Gary James' Interview With Sam Andrew of
Big Brother and The Holding Company
Janis Joplin has been absent from the music scene for 30 years now. Gone, but not forgotten. The band that performed with Janis, Big Brother And The Holding Company is still around. We spoke with one of the band's members, Sam Andrew about his time with Janis.
Q - You're writing a book about your life. When can we expect to see that published?
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 John Cooke who is Alistair Cooke's son and he's really a gifted writer. He's got all the facts and he's done research for years and he knew Janis really well. As well as I did. Then there's Alice Eckles, who's down in Los Angeles. She's got a Ph.d from Northwestern and has really done a tremendous amount of research and she's been writing on that 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. 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 - Big Brother is still performing?
A - Yes, we still play all the time. We played in Syracuse at the Dinosaur BarBQ. It was packed and we had a good time. It was a lot of fun.
Q - How successful was Big Brother before you teamed up with Janis?
A - We were successful locally 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. We were famous locally, before we got Janis, for about a year. Then we played Monterey Pop Festival and she became famous and so did we.
Q - I would guess that enough time has gone by for you to realize that you were playing music with some very special people at a very special time in history. Did you realize that as it was happening?
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 a while 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 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 strange about these 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 Kosmic 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 kind of thing would've been a concern for him. As it was, he could go in. It was fine. But there were some pretty backward ways of life going on.
Q - After success hit, you maintained a grueling tour schedule. Why'd you have to work that 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 so 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 - Janis once said, "I'll sell out. Just show me
where to sign. I mean it. I'll do whatever it takes to become a success." That doesn't sound like something someone would say 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 Kosmic 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. 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.
Q - Were you with Janis when she performed at Woodstock?
A - No. She asked me to play, but, I was exhausted. I had to go back to the West Coast.
Q - For the "Cheap Thrills" album, you would have preferred Todd Rundgren as producer over John Simon who produced The Band?
A - Yes
Q - Wasn't Todd Rundgren considered commercial at that time?
A - I don't know. He had a band calld The Nazz. Today he's sort of progressive or on the outer fringe. That's kind of the way I saw him then.
Q - Were you the only guy not to do drugs in Big Brother?
A - The only guy not to do drugs in Big Brother was Peter Albin, the bass player. I did a lot of drugs. I was right in there with Janis and I regret it. It was just the time. That's the way it was.
Q - You didn't do hard drugs did you?
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"? Was there such a thing?
A - Yeah. She had them. 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 Jiked. She always complained, 'All I can meet is these pretty boys.' But yeah there were a few male groupies around.
Q - Do you know what was wrong with Janis? 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 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), is gonna question that and wonder if it's all gonna disappear, which it could.
Q - You write that Janis had reached a peak in her career when she died.
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 standards, those beautiful 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 an album. It seemed like she was on a good path.
Q - Is Marc Russo going to make a film about Janis?
A - There are two people who are trying to make that film. Marc Russo was one. He dropped out of it. Melissa Ethridge and her girlfriend wrote a screenplay about Janis.I think Melissa is still trying to make that film.