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Piece Of My Heart

Big Brother & The Holding Company

Big Brother & The Holding Company

BBHC l to r – Sam Andrew; Peter Albin; Janis Joplin; Dave Getz; James Gurley

A sound that  creates a feeling of anticipation –  the amplified sound of hi-fi needle gently placed onto rotating vinyl. A few crackling seconds of silence and then …

If the vinyl happens to be Cheap Thrills, anticipation is intensified by the electric murmuring silence echoing in a crowded concert hall, headline act on stage … Bill Graham announces:

Four gentlemen and one great great broad … Big Brother … and the Holding Company.

Next … it rips.

It screams and grates and screeches … grabs you, a tantalising promise from a voice that makes a promise sound like a threat:

Yes. We’re gonna knock ya, rock ya
Gonna sing to ya now.

And that’s exactly what they do.

Almost 40 minutes later, a powerhouse version of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain closes with a jolt, the crowd cheers, announcer wishes everyone goodnight, you’re exhausted … and you just want to go through it all again.

Some 45 years later, the affect is exactly the same.

Right at the heart of the album is a searing performance of passion and fury – Piece Of My Heart. 

The Songwriters – Ragovoy & Berns.

It was written by Jerry Ragovoy & Bert Berns who also together penned Cry Baby, a later hit for Joplin.  Individually both Ragavoy and Bert had significant impact on the music industry.

Ragovoy penned a couple of other songs covered by Janis JoplinTry (Just A Little Bit Harder), Get It While You Can, My Baby – he also co-wrote Time Is On My Side which became the first “Top 10” hit for The Rolling Stones in the US.

Berns died in 1967, aged just 38. Piece Of My Heart was one of his last compositions. Despite his short time with us, his writing credits are impressive and include Twist and Shout (with Phil Medley), Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, and Here Comes The Night … and so are his producing efforts with, amongst others Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison) and Under The Boardwalk (The Drifters).

What connects Piece Of My Heart and New Speedway Boogie?

In the days before Big Brother & The Holding Company or The Grateful Dead, Peter Albin – Big Brother’s bassist – played with Grateful Dead founders Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.

Accepting that New Speedway Boogie is about Altamont, there is a connection through the San Francisco chapter of the Hell’s Angels who stamped Cheap Thrills with their insignia.

Cheap Thrills

Cheap_Thrills Angels


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* Piece of My Heart – A YouTube playlist – 9 videos. The one above plus the following 8:

Janis Joplin & The Kozmic Blues Band Frankfurt 1969.
Dusty Springfield who recorded the song in 1968.
Vanessa Amorosi recorded in 2010.
Faith Hill who recorded it in 1993.
Erma Franklin who originally recorded the song in 1967.
Beverly Knight from 2005 (This video has been closed)
Company of Thieves live from Daryl’s House 2009.
Joss Stone & Beverly Knight.

* Interview with Laura Joplin, Janis’ younger sister. This is from 2003.

* Official Janis Joplin Website.

* Janis (1h 36m 44s) -1974 documentary directed by Howard Alk with assistance from Albert Grossman. It seems YouTube have taken this video down.

* Robert Crumb website – Crumb drew the Cheap Thrills album cover in a single overnight drawing session.

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Hesitation Blues by Hot Tuna.
East:     New Speedway Boogie … done.
South:   Medley: Summertime/Motherless Child  by Mahalia Jackson 
West:    Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin

Crossroad 18