Big Brother and the Holding Company

Big Brother and the Holding Company
Big Brother and the Holding Company

The band when Janis Joplin was part of it circa 1966 - 1967.
Background information
Origin San Francisco, California
Genres Blues rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock[1]
Years active 1965–1968, 1969-1972
Labels Columbia, Mainstream
Associated acts Kozmic Blues Band
Country Joe and the Fish
Full Tilt Boogie Band
Janis Joplin
Ben Nieves
Peter Albin
Sam Andrew
David Getz
Past members
Nick Gravenites
James Gurley
Chuck Jones
Janis Joplin
Kathi McDonald
Dave Schallock
Tom Finch

Big Brother and the Holding Company is an American rock band that formed in San Francisco in 1965 as part of the same psychedelic music scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane. They are best known as the band that featured Janis Joplin as their lead singer. Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills is considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco; it reached number one on the Billboard charts, and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone 's the 500 greatest albums of all time.


Band history

Roots in San Francisco

Leader Peter Albin, a country-blues guitarist who had played with future founders of the Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia and Ron McKernan, met Sam Andrew, a professional rock & roll guitarist with a jazz and classical background. After playing together at Albin's home, Andrew suggested they form a band.[2] The pair approached guitarist James Gurley, the resulting threesome playing open jam sessions hosted by entrepreneur Chet Helms in 1965. Helms found them a drummer, Chuck Jones, and Big Brother and the Holding Company was formed at their first gig, the Trips Festival in January 1966. In the audience was painter and jazz drummer David Getz, who soon displaced Jones.

Big Brother went on to become the house band at the Avalon Ballroom, playing a progressive style of instrumental rock. Feeling a need for a strong vocalist, Helms contacted Janis Joplin in Austin, Texas, who at the time was considering joining up with Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators. She traveled to San Francisco and debuted with the band at the Avalon on June 10, 1966.[3][4][5]

Janis Joplin

Joplin sang for the first time with Big Brother in 1966. Years later, guitarist Sam Andrew described the band's first impressions of her:

We were the established rock and roll band. We were heavy. We were like: all right, out of three or four bands in this city, we are one of them. We're in the newspapers all the time. We're working out. We are doing this woman a favor to even let her come and sing with us. She came in and she was dressed like a little Texan. She didn't look like a hippie, she looked like my mother, who is also from Texas. She sang real well but it wasn't like, "Oh we're bowled over." It was probably more like, our sound was really loud. It was probably bowling her over. I am sure we didn't turn down enough for her. She wrote letters home about how exotic all of us were. The names of the bands. That kind of thing. In other words, we weren't flattened by her and she wasn't flattened by us. It was probably a pretty equal meeting. She was a real intelligent, Janis was, and she always rose to the occasion. She sang the songs. It wasn't like this moment of revelation like you would like it to be. Like in a movie or something. It wasn't like, "Oh my God, now we have gone to heaven. We have got Janis Joplin." I mean she was good but she had to learn how to do that. It took her about a year to really learn how to sing with an electric band.[6]

It took a while for some of the band's followers to accept the new singer. Her music was completely different from that which Big Brother was playing at that time. Big Brother had a very experimental and non-conventional sound, but with Janis, they became more conventional musicians, their songs adopted a more conventional structure, and the band started to increase its popularity in the underground San Francisco psychedelic scene.[7]

Mainstream Records debut

At the end of 1966, Big Brother signed a contract with Mainstream Records. They recorded all the songs for the album Big Brother & the Holding Company for Mainstream at a studio in Chicago in three days; December 12 through 14th. Mainstream was known for its jazz records, and Big Brother was the first rock band to work with them. This may have influenced the final result, since the album sounded very different from what the band expected: acoustic and folk instead of heavy acid rock. The first single released was "Blind Man" b/w "All Is Loneliness," both from the album sessions, in July 1967. It was popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, but did not garner much national attention. A second single, "Down On Me" b/w "Call On Me" was released along with their self-titled debut album in the August 1967, following the band's national success after the Monterey Pop Festival. The album debuted on Billboard charts on 9/2/67, peaking at #60. It stayed on the charts for a total of 30 weeks. The Pop Chronicles criticized the record as difficult to find and "technically disappointing".[8] "Down On Me" had a long gestation in the marketplace and finally debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on 8/31/68, peaking at #43. It stayed on the charts for 8 weeks. Other singles from the album were released through the end of 1967 and 1968. One final Mainstream single, "Coo Coo" b/w "The Last Time," was released after the band's second album came out on Columbia Records, in Nov. 1968. These last songs were from the original album sessions, but were not included on the album until Columbia Records bought the rights to all the Mainstream material and reissued the LP in the 1970s.[9][10]

Mantra-Rock Dance

The Mantra-Rock Dance poster featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company.

One of the band's earliest major performances in 1967 was the Mantra-Rock Dance—a musical event held on January 29, 1967 at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. The Big Brother and Janis Joplin performed there along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, Allen Ginsberg, Moby Grape, and Grateful Dead, donating proceeds to the Krishna temple.[11][12][13]

Monterey Pop Festival

The band's historic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 attracted national and international attention. The band was scheduled to play on Saturday afternoon, with a set which included "Down on Me", "Combination of The Two", "Harry", "Roadblock" and "Ball and Chain". However, the band decided not to allow Pennebaker's film crew to film and record them without paying them, and ordered the crew to turn its cameras off. The festival promoters thought the band performance was great, and asked them to play again the next evening in order to record it on film, but they played only two songs: "Combination of The Two" and a short version of "Ball and Chain" (without James Gurley's guitar solo). "I remember being amazed that this white woman was singing like Bessie Smith," said Michelle Phillips once. "I was astounded". They signed a contract with Columbia Records that November, and Albert Grossman became their manager.[14]

National success

Having received national recognition after the Monterey Pop Festival, Big Brother was booked by Columbia for engagements around the country. A well-known band on the West coast (especially in San Francisco), Big Brother played their first East Coast concert in New York City on February 17, 1968 at the Anderson Theater, 66 Second Avenue. Columbia's marketing department featured Janis Joplin as the star; before that time, some of the band's audience regarded James Gurley as of equal or more importance. In New York the press criticized the band for playing out of tune and for amplifiers set at maximum volume. The Village Voice, while noting that “ears came out ringing” after the Saturday night performance, cited Janis as ranking in sexual pizazz with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, and praised “her belting, groovy style,” mixing Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. “At times she seemed to be singing harmony with herself.” Big Brother was the first band to play in the legendary Fillmore East, in New York City, on March 8, 1968.[15]

Cheap Thrills and split with Joplin

Their first album with Columbia was due to be recorded the spring and summer of 1968, and released later that year. It was eagerly anticipated, after the first album had been largely ignored. Initially planned as a live album, the band played two concerts at Grande Ballroom in Detroit, but the recorded results did not satisfy the producer John Simon or the manager Albert Grossman. The live album project was canceled, and Columbia decided to record most of the songs in studio. ("Down on Me" and "Piece of My Heart", taken from the Grande Ballroom concerts, were later released as part of Joplin's live album In Concert in 1972.) However, it was difficult adapting their raw sound and unorthodox work habits with the realities of a professional studio. The progress was slow, and the pressure from Grossman, Columbia, and the press increased. A few of the band members believed that John Simon should not be the producer, believing that he came from a different musical style and did not understand the band's psychedelic, guitar based sound.[16]

The album was initially named Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but Columbia asked them to change it to just Cheap Thrills. For the cover, Columbia had the band photographed naked in a hotel room bed, but the band did not like it, so the band asked underground comic-book artist R. Crumb to create something. What was originally meant to be the back cover became the classic cover of the album, for the back cover Columbia chose a black & white picture of Janis Joplin. "Ball and Chain" is the only song on the album recorded entirely live, and even though the cover credits assert that the live material was recorded at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium, it was actually taken from a concert in Winterland Ballroom in 1968; the same version that appears on the album Live at Winterland '68, released in 1998.[17] (The performance of "Ball and Chain" as released on the Winterland disc features a different opening guitar solo by Gurley, indicating that he'd dubbed a different intro for the Cheap Thrills issue.) The album was released in the summer of 1968, one year after their debut album, and reached number one on the Billboard charts in its eighth week in October. It held the number one spot for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks, and the single "Piece of My Heart" also became a huge hit. By the end of the year it was one of the most successful albums of 1968. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. on October 15 that year for $1 million dollars worth of sales, with subsequent sales pushing the total over a million units.[18] Even though the album was released with only seven songs, the other eight songs which were not included were released on subsequent albums. "Catch Me Daddy" and "Farewell Song" were among their most popular songs. These plus "Magic of Love," a medley of "Amazing Grace" and "Hi-Heel Sneakers," and an outtake of "Harry" first appeared on Farewell Song, a posthumous Joplin release in 1981; they also appeared on the 3-CD set Janis in 1993. "It's a Deal" and "Easy Once you Know How" were released in Joplin's Box of Pearls in 1999. "Flower in The Sun" and "Roadblock" were released on the Cheap Thrills reissue CD as bonus tracks.[19][20][21] "Piece of My Heart" would be reissued on a single in the Columbia Hall of Fame oldies series---backed by the title cut from Joplin's first solo album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!.

At the end of the summer of 1968, just after appearing at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival in San Francisco, Joplin announced that she was leaving Big Brother in the fall of that year. The official reason given was her desire to go solo and form a soul music band. Sam Andrew also left the band to join Janis in her new project. Janis played with Big Brother until December 1, 1968, at a Family Dog Benefit concert in San Francisco. Twenty days later she and Sam played in Memphis for the first time with her new band, later called Kozmic Blues Band.[22]


After Janis left Big Brother, Dave Getz and Peter Albin joined Country Joe and the Fish and toured the U.S. and Europe and played on the Country Joe album Here We Go Again (Vanguard Records 1969). Getz and Albin left Country Joe in May 1969 with the intention of re-forming Big Brother with guitarist David Nelson. They auditioned several singers including Eddie Money, Kathi McDonald and John Herald but the band finally came back together in the fall of 1969 with nearly the same line-up (except Joplin): Albin, Andrew, Getz and Gurley were joined by Nick Gravenites (vocals), Dave Schallock (guitar) and Kathi McDonald (vocals). Be a Brother was released in 1970. Gurley moved to bass guitar while Albin played rhythm, Sam Andrew sang more lead vocals with Kathi McDonald, David Schallock on lead guitar, Dave Getz on drums and occasional keyboards. Nick Gravenites would also produce the album, write and sing on a number of the tracks. They releasad their last studio album, How Hard It Is, in 1971. The same lineup: Kathi and Sam and Nick on vocals joined by organist Mike Finnegan. The band remained with this lineup until 1972 but drugs, loss of management, lack of gigs and internal squabbles caused them to gradually fall apart and disband during that year. During the next 15 years they re-united once to play "The Tribal Stomp" in 1978 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.


The latest incarnation began in 1987, and has been touring part-time ever since with most of its original members, including Sam Andrew, Peter Albin, Dave Getz, and James Gurley. James left in 1996 because he did not support his colleagues' idea to hire a female singer to replace Joplin.[23] He was replaced in 1997 by Tom Finch.[24] Big Brother no longer has a fixed lead singer; Michel Bastian, Lisa Battle, Halley DeVestern,[25] Lisa Mills, Andra Mitrovich, Kacee Clanton, Sophia Ramos, Mary Bridget Davies, Chloe Lowery, Jane Myrenget, Lynn Asher, Maria Stanford, Cathy Richardson, and Superfly's Shiho Ochi are among the singers that have played in concerts with them. Ben Nieves is the present guitar player along with Sam Andrew.[26] In 1999 the band released the album Do What You Love, with Lisa Battle as the lead singer. The album contains some new versions of classic tunes like "Women is Loser" and a few new songs. The "Hold Me" album, with Sophia Ramos as lead singer and Chad Quist as guitar player, was recorded live in Germany in 2005, and released in 2006. In 2008 they released the two-CD set The Lost Tapes, with songs recorded at concerts between 1966 and 1967 in San Francisco, and featuring Janis Joplin as lead singer. Some songs had already been unofficial releases, but there are 12 never-before-released songs.[27][28]

Former guitarist James Gurley died on December 20, 2009 of a heart attack, just two days before his 70th birthday.[28]


In 2007, following the induction of Cheap Thrills to Grammy Hall of Fame, former guitar player James Gurley, described Big Brother as the most maligned band ever, since they never received appreciation for the arrangements they did and all the engineering tricks he came up with. Gurley also believed that Clive Davis told Janis to leave the band and record her songs with studio musicians, who could play better.[23] In the documentary Nine Hundred Nights, Peter Albin said that the manager Albert Grossman told Janis to leave Big Brother and form her own band, with studio musicians, in order to spend less money on recording sessions. Sam Andrew said later that Janis left due to artistic and financial reasons: Janis usually asked the band to have some keyboard or horns on at least some songs, but they said "No! You are going to change the Big Brother sound!" The band was also doing the same songs a lot, sometimes three times a day, so she started feeling trapped. The band was splitting the money in five equal ways, by leaving she could have all the money and just pay some employees and have a new band.[29]

In 1982, Columbia released the Janis album Farewell Song. The release displeased Big Brother's living members, since their original instruments were all replaced by studio musicians without consulting the band. James Gurley spoke about that in 1987, before the band's reunion: "It’s just a total bullshit record…some producer's dream at CBS."[30]


  • Members of the classic 1966-1968 Big Brother and the Holding Company are in bold.
Big Brother and the Holding Company lineups[31]

Band Split

  • Nick Gravenites - lead vocals
  • Kathi McDonald - lead vocals
  • Sam Andrew – guitar, vocals
  • James Gurley – guitar
  • Dave Schallock - guitar
  • Peter Albin – bass
  • Dave Getz – drums
  • Mike Finnegan - organ

Band Split



  • Various guest lead singers
  • Sam Andrew – guitar, vocals
  • Tom Finch – guitar
  • Peter Albin – bass
  • Dave Getz – drums


  • Various guest lead singers
  • Sam Andrew – guitar, vocals
  • Ben Nieves – guitar
  • Peter Albin – bass
  • Dave Getz – drums


  • Various guest lead singers


See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Interview with Sam Andrew from Big Brother & The Holding Company | Cincy Groove Magazine
  3. ^ Brant, Marley (2008). Join Together: Forty Years of the Rock Music Festival. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 16. 
  4. ^ Sinclair, Mick (2004). San Francisco: a cultural and literary history. Interlink Books. p. 204. 
  5. ^ "Chronology". 1998-2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010. 
  6. ^ Big Brother & The Holding Co
  7. ^ Joplin, Laura (2005-08-16). Love, Janis. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060755229. 
  8. ^ Show 41 - The Acid Test: Psychedelics and a sub-culture emerge in San Francisco. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library
  9. ^ Joplin, Laura (2005-08-16). Love, Janis. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-075522-9.
  10. ^ Big Brother and The Holding Co. 1999 CD reissue booklet, with notes by Sam Andrew.
  11. ^ Bromley, David G.; Shinn, Larry D. (1989), Krishna consciousness in the West, Bucknell University Press, p. 106, ISBN 9780838751442, 
  12. ^ Chryssides, George D.; Wilkins, Margaret Z. (2006), A reader in new religious movements, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 213, ISBN 9780826461681, 
  13. ^ Joplin, Laura (1992), "Love, Janis", University of Michigan (Villard Books): p. 182, ISBN 9780679416050, 
  14. ^ Rolling Stone, The Fortieth Anniversary Special Edition, Issue 1030/1031.>>July 12–26, 2007.
  15. ^ Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 0-517-58650-9.
  16. ^ "CATCHING THE ENERGY. John Simon Records Big Brother, 1968" - NY Daily News
  17. ^ Myra Friedman, Janis’ biographer, album review to
  18. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 236. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Janis Joplin - Unofficial Discography
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b Janis Joplin News Articles - Kozmic Blues
  24. ^ Tom Finch Website.
  25. ^ Celebrity Cafe' Interview of Halley DeVestern.
  26. ^
  27. ^ The Lost Tapes [00001] - $21.98 : Big Brother & The Holding Company, Official EShop
  28. ^ a b Book about the Bandbiography accessed 2008-01-02.
  29. ^ Big Brother & The Holding Co
  30. ^ Big Brother & The Holding Co. :: View topic - Interview with James Gurley 1987 the BBHC reunion
  31. ^ Scott, John W.; Dolgushkin, Mike; Nixon, Stu. (1999). DeadBase XI: The Complete Guide to Grateful Dead Song Lists. Cornish, NH: DeadBase. p. 565. ISBN 1877657220. 

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