows or a tour, only to once again split up and have members each explore their own musical direction.  Some shows in the late 1990s inspired the group to produce a new album, Do What You Love, released in1998.  

The band toured heavily in 2006 and 2007, which lead up to the release of their first live album, The Lost Tapes.  This 2-CD set is made up of some old, never released recordings with Janis Joplin, as well as new songs.  Big Brother & The Holding Company’s hits are as alive today as they were back in the 60’s.  With the unfortunate passing of guitarist James Gurley in December 2009, the current band now consists of guitarist and songwriter Sam Andrew, bassist Peter Albin, drummer Dave Getz and many on and off stage vocalists.   Come celebrate the music of the 60s with this classic band and their unique rock and roll sound.

 

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