Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Janis Joplin (Wikipedia)
With news this week that the long-awaited Janis Joplin biopic Get It While You Can will begin shooting in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2015 starring Amy Adams as Joplin and with Dallas Buyers Club director and Montreal native Jean-Marc Vallée at the helm, I thought this was a good time to remember Joplin by some of those who knew her best, from many entertaining all-star interviews I've done over the years.

Donald K. Donald

For instance, legendary Montreal impresario Donald K Donald – a.k.a Donald Tarlton – got into the rock promotion business by accident backstage at the old Montreal Forum one night in 1968 when rock legend Joplin puked all over the shoes of Tarlton’s mentor, renowned local promoter Sam Gesser.

“It was the beginning of the rock’n’roll era and Sam had a hard time relating with the culture,” Tarlton, then 25, told me some years ago. “He hired me as the stage manager. Janis was drunk and threw up all over his shoes. Sam was horrified, looked at me and said, ‘Donald, you can take over all the rock stuff.’ And that was it. I became the rock promoter of Montreal.”

Tarlton’s memory of Janis backstage is one of many Joplin anecdotes I’ve collected over the years. So, 44 years after Joplin’s death (from an accidental heroin overdose, on October 4, 1970), I’ve dug up a few.

Like the time Elliot Tiber, the fabulous man who made Woodstock happen, met Joplin backstage at Woodstock. (Not only did Tiber – born Elliot Teichberg – make Woodstock happen, he was also there when NYC’s Stonewall Riots broke out in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. What a summer he had!)

“I went backstage one night and there was Janis,” Tiber, now 79, says. “She was an idol. Her music played in gay bars all the time. She was falling-down drunk and stoned. So I helped her up.”

By the way, during that summer of Stonewall, Tiber says there was also a visible gay presence at Woodstock which, of course, the mainstream media have ignored right up until today. “There were [tens of thousands of] gay kids there,” Tiber told me. “You could see them. There was no housing, there was nudity and lots of sex going on. There was no homophobia that I was aware of.”

Meanwhile, Joplin touched the life of another well-known Montrealer, rock singer Sass Jordan who played Joplin in the smash off-Broadway musical Love, Janis a decade ago. “It was the hardest goddamn thing I ever did,” Sass told me. “It was four nights a week for three months. It was exhausting. I was never a fan of Janis until I did [the play]. Singing [like] Janis isn’t an easy thing to do but I did really, really well.”

Another Montreal native, Canadian folk icon Penny Lang, was supposed to teach Joplin how to play guitar back in the fall of 1970. But Janis died on Oct. 4 of that year at the Landmark Hotel during the L.A. recording sessions for her final album Pearl, and Joplin’s keyboardist Ken Pearson, another Montrealer who was then the love of Penny’s life, returned home without Janis.

“Once I spoke with Janis on the phone,” Lang told me when she was promoting her 2006 album Sand & Stone & Sea & Sky.  “I was in pretty bad shape. I’m bipolar and I’ve had some rough periods. I take lithium now but back then it wasn’t legal. I was looking for Kenneth and Janis was [a] great [help].”

Lang had two things in common with Joplin:  Ken Pearson, of course, and they both also loved women.

 Meanwhile, while Joplin inadvertently launched the career of Donald Tarlton, she was managed by the rock era’s first great manager, New York’s Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, The Band and Gordon Lightfoot.

“I’d see Bob Dylan in the office. And Janis was in a corner reading a book,” Lightfoot recalled when I spoke with him two days after Canwest reported on Feb 18, 2010, that Lightfoot was dead (“I was in my car driving from the dentist with the radio on when the DJ said I was dead! It became an obituary. Then they played a strain of If You Could Read My Mind. It gave me a bit of a shock”).

But I leave the final word to the late Richie havens, who co-starred in director Todd Haynes’ Montreal-filmed 2007 Dylan bio flick I’m Not There, alongside  Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and the late Heath Ledger.

When Havens returned to Montreal the following year, in 2008, to headline Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, he told me, “These [tragic deaths] have to do with stardom itself. They get the star treatment and believe that’s the way it should be. The last time I saw Jimi [Hendrix] he was deeply depressed, having management problems. If I hadn’t told him he could have his own band, he might still be alive as a studio musician. I’m sure Janis died of a broken heart. She was taken out of [her first band] Big Brother [by Albert Grossman]. But Big Brother was her family, she couldn’t bring them along and that messed her up.”

Janis died on October 4, 1970. Had she lived, she would be 71 today.



  1. Thanks for this wonderful compendium remembering a great lady of soulful music. I got to meet her in the earliest days in Haight-Ashbury, as a neighbour in the hood. She played an important role in the soundscape to this powerful era, when folks did not accept things the way their parents did, the music ignited our passions about being alive, and while we fought the notion of war, we also shared some truly peaceful times together. Janis will always be close to my heart. Thanks Bugs!

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