Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Janis Joplin (1943 - 1970)

Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura Growing up her parents felt Janis needed more attention than their other children and at school she was never part of the crowd and proved to be a misfit. She was overweight, had a poor complexion and was regularly taunted by her classmates. At high school she befriended a group of outcasts, enjoyed painting, singing blues and folk music with friends. Her favourite artists were Leadbelly, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton.

She left high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer, and later the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Janis was a barefoot beatnik and performed with a folk trio called the Waller Boys. She made one recording on a friends tape recorder in 1962. Drawn more to blues and beat poetry than her studies and soon dropped out.

In 1963, Janis headed for San Francisco and settled in Haight Ashbury, where she hooked up with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane) and his wife, Margareta. Together, they recorded a suite of songs with Margareta, providing the beat on her typewriter. At the time the album failed to raise any interest and Janice was drank heavily, a 'speed freak' and occasional heroine user. Her friends encouraged her to go back to Port Arthur, Texas and clean up.

Back in Texas she enrolled as an anthropology major at Lamar University, but continued to sing as a solo performer. She changed her lifestyle by avoiding drugs and alcohol, and got engaged to a computer geek, Peter de Blanc. Unfortunately, de Blanc took cold feet and the marriage was called off. Janice Joplin recorded several studio tracks in 1965, which were only released later as 'This Is Janis Joplin 1965,' in 1995.

In 1966, she returned to SF on the invitation of promoter, Chet Helms who also managed an instrumental psychedelic-rock band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Helms thought Janis would provide the right vocals. The band had become the house band at the Avalon Ballroom and the new line up was Peter Albin (country-blues guitarist), Sam Andrew, (guitar) James Gurley (guitar), Peter Albin (bass), David Getz (drums),and Janis Joplin (lead vocals, tambourine, maracas). At first the band were unimpressed with their new singer but shoe soon won over the fans. Janice initially managed to avoid recreational drug use with the help of friends. The band lived in a commune and often partied with the Grateful Dead. Janice had a brief relationship with Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. The band were invited to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and met with an enthusiastic audience and critical reception.

The band went to Chicago, for a series of gigs but were left stranded after the promoter ran out of money. They quickly signed to Bob Shad's record label Mainstream Records and started recording their first album. Unhappy with the outcome the band returned to San Francisco to complete the recordings. They released "Blindman" and "All Is Loneliness" in Los Angeles as a single but it did not sell well.

Julius Karpen replaced Chet Helms as the band's manager in in 1966, before they were taken over by manager Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan, the Band, and Peter, Paul & Mary), and Columbia took over the band's contract and re-released the album, adding two extra tracks, and putting Joplin's name on the cover. It peaked at No. 60, in the Billboard Charts and remained there for a total of 30 weeks. The single "Down On Me" b/w "Call On Me" eventually peaked at No. 43 in the US singles charts.

In early 1967, Joplin had a brief relationship with Joe McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish).

Janis Joplin and Big Brother made their nationwide television debut on The Dick Cavett Show in early 1968. The band was billed as "Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company which caused resentment within the band. At their hiegh of live performance they recorded Live at Winterland '68, but the recording only became available to the public in 1998.

>br> The band released their second album, Cheap Thrills (1968). The album was the last with Janis as lead singer, is now considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco. The album stood at #1 on the charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks and Joplin won rapturous praise for her vocal intensity. The album cover was drawn by Robert Crumb. Joplin announced she was leaving Big Brother and they played their final three-night gig at the Fillmore West. The opening acts were Chicago (Chicago Transit Authority) and Santana. Janis actually carried on as lead vocalist with the band as they toured the United States. Janice Joplin finally left the group in December for a solo career.

Janis put together a group of session musiciansand called them Kozmic Blues Band in 1969. The line was Sam Andrew (guitar), Brad Campbell (bass), Cornelius “Snooky” Flowers (baritone saxophone), Terry Clements (tenor saxophone), Luis Gasca (trumpet), Richard Kermode (keyboards), Gabriel Mekler (Organ), Maury Baker or Lonnie Castille (drums). The band was influenced by the Bar Keys and other Stax-Volt rhythm and blues bands of the 1960s and Janis wanted a horn section similar to Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago). They had a more bluesy, funky, soul, pop-oriented sound than most of the hard-rock psychedelic bands of the period. Janis meantime had started using heroin again and had to be monitored daily during the recording of I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969). It was less commercially successful than Cheap Thrills, despite being technically better. The record company released "Kozmic Blues" as a single, which peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Janis Joplin reluctantly agreed to appear at Woodstock in 1969. There were long delays and under the influence, her performance, was marred by a hoarse voice and wheezy phrasing , she also found it hard to dance. None the less, the crowd loved her and cheered her on for an encore, to which she replied and sang "Ball and Chain".

Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured Europe.

In 1970, Janis Joplin had a new backup band, called, the Full Tilt Boogie Band from Canada. The line up was John Till (guitar), Richard Bell (piano), Brad campbell (bass), Clark Pierson (drums), and organist Ken Pearson. Before embarking on the "Festival Express" tour of Canada, Janis performed in two reunion gigs with Big Brother at the Fillmore West, in San Francisco, and the Winterland. Janis and the Full Tilt Band joined Buddy Guy, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and Eric Andersen, and Ian & Sylvia, among other artists for their tour of Canada.

In September 1970, Janis Joplin and the Full Tilt Band were in Los Angeles to record Pearl with producer Paul A. Rothchild. The album would be her last and showcased beautifully the singer’s mastery of virtually all pop genres. Janis Joplin died, from an accidental drug overdose in 1970, at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, aged 27. Pearl, was posthumously released a little more than three months after her death, and reached number 1 on the charts.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Billy Preston (1946 - 2006)

William Everett Preston was born in 1946 in Houston. After his parents split up, William and his mother moved to Los Angeles. He was brought up in the African-American gospel tradition and was a child prodigy learned to play piano as a toddler. William was soon performing as a child entertainer but away from the stage and unchaperoned, young Billy was subjected to sexual abuse by members of the touring company. His mother refused to believe him, and failed to protect him and this had a profound effect on the performer in later life. Aged ten, he was playing organ onstage. and served as the choir director at his mother’s church where he would regularly play backing for gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and Andraé Crouch.

Billy Preston (aged 11) dueted with Nat King Cole on national television. They sang Fats Domino hit, "Blueberry Hill." He also played the younger, W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues (1958), starring Nat King Cole.

Destined for stardom, the fifteen-year old Billy started touring in Little Richard's band and being a virtuoso keyboard player he played organ. It was while performing Hamburg, Billy Preston first ran across The Beatles. When he returnded to the States he played the organ on Sam Cooke's Night Beat album, and then recorded his first solo album, 16 Yr Old Soul. The album features Tommy Tedesco (guitar), and Earl Turner (drums) among others.

In the mid 60s, Billy became a regular on the televison and appeared on Shindig (ABC). He was both vocalist and pianist, and built an enviable reputation as a session musician. He released The Most Exciting Organ Ever (1965) before joining Ray Charles' band in 1965.

In 1965, he released a compliation album, ‘Early hits of ‘65’, Early Hits of '65 and featured soul versions of recompiled singles and hits from that era.

Four years later , Billy signed to Apple Records and released the album ‘That's the Way God Planned It,’ produced by George Harrison. Over the years, the musicians had become great friends and Billy appeared on several of Harrison's 1970s solo albums, including All Things Must Pass (1970), and Concert for Bangladesh (1971).

During the fraught recording sessions for Let it be , George Harrison, dropped out to see Ray Charles in concert. George invited Billy Preston back to Abbey Road. The Beatles liked him especially for his easy-going personality which helped ease the tensions. During the recording, Billy played Fender Rhodes electric piano and a Lowrey DSO Heritage organ. He performed with The Beatles on their last public performance, on the rooftop of Apple, on 30 January 1969. Later, when the single, Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down was released it was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston". Billy along with Tony Sheridan, were the only two non-members to receive a performance credit on a Beatles record. Lennon was in favour of making Billy Preston a full member of the band but McCartney disagreed, saying there was little point as the band was close to splitting. Billy Preston played uncredited on The Beatles' Abbey Road album.

He helped Stephen Stills with his solo album in 1970, and gave permission to Stills to use "Love the one you're with" which was a frequent remark made by Preston. ‘Love the one you’re with,’ had Dave Crosby and Graham Nash on background vocals became a Top Twenty hit on the Billboard charts in 1971. From 1970, Billy Preston played keyboards (including piano, organ, clavinet and various synthesizers) for the Rolling Stones, sometimes alongside pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart, and featured on Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St, Goats Head Soup, It's Only Rock 'n Roll and Black and Blue. He was the band's primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977. They eventually parted company mainly due to a disagreement over money. He continued to play on solo records by Stones members and made appearances on the band's 1981 Tattoo You and 1997 Bridges to Babylon albums.

After he left Apple in 1971, he signed with Herb Alpert's A&M Records. He released ‘I wrote a simple song,’ which was a gospel-themed album. George Harrison played guitar (dobro) accompaniment on the title track. The Funk/R&B instrumental "Outa-Space," from the album, featured an electrically amplified Hohner Clavinet and peaked at number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also topped Billboard's R&B chart. More US hits came with "Will It Go Round in Circles" (1972) , "Space Race" (1973), and "Nothing From Nothing" (1974),

During the 70s, Billy was a regular sessions’ contributor to other acts, including: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in the Abbey Road studio he joined Ringo Starr (drums) and Klaus Voormann (bass) to record their first album, Aretha Franklin (“Young, Gifted and Black” in 1972),and Bob Dylan (“Blood on the Tracks” - 1975)

Billy became friendly with Sly Stone, and played sessions on several of the group’s albums including “There's a Riot Goin' On” in 1971. After, Sly Stone started an affair with Billy’s fiance, Kathy Silva. this destabilised the performer who began to question his sexuality seeking solace in cocaine abuse.

Billy threw himself into work and co-wrote, "You Are So Beautiful", with Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys), which became a major hit for Joe Cocker in 1974. Billy Preston finished 1975 supporting The Rolling Stones on their Tour of the Americas. Sometimes Billy’s personal beliefs were at odds with the attitudes and musical expressions of the secular world of rock & roll in which he worked. He happily contributed to John Lennon’s atheistic song "God" but was reported to have reservations when performing "Sympathy for the Devil"

His solo career started to decline after 1976. He swiched recoding labels and in 1980, had a hit with with Syreeta Wright on the ballad "With You I'm Born Again", which reached number 4 on the US charts. In 1984, he left Motown to focus on session work and late night televsion work. Behind the scene, Billy was battling addiction to alcohol and cocaine. Ringo Starr asked him to joint the All-Starr Band and then in 1991, after the death of Stan Szelest, Billy was invited to become a member of The Band. Unfortunately he could not accept because after being found guilty of a series of offences he was sentenced to nine months at a drug rehabilitation center and three months of house arrest. Six years later, he was sentenced to three years in prison for violating probation. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and agreed to testify against other defendants in an alleged scam that netted about $1 million. In prison, he reaffirmed his Christian faith and on release returned to recording, reuniting with the Rolling Stones on “Bridges to Babylon”.

In 1997, Billy Preston recorded the album You and I, in Italy, with Italian band, Novecento. Back in the States he appeared in the film, ‘Blues Brothers 2000.’ He was touring when he heard the news of the death of his friend, George Harrison in 2001. Despite ill health, he proudly performed at Concert For George, (2002) at the Royal Albert Hall, where he played My Sweet Lord and Isn't It A Pity.

Back in the States, he appeared on the Johnny Cash album American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) playing piano on "Personal Jesus" and "Tear-Stained Letter". In the same year, he received a kidney transplant but his health continued to deteriorate and he was soon on dialysis. In 2004, he toured with the Funk Brothers and then with Eric Clapton in Europe and North America. Billy Preston performed as a jazz organist on Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company, an album of duets, on the song "Here We Go Again" with Charles and Norah Jones.

Billy comtinued to perform amd record in 2005. He recorded "Go Where No One's Gone Before", for the anime series L/R: Licensed by Royalty; and played clavinet on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ "Warlocks” for their Stadium Arcadium album (2006). His final recorded contributions were the gospel-tinged organ on the Neil Diamond album 12 Songs (2005), and his keyboard work on The Road to Escondido (2006) by JJ Cole and Eric Clapton.

His final public appearance was at a 2005 press junket in Los Angeles, for the re-release of the Concert for Bangladesh film. Afterwards he performed Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), My Sweet Lord and Isn't It A Pity with Ringo Starr and George's son Dhani. Billy was encouraged to entered a drug rehabilitation clinic in Malibu, California, but suffered pericarditis leading to respiratory failure that left him in a coma. Billy Preston died of complications from kidney failure.