The Pop History Dig

“Joplin’s Shooting Star”
1966-1970

Janis Joplin featured in a ‘Newsweek’ cover story, ‘Rebirth of the Blues,’ May 26, 1969.
Janis Joplin featured in a ‘Newsweek’ cover story, ‘Rebirth of the Blues,’ May 26, 1969.
     Janis Joplin was a shooting star in the rock ‘n roll firmament of the 1960s who burned white hot for five short years.  She died of a heroin overdose at age 27.  Joplin sang her own brand of the blues in an incendiary style.  Yet in her short time – between 1966 and 1970 – she carved out a piece of music history that was distinctly her own, traveling from conservative Port Arthur, Texas to the strange, expansive, and unpredictable world that was the drug/ hippie/music scene of 1960s San Francisco,  and mostly in the glare of national stardom.

     Joplin was born in Port Arthur, an oil refinery town, in 1943.  As a teenager in the late 1950s, she had read about Jack Kerouac and the Beatniks, began to dress in her own style, and started listening to blues music with a few high school friends.  Black blues singers Bessie Smith and Leadbelly were among her heroes.  An outcast in Port Arthur by the early 1960s, Joplin had made her way to California a time or two, and eventually came to San Francisco’s music and hippie scene.  At the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival she captured national attention with a stunning blues performance of “Ball and Chain.”  From that point on, she became something of national phenomenon.

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“Piece of My Heart”

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     But not everyone loved Janis Joplin.  Her stage antics and whiskey-swilling, devil-may- care style put many people off.  Some were convinced she had a death wish and was killing herself slowly with each performance and each day’s excesses, so that when she sang “Piece of My Heart,” the meaning was for real.  The article that follows here covers some of the main events in the last four years of her life, from her rapid rise to stardom to her untimely death.

Janis Joplin performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 where she would do a stunning version of ‘Ball and Chain’ that would mark her as an overnight blues sensation. Photo, Ted Streshinsky.
Janis Joplin performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 where she would do a stunning version of ‘Ball and Chain’ that would mark her as an overnight blues sensation. Photo, Ted Streshinsky.

Rock Epiphany

     Janis  Joplin did not initially see herself as a big-time performer or a major talent.  But in 1966, when she first teamed up with a real rock band she had met through friends, Joplin had a kind of epiphany.  Chet Helms, a fellow Texan and one of San Francisco’s music promoters, introduced her to a then little-known band called Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Up to that point, Joplin was thinking she had a good enough voice for local gigs, but that was about it.  “… All of a sudden someone threw me into this rock band,” she would later explain, recalling her Big Brother session.  “They threw these musicians at me, man, and the sound was coming from behind, the bass was charging me, and I decided then and there that was it, I never wanted to do anything else.  It was better than it had been with any man, you know…  Maybe that’s the trouble…”

     Joplin joined Big Brother in June 1966.  Her first public performance with them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco where they became the house band.  In the following year, they cut their first album, Big Brother and The Holding Company, and gained a following with songs from that album, including, “Bye Bye Baby,” “Blind Man” and “Down On Me.”  Then on June 17, 1967 she an Big Brother performed their show-stopping set on the second day of the Monterey International Pop Festival, sending them on a more national course. 

Janis Joplin shown with members of the band, Big Brother and the Holding Co., in a 1968 poster for a performance at Winterland in San Francisco.
Janis Joplin shown with members of the band, Big Brother and the Holding Co., in a 1968 poster for a performance at Winterland in San Francisco.
     After Monterey, and after signing with Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman in November 1967, she and Big Brother were playing all over the country.  Grossman got them a whopping recording contract with CBS/Columbia Records.  They were soon making about $10,000 a performance, with Joplin’s annual income rising to about $150,000 — then very big money.  In February 1968, they began an East Coast tour in Philadelphia, and also played Anderson Hall in in New York where Joplin revealed her raw power over an audience. On the last day of their East Coast swing, April 7, 1968, Joplin and Big Brother performed at the “Wake For Martin Luther King Jr.” concert in New York along with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop.  The next month or so was spent recording the album Cheap Thrills, which would be released later that summer.  In July 1968 she hit the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.  In August, Cheap Thirlls was released and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts.  It sold one million copies in the first month featuring songs such as “Piece Of My Heart,” among others.  Joplin and Big Brother appeared on the West coast TV show, Hollywood Palace on October 26, 1968, performing two songs: “Summertime” and “I Need a Man to Love.”

Janis Joplin on the cover of the March 15th, 1969 edition of Rolling Stone, featuring a story that asks if she is “the Judy Garland of Rock?”
Janis Joplin on the cover of the March 15th, 1969 edition of Rolling Stone, featuring a story that asks if she is “the Judy Garland of Rock?”
     By early December 1968 Joplin decided to leave Big Brother, and by the end of the year she had formed a new band called the Kozmic Blues Band, a soul revue band with a complete horn section.  Their first performance playing soul music was in late December in Memphis, TN.  However, perfor- mances at the Fillmore East in February 1969 received mixed reviews.  Elsewhere though, Janis and her band were getting more notice.  In March there was a TV appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and a Rolling Stone cover story that month posing the question: “Janis: The Judy Garland of Rock?”  Also in March, Joplin and her band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Then it was back to San Francisco to Winterland and The Fillmore West.  A European tour came in April-May 1969 – Frankfurt, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copen- hagen, and Paris.  Her debut in London at Albert Hall that April produced rave reviews in the papers and trade press – Disc, Melody Maker, and The Telegraph.  Back in the States, studio work for another album, Kozmic Blues, began in Hollywood in June.  Joplin also appeared on The Dick Cavett Show for the first time July 18,1969.  She would appear on Cavett’s show two more times in 1970.  She and her band also played various music festivals that summer–Devonshire Downs in Northridge, CA, and the Atlanta Pop Festival in Georgia in July.  At the Atlantic City, New Jersey Pop Festival in early August, she sang with Little Richard.

Janis Joplin performing at Woodstock, 1969.
Janis Joplin performing at Woodstock, 1969.
     Then in mid-August came Woodstock where she performed on the second day of the festival, singing a ten-song set that included such tunes as: “To Love Somebody,” “Summertime,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” Piece of My Heart,” and “Ball & Chain.”  Joplin by then had parted ways with Big Brother & the Holding Company.  Still, she had a full compliment of musicians backing her at Woodstock.  She played in the wee hours, Saturday-to- Sunday, at about 2:00 a.m.  Some reported that without her normal band, Joplin’s performance lacked its usual punch, but others found it a solid performance.  Henry Diltz was an official photographer at Woodstock and had an “all-access pass” that got him to the stage, and more importantly, “a little catwalk built just under the lip of the stage” where he took photographs of Joplin performing.  “I was literally feet in front of her while she was singing – the absolutely best seat in the entire house of 400,000 people.”  Diltz said of Joplin’s performance: “Everything I saw her sing, it was nothing held back.”

A younger Janis Joplin performing at an unidentified rock-festival venue sometime in the 1960s.
A younger Janis Joplin performing at an unidentified rock-festival venue sometime in the 1960s.
     Following Woodstock, and through the remainder of 1969,  there were other outings for Joplin and her band.  In September they played the New Orleans Pop Festival at Baton Rouge International Speedway in Louisiana and the Hollywood Bowl in L.A.  In October there were gigs in Austin and Houston, Texas.  In November she appeared at Curtis Hall concert in Tampa, Florida where she was charged with two counts of using vulgar and obscene language on stage.  Later that month she appeared at Auditorium Hall in Chicago, and also Madison Square Garden in New York where she sang with Tina Turner at a Rolling Stones concert.  Her first solo effort, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, with the Kozmic Blues Band, was released about that time, and received mixed reviews.  It included songs such as “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” and “To Love Somebody,” a cover of a Bee Gees’ tune.

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“Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”

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     At the end of November 1969 Joplin played the West Palm Beach Rock Festival.  In December there was an appearance in Nashville and another at Madison Square Garden — called a “rousing display of blues and rock” by the New York Times — where she was joined on stage by Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield.  It was about this time that she was “romantically linked” with Joe Namath in the New York papers, which appears to have been exaggerated beyond a meeting and a date or two.  Other appearances in 1969 included ABC-TV’s Tom Jones Show, the Quaker City Rock Festival/Philadelphia, the Civic Center/Baltimore, ABC-TV’s show Music Scene, and the Toronto Pop Festival.  Back home in California, meanwhile, Joplin moved into to a secluded home in a Redwood forest in the Larkspur are of Marin County, California, north of San Francisco, a beautiful spot between Mount Tamalpais and the San Francisco Bay.  But toward the end of 1969, Joplin decided to take some time off.


R&R in Brazil

     In January of 1970, Janis and her Kozmic Blues band parted ways, and in February, Joplin traveled to Brazil with her friend and costume designer Linda Gravenites.  Gravenites had been with Joplin since 1966 and had lived a clean and sober life and was traveling with Joplin in part to help Joplin kick her drug and alchohol habits.  In Brazil, Joplin met and became involved with David Niehaus, a clean and sober American schoolteacher who was traveling around the world at the time.  The two were later photographed as happy revelers at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, described as a “carefree” couple having a great time.  By April she reported from Rio that she was “going off into the jungle with a big bear of a man.”  But when Joplin returned to the U.S. she began using heroin again and her relationship with the schoolteacher ended as a result.

Poster for a Janis Joplin concert on June 12, 1970 in Louisville, KY with her new Full-Tilt Boogie Band.
Poster for a Janis Joplin concert on June 12, 1970 in Louisville, KY with her new Full-Tilt Boogie Band.
     Around this time, Joplin had formed her new band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band – a band composed mostly of young Canadian musicians; a band that Joplin had taken a more active role in forming than she did with her prior group.  She would later describe this band as more fully her own.  Joplin began touring with the Full Tilt Boogie Band in May 1970 and was quite happy with their performances and the feedback from fans and critics.  Still, earlier that year, she had done a few performances with her former bandmates.  On April 4th in San Francisco, she performed a reunion gig with Big Brother & The Holding Co. at the Fillmore West.  Again, on April 12th, she appeared with Big Brother at Winterland where she and group were found in excellent form.  By the time she began touring with Full Tilt Boogie in May 1970, Joplin had told friends she was drug-free.  In fact, the young Canadians in her new band were also drug free and had no association with her old San Francisco crowd.  Still, some noticed that her drinking had increased.  In late June 1970, she appeared on TV’s The Dick Cavett Show, where she announced she would attend her ten-year high school class reunion later that summer in Port Arthur, Texas.  High school had not been a happy time for Joplin, noting at one point that her classmates, “laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state.”  More on the high school visit later.


The Festival Express

     In late June and early July 1970, Joplin and her new band joined the all-star Festival Express tour through Canada.  On this tour, Joplin and her band performed on the same bill with other acts including: the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and The Band, Eric Andersen, Ian and Sylvia, and others. 

Top portion of poster advertising the 1970 ‘Trans Continental Pop Festival,’ later renamed the Festival Express.
Top portion of poster advertising the 1970 ‘Trans Continental Pop Festival,’ later renamed the Festival Express.
     The Festival Express was unique among rock festivals.  Rather than flying to each city – Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver were each scheduled – the musicians would travel by chartered Canadian National Railways train.  The idea was to foster an atmosphere of musical creativity and closeness between the performers.  The trips between cities were a mix of jam sessions and partying, with no shortage of drugs and alcohol.  One of these sessions became quite notable – with Rick Danko of The Band, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin all having a rollicking good time.  During the actual Festival Express series of concerts – which saw the Vancouver concert cancelled due to the mayor’s “anti-hippie” edicts – Janis Joplin gave some memorable performances.  Footage of Joplin singing “Tell Mama” in Calgary would later become an MTV video in the 1980s.  This performance would also be included on later Joplin albums and DVDs.  The Festival Express Tour ended in early July 1970, but some 30 years later, in 2003, a “rockumentary” was produced featuring the original Festival Express tour, its music, and travels.  That film would reap more than $1.2 million at the U.S. box office, and the DVD would become a hot seller as well.  Shortly after the Festival Express, Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii where they performed in early July 1970 at the International Center Arena.  But then it was back to California.
Poster for July 1970 Janis Joplin concert.
Poster for July 1970 Janis Joplin concert.


San Diego

     On July 11th, Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band arrived in San Diego for a concert there at the Sports Arena.  They were joined in San Diego by longtime Doors producer Paul Rothchild, who was being considered to work with Joplin on her next album.  Janis’s sister, Laura, would later write of Rothchild in her book, Love, Janis, ” In San Diego, Janis gave him a stopwatch, saying ‘Look, I’ve got thirty-five good minutes in me.  You stand behind the amps and I’ll look you over, you flash me how much time I have left.’  Paul thought it was a good sign that she was pacing herself like a runner.”  Joplin was fighting her alcohol and drug demons at the time.

Psychedelic-style poster for the July 11, 1970 concert in San Diego with Janis Joplin photo.
Psychedelic-style poster for the July 11, 1970 concert in San Diego with Janis Joplin photo.
     Rothchild later said of watching Joplin in San Diego: “She was singing and I was enraptured, because I was listening to one of the most brilliant vocalists I ever heard, in classical, pop, or jazz music.  What a voice…all of the woman was revealed.  The vessel of Janis vanished.  For somebody like me, who was always talking about the inner beauty and all that stuff, it got me big.  So I was totally hooked from that moment on, on every single possible level.”  Several weeks later, Rothchild would help Janis work on her final album, Pearl.

     On the plane ride back to San Francisco after the San Diego concert, Janis was upbeat, as the presence of old friends at the concert had energized her.  She bought drinks for everyone on the plane.  But some of those with her, like Big Brother guitarist James Gurley, thought she was a bit “too exuberant, trying to be the life of the party.”  Joplin was still on an emotional roller coaster; high and then low.  She was struggling to maintain her equilibrium.




Shea Stadium

     In early August, Joplin again appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, and a few days later, on August 6, 1970, performed as a surprise guest at the Festival for Peace at Shea Stadium in Queens.  Joplin was not on the original roster of performers for the concert, but since she was in New York and her former band, Big Brother, was on the bill, she agreed to do the concert. By some accounts, at least 50,000 fans attended  Joplin’s performance, re- portedly aided by a bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey. This concert – also called the Summer Festival for Peace – followed a Winter Festival for Peace that had been staged earlier that year at Madison Square Garden.  These concerts were among the first ever in the U.S. to be used for political fund raising and anti-war purposes.  Such concerts were not generally seen prior to 1970, but became more common thereafter.  The acts at the Peace Festivals generally donated their time and performances.  Among the performers at Shea Stadium that August were Peter Yarrow, Pacific Gas & Electric, Tom Paxton, Dionne Warwick, Poco, Ten Wheel Drive, Al Kooper, Richie Havens, Sha-Na-Na, The Young Rascals, Paul Simon, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, The James Gang, Miles Davis, Johnny Winter, Herbie Hancock and others.  The show ran from 10:00 a.m. to midnight.  And by some accounts, at least 50,000 fans attended.  Joplin’s performance – reportedly aided by a bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey – included at least four of her songs: “Ball& Chain,” “Summertime,” “Turtle Blues” and “Piece of My Heart.”


Bessie’s Marker

Headstone for Bessie Smith’s grave site that Janis Joplin helped pay for. Inscription:‘The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing.’
Headstone for Bessie Smith’s grave site that Janis Joplin helped pay for. Inscription:‘The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing.’
     One of Joplin’s idols growing up had been Bessie Smith, the famous blues and jazz singer of the 1920 and 1930s.  Smith’s music had been an early influence on Joplin.  But when Joplin learned that Smith’s grave site had no marker, she moved to help provide a major portion of the funds to obtain one.  A few days following her concert at Shea Stadium, on August 8, 1970, Joplin provided at least part of the financing to provide a headstone for Smith’s unmarked grave at Philadelphia’s Mount Lawn Cemetery.  An inscription on the installed headstone reads: ‘The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing.’

     Joplin’s next scheduled appearance in 1970 was in Boston, at Harvard College, but her band’s equipment was stolen.  The group managed to make their performance at Harvard Stadium on August 12 th before 40,000 fans using borrowed equipment.  Still, they seemed to have delivered a decent concert, as a front-page story in Harvard Crimson newspaper gave the concert a positive review.  It would be Joplin’s last public appearance with the Full Tilt Boogie Band and her last public performance.  Her next stop was her former home town, Port Arthur, Texas for the tenth year reunion of her high school class.

Janis’ Texas Hurt
1956-1964

Joplin as she appeared in her 1960 high school photo.
Joplin as she appeared in her 1960 high school photo.
     Growing up in the conservative oil refining town of Port Arthur, Texas in the 1950s was not easy for young Janis Joplin.  Although she was loved by her family while growing up there, her high school and local college experiences in Texas appeared to have scarred her deeply.  As teenager she had read the Beatniks, began to dress in her own style, and started singing folk and blues music locally.  But in high school, she had gained weight and developed bad skin, and was called “pig” by some of the other kids.  After graduating high school in 1960, she attended Lamar State College that summer, at nearby Beaumont Texas, and continued there in the fall.  Ridiculed there as well, and not comfortable in class, she dropped out.  In 1961, after passing a secretarial exam, Joplin’s parents sent her to Los Angeles to live with her aunts, but she soon found a place of her own in Venice Beach where drugs became part of her life. The visit home to Port Arthur for the reunion did not achieve what Joplin had hoped, and once again she left town feeling rejected and unloved. By the end of the year, she returned home to Port Arthur.  In 1962, she enrolled in fine arts at the University of Texas in Austin and was also singing locally, blues mostly, but also with a blue grass band.  Her experiences on the University of Texas campus, however, weren’t much better than in Port Arthur or Beaumont, as she was nominated for the “Ugliest Man on Campus” award at one point, a deep cut.  After hearing about the post-Beat scene in San Francisco, Joplin made her way to North Beach in San Francisco and then Haight-Ashbury, then becoming more heavily involved with alcohol and drugs.  After a near-death experience, and reportedly dropping to a weight of about 88 pounds at one point, she returned to Port Arthur in 1965.  Back home, she tried college again at Lamar, this time enrolling as a sociology major.  She kicked her drug habit, changed her look to a more conservative style, but still, her experiences at Lamar were no better. In Austin, meanwhile, she continued singing blues at a few clubs in late 1965 and early 1966.  By mid-1966 she returned to California for good, pursuing her music career in San Francisco by joining Big Brother and the Holding Company.  By late 1967, following her debut at the Monterey Festival, she was on her way to national stardom.

Janis Joplin on the cover of "Rolling Stone," August 6, 1970.
Janis Joplin on the cover of "Rolling Stone," August 6, 1970.
     In mid-August 1970, when Joplin returned to Port Arthur for her 10th year high school reunion, she was coming back, in part, to make a statement about her success, and specifically for those who had treated her badly as a teenager.  But during the visit, Joplin was drinking hard and she did not attempt to “tone down” her dress or her style.  She had also previously made negative remarks about Port Arthur in the national press – or as one New York Times writer put it – “never missed a chance to dismiss her blue-collar hometown as a bastion of small-town intolerance.”  On August 14th, Joplin attended her high school reunion at Thomas Jefferson High School.  She was accompanied by fellow musician and friend Bob Neuwirth, road manager John Cooke, and her younger sister, Laura.  Dressed in the popular San Francisco hippie fashion of the day with feathers and beads and her trademark purple-tinted glasses, Joplin answered questions at a press conference, during which some of her more painful high school days came up again.  All in all, it wasn’t a pleasant visit for Joplin.  Generally, this visit home to Port Arthur for the reunion did not achieve what she had hoped, and once again she left town feeling rejected and unloved.  She soon returned to California to work on her music.


Final Days 

     During late August, Joplin arrived in Los Angeles to begin work on a new album.  Sessions were planned for the Sunset Sound Studio with producer Paul Rothchild.  Joplin checked into the nearby Landmark Motel.  She had been seeing a steady new boyfriend, a younger and wealthy easterner named Seth Morgan, and they were rumored to be engaged.  But Joplin at the time threw herself into her recording sessions and the work on her new album.When he entered her motel room, Cooke found Joplin dead on the floor.  She also had a bit of fun at the session, at one point recording a birthday greeting for John Lennon that would later be sent to him – “Happy Trails,” the Roy Rogers / Dale Evens tune.

     On Saturday, October 3, 1970, Joplin visited the Sunset Studios to listen to the instrumental track for the song “Buried Alive in the Blues” prior to recording her vocal track with it, scheduled for the next day.  But on Sunday afternoon, she failed to show up at the studio.  Producer Rothchild and road manager John Cooke became concerned.  Cooke drove to the Landmark Motel where he found Joplin’s psychedelically painted Porsche still in the parking lot.  When he entered her motel room, Cooke found Joplin dead on the floor.  The official cause of death was later determined as an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.  Janis Joplin was 27 years old.  Her ashes were later scattered into the Pacific Ocean along Stinson Beach north of San Francisco.

Cover of Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee" single from her posthumous 'Pearl' album, 1971.
Cover of Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee" single from her posthumous 'Pearl' album, 1971.
     Joplin’s newly recorded material from her Los Angeles studio sessions, meanwhile, had not gone to market.  Four months after her death, in February 1971, the new material was released under the album name, Pearl, a nickname sometimes used for Joplin.  The album included the songs “Mercedes Benz,” “Get It While You Can,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”  Pearl topped the album charts for nine weeks, and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a No. 1 single in 1971 and one of her biggest hits.  But the one song on that album without Joplin’s lyrics – the performance she never showed up for the weekend of her death – was left as an instrumental, “Buried Alive in The Blues.” Part of its verse would have gone:  “All caught up in a landslide / Bad luck pressing in from all sides / Just got knocked off my easy ride / Buried alive in the blues.”  And as Joplin herself once said: “People, whether they know it or not, like their blues singer’s miserable.  They like their blues singers to die afterwards.”
Cover photo of a young Janis Joplin from boxed set of 3 CDs.
Cover photo of a young Janis Joplin from boxed set of 3 CDs.


Joplin as Icon

     Joplin’s death was a blow to her fans and the music world, especially since only weeks earlier, Jimi Hendrix had also died.  Joplin was remembered as a musical force and an icon for her own times as well as the ages.  Many thought Joplin was just hitting her stride with Pearl, and might have gone on to much greater things had she overcome her demons.  Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, calls Pearl,  “the pre- cious last testament of a belter.”  By her last year, Moon says, Joplin had grown into “a devastatingly original voice, the rare white interpreter of African American music who resisted the ready cliche.  She treated old Delta songs and ’50s R&B ballads as theatrical platforms, ripe for large-scale rethinking.  Her blues woe was never typical blues woe. …[S]he could turn out a plea that made listeners feel like they were part of a fateful make-or-break moment happening right then.”

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“Me & Bobby McGee”

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     Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote that Joplin was: “overpowering and deeply vulnerable, brassy and shy, stylized and direct, indomitable and masochistic.  She took the tough rasp of old blues shouters and made it her own by bringing out pain and tension to match the bravado.  With magnificent timing Joplin made it seem as if she was pouring out unvarnished emotion.”  The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, writing in her 1995 induction description, adds: “Janis Joplin has passed into the realm of legend: an outwardly brash yet inwardly vulnerable and troubled personality who possessed one of the most passionate voices in rock history.”

Janis Joplin, undated photo.
Janis Joplin, undated photo.
     Megan Terry, writing among other authors in the book, Notable American Women, observes that “Joplin brought to her music a distinctive sound and look, passion and an honest interpretive ability.  Her hold over an audience was as great as that of Elvis Presley and her success was an extraordinary and unprecedented feat in the male- dominated rock and music world.”  In fact, along with Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane, Joplin is credited with opening doors for women who would follow her in the rock ‘n roll business.  And finally, music journalist Ellen Wills noted that “Joplin belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music.  Among American rock performers, she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator-recorder-embodiment of her generation’s mythology.”  Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.  Musicologists and historians continue to revisit her work.  In November 2009, Case Western Reserve University and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated the music of Janis Joplin during the 14th annual American Music Masters series, calling her one of rock ’n roll’s most passionate and influential artists.

Janis Joplin photograph, undated.
Janis Joplin photograph, undated.
     Back in Port Arthur, Texas, meanwhile, and nearly two decades after her death, some of the love and recognition Janis Joplin had sought from her hometown began coming her way in after-the-fact fashion.  In 1988, Joplin’s life and achievements were showcased and recognized at a January Convention Center gathering – an event, wrote Peter Applebome of the New York Times, “that perhaps had as much to do with economics as with affection.”  Some 5,000 people came out for the ceremony, a major turn out for Port Arthur.  There was a dedication of a Janis Joplin Memorial, which included a multi-image bronze sculpture of Joplin.  The sculpture, along with momentos of Joplin’s career, as well as that of other local musicians including the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) and Johnny Winter, would eventually become part of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, housing a permanent Joplin exhibit on the second floor.  In January 2008, Port Arthur celebrated Joplin’s 65th birthday by putting a historical marker in front of her childhood home.  The town now proclaims its link to Joplin with billboards, brochures, an annual concert, and local tours of various Joplin landmarks.  “She was a very popular figure in the ’60s, and she had a lot to do with the style of music that evolved at that time,” said Yvonne Sutherlin of Jefferson County Historical Commission in January 2008.  “We just want people to know that she’s from here.”

     See also, at this website, “Selling Janis Joplin, 1995,” the story of how Mercedes-Benz used her song by that name in one of its TV ads.

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Date Posted:  7 December 2009
Last Update:  10 November 2011
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Joplin’s Shooting Star,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 7, 2009.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Cover photo of Janis Joplin on a 1972 album.
Cover photo of Janis Joplin on a 1972 album.
Janis Joplin, 1960s; Michael Ochs Archives.
Janis Joplin, 1960s; Michael Ochs Archives.
KQED/PBS photo of Janis Joplin performing at the Monterey Folk Festival 1967 with Big Brother & the Holding Co.
KQED/PBS photo of Janis Joplin performing at the Monterey Folk Festival 1967 with Big Brother & the Holding Co.
Janis Joplin & ‘Southern Comfort’ photo by Jim Marshall, shot backstage at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1968. “Janis was a great subject to photograph,” observed Marshall, “ because she was not afraid of the camera and came alive on stage... She was very real and still a little girl when she died, a very famous little girl.”
Janis Joplin & ‘Southern Comfort’ photo by Jim Marshall, shot backstage at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1968. “Janis was a great subject to photograph,” observed Marshall, “ because she was not afraid of the camera and came alive on stage... She was very real and still a little girl when she died, a very famous little girl.”
Janis Joplin with Columbia Records president Clive Davis at a 1968 party celebrating Joplin's record deal. Davis had seen Joplin perform at the Monterey Pop Festival with Big Brother, later telling ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine that her performance was “mezmerizing...”
Janis Joplin with Columbia Records president Clive Davis at a 1968 party celebrating Joplin's record deal. Davis had seen Joplin perform at the Monterey Pop Festival with Big Brother, later telling ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine that her performance was “mezmerizing...”
November 2009 poster from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University featuring the life and music of Janis Joplin in their American Music Masters series.
November 2009 poster from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University featuring the life and music of Janis Joplin in their American Music Masters series.
Janis Joplin shares cover of Time magazine’s January 1988 issue reviewing the key events of 1968 – ‘the year that shaped a generation.’
Janis Joplin shares cover of Time magazine’s January 1988 issue reviewing the key events of 1968 – ‘the year that shaped a generation.’

Robert Shelton, “Janis Joplin Is Climbing Fast In the Heady Rock Firmament; Singer Makes Her New York Debut With Big Brother and the Holding Company,” New York Times, Monday, February 19, 1968, p.51.

Paul Nelson, “A Report on Janis Joplin: The Judy Garland of Rock?,” Rolling Stone, March 15, 1969.

Peter Barnes, “Rebirth of the Blues,” Newsweek, May 26, 1969.

Mike Jahn, “Janis Joplin Gives A Rousing Display Of Blues and Rock,” New York Times, Saturday, December 20, 1969, p. 36.

Mike Jahn, “Janis Joplin and Her New Group Give Rousing Forest Hills Show,” New York Times, Tuesday, August 4, 1970, p. 22.

“Rock Singer Janis Joplin, 27, Found Dead in Hollywood Motel,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1970, p. 3.

Reuters, “Janis Joplin Dies; Rock Star Was 27,” New York Times, Monday, October 5, 1970, p. 1.

George Gent, “Death of Janis Joplin Attributed To Accidental Heroin Overdose,” New York Times, Tuesday, October 6, 1970, p. 50.

Robert Hilburn, “Janis Joplin’s Lifetime: ‘A Rush’,” Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1970, p. E-1.

Don Heckman, “Janis Joplin 1943-1970,” New York Times, Sunday, October 11, 1970, Arts & Leisure, p. 135.

“Music: Blues for Janis,” Time, Monday, October 19, 1970.

“Janis Joplin Estate Left to Parents,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1970, p. D-8.

“Janis Joplin: 1943-1970,” Rolling Stone, October 29, 1970.

“Janis Joplin Death Ruled Accidental,” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1970, p. A-3.

“CBS Wins Ruling on Joplin Concert Disc,” Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1970, p. IV-14.

John Byrne Cooke (ed.), Janis Joplin: A Performance Diary 1966-1970, First Glance Books, 1997.

Mike Jahn, “Pearl, Last Album Janis Joplin Made, May Be Her Finest,” New York Times, Saturday, January 16, 1971, p. 19.

Robert Hilburn, “Janis Joplin’s ‘Pearl’ Album Released,” Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1971, p. H-8.

Don Heckman, “Janis: She Was Reaching for Musical Maturity,” New York Times, Sunday, May 21, 1972, Arts & Leisure, p. D-30.

“Janis: A Look at a Jet Age Red Hot Mama on the Second Anniversary of Her Death,” International Times, October 1, 1972.

Myra Friedman. Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin, New York: William Morrow, 1973.

Midge Decter, “The Earth Mother Was No More Than The Dearest Daughter Of The Angel of Death,” New York Times Book Review, August 12, 1973.

Megan Terry, “Janis Joplin,” in Barbara Sicherman & Carol Hurd Green (eds.), Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Boston, Harvard University Press, 6th Edition, 1980, pp. 385-387.

Peter Applebome, “Town Forgives the Past and Honors Janis Joplin,” New York Times, January 21, 1988.

David Dalton, Piece of My Heart: The Life, Times and Legacy of Janis Joplin, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1991.

Laura Joplin, Love, Janis, New York: Villard Books, 1992.

Jack Doyle, “Selling Janis Joplin,1995,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 10, 2008.

Steve Roser, “Do What You Love: The Continuing Story of Big Brother & the Holding Company,” Goldmine, September 25, 1998.

Alice Echols. Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

Rosanne Cash, “Janis Joplin, The Immortals: The Greatest Artists of All Time,” Rolling Stone, April 15, 2004.

Lana Berkowitz, “Port Arthur Embraces Janis Joplin on Her 65th Birthday,” Houston Chronicle, January 15, 2008.

Associated Press, “Janis Joplin’s Childhood Home in Port Arthur Gets Historic Marker,” KHOU.com, Sunday, January 20, 2008.

Henry Diltz, “PhotoSynthesis: Janis Joplin,” Spinner.com, November 14, 2007.

JanisJoplin.net (good, comprehensive site).

“Janis Joplin,” Times Topics, New York Times.

 “Janis Joplin,” Wikipedia.org.

 ”Festival for Peace,” Wikipedia.org.

Anthony Decurtis, Music, “5 Days, 2,100 Miles, Countless Bottles,” New York Times, July 25, 2004.

Dave Kehr, Film Review, “A Legendary Train Ride Through Rock’s Fabled Past,” New York Times, July 30, 2004.

Liane Hansen, “Woodstock on a Rail in ‘Festival Express’ – Rock Documentary Captures 1970 Train Tour Across Canada,” National Public Radio, NPR, August 29, 2004.

Tom Moon, “Pearl – Janis Joplin,” 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Workman Publishing: New York, 2008, pp. 410-411.

Jay Allen Sanford, “50 Greatest Concerts in San Diego History 1917-2005,” San Diego Weekly Reader, October 9, 2008.

“Janis Joplin Biography, 1943-1970,” Biography.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009.

Bond, “Tuneage Tutelage – Janis Joplin,” Big LeatherCouch.com, Monday, September 24, 2007.

“Janis Joplin,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Induction, 1995.



 




“Motown’s Heat Wave”
1963-1967

Martha & the Vandellas on 1964 record sleeve, from left: Martha Reeves, Annette Beard,and Rosalind Ashford.
Martha & the Vandellas on 1964 record sleeve, from left: Martha Reeves, Annette Beard,and Rosalind Ashford.
     One of the 1960s’ more renowned “girl groups” coming out of Berry Gordy’s Motown music center in Detroit, Michigan, was named “Martha and the Vandellas.”  Between 1963 and 1967, this group – consisting initially of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford – laid down a string of hits that helped define the popular music of that day.  Their sound was distinctive, and it would become one of the hallmark musical identities to be associated with Motown for years thereafter.  But in the 1960s, this music also distinguished Motown as a rising power in the pop music business.  For at that time, Motown was just beginning to be noticed on the national music scene.

 

“Heat Wave”

     One of the first big hits to come from Martha and the Vandellas was “Heat Wave”–  a key song released in July 1963; a song that helped send this group, Motown, and its songwriters into the realm of big business.  At the time, leading-edge baby boomers, with their significant buying power, were moving through their high school years.  “Heat Wave” hit the streets precisely as millions of these kids were coming of age.  A buoyant, hard-driving rock ‘n roll tune, “Heat Wave” captured the spirit and optimism of its time – along with the energy of its young listeners – as well as well as any song of that era.  Even to this day, “Heat Wave” is an irresistible dance tune.  In 1963, it quickly scaled the pop charts.

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“Heat Wave” – 1963

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     The song’s full title is actually “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” with lyrics about teen love describing a young girl’s heart burning with desire — “like a heat wave.”  As Martha and her ladies ask in the singing: “Has high blood pressure got a hold on me, or is this the way love’s supposed to be?”  Their answer: “Can’t explain it, don’t understand it, ain’t never felt like this before.”  But in 1963, the power of this song was not in its lyrics.  Rather, this tune aroused its listeners with buoyant hand-clapping, an unyielding drum beat, and pure musical drive.  Its “message” was its energy and its vibrancy.  “Heat Wave” offered its coming-of-age charges pure possibility.  To them, the song’s optimistic musical assessment suggested wide-open horizons with  few limitations – especially in those more innocent, pre-JFK-assassination days of  September 1963.

A 45 rpm of Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ on the Gordy label from Motown, 1963.
A 45 rpm of Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ on the Gordy label from Motown, 1963.
     “Heat Wave” became a million seller, and by late September 1963 it had risen to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts, remaining in those spots for about five weeks.  “Heat Wave” was produced by a famous three-person team at Motown – a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland, along with Lamont Dozier.  This talented trio — “Holland-Dozier-Hol- land,” as they came to be known, or H-D-H — wrote and arranged a number of the songs that came out of Motown, producing a distinctive sound that  helped define American popular music in the 1960s.   During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the compo- sers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals.  Thus, “Holland-Dozier-Holland” was the credit line that often appeared on many of the Gordy and other record labels coming out of Motown in that period.

Cover of a 2009 U.K. remastered CD with  'Come & Get These Memories' & 'Heat Wave,' plus four bonus tracks. Universal/Island.
Cover of a 2009 U.K. remastered CD with 'Come & Get These Memories' & 'Heat Wave,' plus four bonus tracks. Universal/Island.
     “Heat Wave” was the second hit collaboration between the Vandellas and the H-D-H team.  “Come and Get These Memories” had been Martha & the Vandellas’ first hit, released earlier in February 1963.  “Memories” rose to No. 29 on the Billboard singles chart, and No. 6 Billboard R&B chart.  But it was “Heat Wave’s” success that helped propel the “Vandellas-HDH-Motown” sound to new heights.  The song also garnered the group’s only Grammy Award nomination – Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for 1964.  “Heat Wave” was followed shortly by another song in the same vein, as HDH turned out “Quicksand,” released in October 1963.  “Quick- sand,” like “Heat Wave,” was another very “danceable” tune.  In its lyrics, the lover this time was bringing his lady “closer and closer” – into a love that was like “quicksand,” causing her to fall “deeper and deeper in love” with him.  This tune rose quickly on the charts, reaching No. 8.  It was the third hit for the Vandellas and the HDH team.

Getting Their Start
Young Artists Rising

 

1960s photo of Martha & The Vandellas – from left: Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, and Rosalind Ashford at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
1960s photo of Martha & The Vandellas – from left: Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, and Rosalind Ashford at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
     Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford formed a singing group in high school called the Del-Phis.  They recorded one single with the Check-Mate records, a subsidiary of Chess Records.  Martha Reeves had also sung on her own under another name.  However, in 1961, Reeves took a secretarial job at Motown working for recording producer Mickey Stevenson.  On one occasion in July 1962, Motown’s head, Berry Gordy, was in need of some back-up singers for a recording session, and Reeves and her friends were called in to sing behind Marvin Gaye on two songs – “Hitch Hike” and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.”  Now under contract with Gordy and Motown, the three young singers soon recorded their first song, “I’ll Have To Let Him Go.”  By then they adopted their new group name, Martha and the Vandellas – “Vandellas” being a word combi- nation made from Detroit’s Van Dyke Street and Martha Reeves’ favorite singer, Della Reese.  By February 1962 they released “Come and Get These Memories,” their first song to chart, and with that, they were one their way.

 

European record sleeve for 1964's ‘Dancing in the Street’ single.
European record sleeve for 1964's ‘Dancing in the Street’ single.
 

“Dancing in the Street”

     In July 1964, came perhaps the crowning gem of Martha & The Vandellas’ career – “Dancing in the Street” – another signature Motown tune and one of the Vandellas’ most famous songs from that era.  This song was produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson and written by Stevenson and soon-to-become Motown star in his own right, Marvin Gaye.  Originally written with another singer in mind, Kim Weston, Martha and the Vandellas did the song after Weston passed on it.  After Martha Reeves first heard the demo, she asked if she could arrange her own vocals to fit the song’s message.  Gaye and Stevenson agreed.  They also included a new Motown songwriter, Ivy Jo Hunter, who helped with instrumentation and musical composition.  The song was then recorded in two takes.

Martha & the Vandellas performing, 1960s.
Martha & the Vandellas performing, 1960s.

     “Dancing in the Street” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in September 1964 and would remain in the Top 40 for 11 weeks.  It was released as the first single from the group’s third album, Dance Party.  “Dancing’s” lyrics offer a good time “in the streets” in practically whatever city the listener could imagine.  The song’s lyrics, in part, go as follows:

Calling out around the world,
“Are you ready for a brand new beat?”
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street
They’re dancing in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
In New York City…

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere…

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“Dancing in the Street”-1964

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     “Dancing in the Street” was released in late July 1964 and played through that summer at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S.  Some interpreted the song as a call to “demonstrate in the streets,” others as an anthem for social change.  However, Martha Reeves would remark at one point that it was nothing more than “a party song.”  And according to co-writer William “Mickey” Stevenson, the song was inspired by the sight of a group of multi-racial kids playing in the spray from a fire hydrant on hot summer evening in Detroit in the summer of 1964:  “All the hatred and prejudice in the world, and these kids had no concept of it,” Stevenson would say.  And notably, Berry Gordy had fashioned his Motown music business for commercial success with the idea of his stars “crossing over” to appeal to larger white audiences all across the country.  So “Dancing in the Street” was not designed as music to incite street riots.

Martha & the Vandellas ‘Dance Party” album of 1965 included ‘Dancing in the Street’ and other of their popular songs, and is regarded by some as one of their best compilations.
Martha & the Vandellas ‘Dance Party” album of 1965 included ‘Dancing in the Street’ and other of their popular songs, and is regarded by some as one of their best compilations.
     Still, after black activists such as H. Rap Brown began playing the song while organizing demonstrations, some radio stations began taking the song off play lists.  That the music had a certain energy and conveyance for many people, there is no question.  Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye would later observe that of all the Motown acts he’d recalled from the 1960s, he thought “Martha & The Vandellas came closest to nearly saying something [political].”  Gaye continued:  “It wasn’t a nearly conscious thing, but when they sang ‘Quicksand’ or ‘Wild One’ or ‘Nowhere To Run’ or ‘Dancing In the Street’, they captured a spirit that felt political to me. I like that.”  Still, for many, it was just good music.

     It does appear, however, that by 1967 something of a turning point had occurred, as Martha and the Vandellas and other Motown artists toured the country during a time of racial strife and urban unrest.  “Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not.“Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not.  In fact, politics and pop music from that time on became more intertwined at Motown and elsewhere.  At least some of the music at Motown and other labels – as well as the artists themselves at those labels – began addressing civil rights and other national issues more directly than had occurred previously.

     In more recent years, books such as Dancing in the Streets: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (2000, Harvard University Press) by Suzanne Smith, and Ready For a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America (2013, Riverhead) by Mark Kurlansky, have probed the historical and cultural impact of Motown’s music and business on both Detroit and the broader civil rights movement.  In addition, recent magazine articles, including Rollo Romig’s New Yorker piece of July 2013, “‘Dancing in the Street’: Detroit’s Radical Anthem,” and another that same month at Slate.com, adapting a piece from Kurlansky’s book, are also worth exploring.

     “Dancing in the Street,” in any case, was a huge hit in the mid-1960s, and remains a classic of the period.  Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, labels it the “Quintessential Summer Single.”  In November 2005, the song was ranked No. 40 by Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  And in April 2006, Library of Congress announced that Martha and the Vandellas’ version of “Dancing in the Street” would be preserved by the National Recording Registry.

Record sleeve for Martha and the Vandellas’ single ‘Nowhere to Run’ issued in Holland.
Record sleeve for Martha and the Vandellas’ single ‘Nowhere to Run’ issued in Holland.

 

“Nowhere to Run”

     “Nowhere to Run,” another of the Vandellas’ HDH-Gordy-Motown hits, was released in February 1965.  This song tells the story of a woman trapped in a bad relationship with a man she cannot help but love.  Musically, the sound is quite similar to “Dancing In The Street.”  The song also appeared on the album Dance Party.  “Nowhere to Run” hit No. 8 the Billboard singles chart, and No. 5 the Billboard R&B chart.  It also charted in the U.K., peaking at No. 26.  Over the years, “Nowhere to Run” has been played at football contests and other sporting events, sometimes to taunt oppossing teams, or otherwise to energize crowds.

     Other songs for Martha and the Vandellas followed “Nowhere to Run,” as seen on the list of hits below.  Two of these were Top Ten finishers – “I’m Ready for Love” in 1966 and “Jimmy Mack” in 1967.  But after 1967, it proved tougher going for the group. 

Martha & The
Vandellas
1960s Hot Hits

 

Come and Get These Memories
1963- No. 29; 6 R&B
Heat Wave
1963- No.4; 1 R&B
Quicksand
1964 – No. 8
Dancing In The Street
1964 – No. 2
Wild One
1965 – No. 34
Nowhere To Run
1965 – No.8
I’m Ready For Love
1966 – No. 9
Jimmy Mack
1967 – No. 10; 1 R&B

     By 1971, when the Motown organization moved west to Los Angles, Martha and the Vandellas parted company with the record label, going out on their own for a time.  Things were never quite the same thereafter.  Reeves, in fact, was stunned to learn of Motown’s move to Los Angeles and she fought a legal battle with the label to be released from her contract.  In the 1970s, Reeves had a bout with prescription drug problems, but emerged in the late 1970s drug free.

     As female artists at Motown, Martha & the Vandellas were second only to Diana Ross and the Supremes, with whom they competed for resources and attention.  One story has it that Berry Gordy favored the Supremes, and allocated resources accordingly.  Once the Supremes had demonstrated their crossover appeal with a couple of No. 1 pop hits, Gordy decided they would be the more lucrative group, and he reportedly sent the best material to the Supremes and helped them in other ways.  Martha Reeves would later write that Gordy held back the song “Jimmy Mack” for two years because it sounded too much like a Supremes song.  Reeves and two other Vandellas –  Beard and Ashford – would sue Motown for back royalties in the 1980s.  Beard and Ashford in fact, claimed at one point they had received no royalties from Motown dating to the 1960s.  There was a settlement in some of the litigation, and at least one lump sum payment to Beard and Ashford.  But as of 2004 or so, disputes were still ongoing in some of the cases.  Reeves appeared to have had separate litigation dating to 1983, and won a lawsuit for some back royalties, an award which also specified royalties for current and future reissues of past work.

 

Top Motown Group

Through The Years

     During their years of performing, Martha and the Vandellas’ personnel changed a few times.  Betty Kelly replaced the departing Annette Beard in 1964, and after Kelly left in1967, Lois Reeves came on.  Sandra Tilley was added to the group in 1969 after Rosalind Ashford left.  Martha Reeves remained throughout the group’s 1963-1972 run.  The group broke up in 1973 after a final farewell performance in December 1972 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall.  Reeves tried a solo career briefly in the mid-1970s, but the magic of the 1960s did not return.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there were occasional reunions and perfor- mances, variously constituted, and also a recording here and there.  In 1994, Reeves published an autobiography, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Pop Diva, with Hyperion and writer Mark Bego.  By 2005, Reeves ran for and won a seat on Detroit’s city council, which she held until an election loss in August 2009.  Thereafter she returned to performing with her sisters as “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.”  This group had a sold out tour in the UK in 2009.

     In their heyday, Martha and the Vandellas proved to be one of Motown’s top acts, and their popularity led to spots on popular TV shows of that era, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand, and Shindig! 

     During their nine-year run on the charts, from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas had over 26 hits.  Twelve of these charted within the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100; six within the Top Ten including: “Dancing in the Street,” “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Jimmy Mack.”  Two of their songs – “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” – were also No. 1 R& B hits, while eight others finished in the R&B Top Ten.

     In 1995 the trio was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  “Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street” were included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Martha and the Vandellas at No. 96 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.  The group has also received various other awards and recognition, including  induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

     See also at this website, “1960s Girl Groups,” a more detailed account of the “girl group” music genre, including many of the groups involved during the 1958-1967 period, as well as some of the producers and songwriters involved.  For additional music stories, see also the Annals of Music category page at this website.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:   7 November 2009
Last Update:   25 August 2013
Comments to:   jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Motown’s Heat Wave, 1963-1967,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 7, 2009.

_____________________________

 

 

 

 

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Martha Reeves’ biography with Mark Bego – ‘Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva’ – was issued in August 1994 by Hyperion Books.
Martha Reeves’ biography with Mark Bego – ‘Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva’ – was issued in August 1994 by Hyperion Books.
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Heat Wave.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Heat Wave.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Quicksand.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Quicksand.”

“Martha and the Vandellas / Martha Reeves,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 613-614.

Richard H. Lingeman, “The Big, Happy, Beating Heart Of the Detroit Sound,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, November 27, 1966, p. 25.

Andrew Briggs, “Martha, Vandellas in Town”[at Whisky-a-GoGo, W. Hollywood], Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1967, p. B-7.

Loraine Alterman, “Meet the Graduates of the Motown Sound; Recordings,” New York Times, Sunday, July 28, 1974.

“New Image Shown By Martha Reeves At the Bottom Line,” New York Times, Sunday, September 15, 1974.

“Miss Reeves, Solo, at Reno Sweeney’s,” New York Times, Thursday, December 18, 1975, p. 63.

Richard Skelly, “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas: The Motown Years,”Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 34-50.

Emily Gaul, “The Recordings of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 64-68.

Gerri Hirshey Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, New York: Times Books, 1984.

Martha Reeves and Mark Bego, Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Pop Diva, New York: Hyperion Books, 1994.

Martha and the Vandellas,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Induction, 1995.

Dancing in the Street,” Wikipedia.org.

Martha and the Vandellas,” Wikipedia.org.

Martha Reeves,” Wikipedia.org.

Dave Marsh, “No. 50, ‘Heat Wave,’ Martha and the Vandellas,”The Heart of Rock and Soul – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, 1989.

Jeff B. (ed), Martha & The Vandellas,” Digital DreamDoor.com.

“Motown Artists Continue to Lose Royalties: Martha and the Vandellas Cannot Void Contract,” BlackWebPortal.com, by EURWeb, March 5, 2004.

Martha and the Vandellas Record Sleeves, Dutch Motown Artone Collection, 7InchRecords.com, site accessed, November 2009.

Also at the PopHistoryDig.com, see other Motown-related and 1960s music stories, including: “Do You Love Me,” on The Contours; “Fingertips, Pt.2,” on Stevie Wonder; “Hello Stranger,” on Barbara Lewis; and “Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” on the Righteous Brothers.

Rollo Romig, “‘Dancing in the Street’: Detroit’s Radical Anthem,” The New Yorker, July 22, 2013.

Mark Kurlansky, “How Martha and the Vandellas Started ‘Dancing in the Street;’ The Backstory of a Motown Song That Defined a Generation,” Slate.com, July 17, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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