Charts & AWARDS
“Big Brother and the Holding Company was a prime example of a band where the
chemistry was right, where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. You
cannot buy or manufacture the natural feeling that was in
that band. Big Brother played from the heart and soul with the goal of achieving a
direct connection with the innermost feelings of the audience.”
- Sam Andrew
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 San Francisco, in a Victorian mansion-cum-boarding house owned by Peter’s uncle at 1090 Page Street in the Haight Ashbury section. 1090 Page became the site of Wednesday night jam sessions for local musicians. 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. Highlights of their early performances included “Coo Coo”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”and “Hall Of The Mountain King” usually relying on Peter Albin for lead vocals. Later, Peter would also sing the lead on the early versions of “Down On Me”, and “Summertime”.
During the winter of 1966 Chuck Jones left the band and was replaced by Dave Getz. Dave played his first gig with the band on March12 at the Matrix. The band also decided they should begin looking for a female lead singer as a “copycat thing” - theJefferson Airplane and other San Francisco bands had woman singers. Chet Helms suggested Janis Joplin, a transplanted Texan who had performed in the Bay Area in 1963-64 before returning home.
The band became aware of her shortly after she came to San Francisco; Peter and James heard her in coffeehouses. On Chet’s urging Janis auditioned for the band at their rehearsal hall in an old firehouse. After performing a couple of songs from her coffee house days, it was agreed to invite her to join the band. Janis debuted with Big Brother on June 10, 1966, at the Avalon Ballroom. The majority of Big Brother fans approved of the addition, and 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 improvisations such as The Hall of the Mountain King, a number they playing in concert that often stretched out into a fifteen-minute flight of fancy. After Janis came, the format became more structured to accommodate a vocalist. In August 1966, Big Brother went to Chicago for an extended engagement at Mother Blues, a major bluesrock venue. It was there that they signed their first record contract with Mainstream Records. It was almost a year before their self-titled album was released. Throughout the winter of 1966 and the spring of 1967, their popularity and their audience continued to grow. 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”, as a reviewer wrote - 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.”
Following the Monterey Pop Festival performance, Big Brother was signed by Columbia Records. Their second album, Cheap Thrills, was a tremendous success, monopolizing the number one spot on the charts for eight weeks. The musicianship on the album is unparalleled. James Gurley, who has been called the “Father of Psychedelic Guitar” by Guitar Player magazine, and Sam Andrew took the dueling lead guitars to new heights. Rick Clark, in the All Music Book, said: “Anyone who thinks Guns N’ Roses mastered hard electric blues-grunge hasn’t heard Big Brother’s James Gurley and Sam Houston Andrew duke it out on tracks like ‘Ball And Chain’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Combination Of The Two’.”
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. Peter, Sam, Dave and James were back together, joined off and on by David Schallock (guitar, vocals), Nick Gravenites (vocals), and Kathi McDonald (vocals), and others. Two more Columbia albums were released: Be A Brother (1970), and How Hard It Is (1971). Events and situations of that time in the bands history eventually took their toll and over a period of months beginning in 1972 Big Brother began to come apart as a band. The individual members remained friends and became involved in other bands and musical projects.
Between 1971 and 1978 Big Brother and the Holding Company reunited only once, for an October 1978 show organized by Chet Helms at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. The rebirth of the band occurred almost ten years later in 1987, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. Auditions for a female singer were held in July and the band began public performances in August with vocalist Michel Bastian. Since reuniting, Big Brother has played to enthusiastic audiences around the world. The dueling guitars of Andrew and Gurley, the rhythmic bass of Albin, and the solid beat of Getz had critics proclaiming their sound today as “fresh and crisp” as it was thirty years ago.
Lisa Battle spent two years with Big Brother, and 1997 saw the addition of Tom Finch on guitar. A new studio album, Do What You Love was released in 1998. Since 2000 Big Brother has been lucky to have numerous singers available for touring including Kacee Clanton, Andra Mitrovich and Wendy Rich. Guitar duties are still shared between Sam Andrew and either Chad Quist or Tom Finch or even Kate Russo on electric violin from time to time.
In 1999 Big Brother returned to Europe again and has played over 20 dates a year there ever since. From big hippie festivals like the Burg Herzberg Festival (4 times now and even recorded a live DVD there in 2005) to large clubs and theaters. Since 2001 the band has played in Germany, England, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Denmark and France. In September of 2005 the band made it’s first trip to Thailand to perform as well.
In 2006 the band released their first live recording since 1968’s “Live At Winterland” with Sophia Ramos on lead vocals. What an amazing job she did! The new live CD, “Hold Me” was recorded at the Burg Herzberg Festival in July of 2005 and features new tracks like “Hold Me” as well as old favorites like “Piece Of My Heart”, “Ball & Chain”, “Down On Me”, “Summertime” and “Turtle Blues”. Big Brother & The Holding Company will also did a world tour in 2006 for their 40th Anniversary. A return trip to Thailand is in the works as well as at least one tour of Europe and of course the US and Canada will see Anniversary shows too.
2007 say the band perform almost 30 shows as part of the “Summer Of Love 40th Anniversary Tour” along with Jefferson Starship, Quicksilver Messenger Service, David & Linda Laflamme of It’s A Beautiful Day and Tom Constanten of the Grateful Dead. Highlighting the tour was their return to the stage of the original Monterey Pop Festival to play the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop. As well as touring as part of the package, BBHC played numerous shows on their own as well and had one of the busiest touring years in decades.
In 2008 the band will release “The Lost Tapes” a 2-CD set of material that is made up of some old recordings with Janis Joplin that have never before been released along with the original version of “Cheaper Thrills” which has always been hard to come by. In total there will be 25 songs in the two CD’s and what better time than the 40th Anniversary of the “Cheap Thrills” album release. 2008 will also see the release of a major motion picture about the life of Janis Joplin and the band is actively involved in consulting on the picture which will hopefully be released before the end of the year.
This edition of Big Brother & The Holding Company is one you don’t want to miss. The hits are as alive today as they were back in the 60’s and the band is a true pleasure to work with.