Big Brother still here, still singing
By now, Sam Andrew is used to hearing comments of disbelief that Big Brother and the Holding Company is still around.
“It’s a common reaction of surprise that we’re still playing today,” Andrew said with a laugh minutes after a recording session Wednesday in the Bay Area. “We play all the time. We just got back from Europe where we played every day for a month.”
Andrew was one of five founders of the Bay Area band, which became well-known across the country when Janis Joplin joined in 1966. She was the vocalist for two years.
Big Brother and the Holding Company, which still plays year-round all over the globe, will perform in a dance concert Saturday in Grass Valley. Besides Andrew, founders still in the band are Peter Albin and Dave Getz.
Don’t expect to just hear a replay of the band’s greatest hits from the ’60s. Big Brother and the Holding Company is not a dinosaur band resting solely on its past.
“We do a third of our set from the ’60s and two-thirds from now,” Andrew said. “What the band has then and now is energy. It’s very energetic; people say, ‘I can’t believe you’re 60. It’s such a workout.'”
Andrew categorizes the band’s music as blues with overdrive, then quickly apologizes from stealing that line from Earl Scruggs, who used the word ‘overdrive’ to describe country music.
“We play one blues song in 20 songs,” Andrew clarified, “but all the songs have a blues influence. It’s dance music.”
Big Brother’s songs are also nonpolitical, Andrew said, despite its name sounding otherwise.
“We’ve never been overtly political,” Andrew said. “We do one song vaguely political, but someone else wrote it. Our songs say, ‘Do what you love’ – that’s a bumper sticker, because you do it well and L-O-V-E songs. We believe that.”
Andrew remains touched by Joplin; he joined her in the Kozmic Blues Band in 1968. Albin and Getz moved on to Country Joe and the Fish.
“I still feel the influence of Janis Joplin. She was very energetic. She could really really sing. She’s as good as it gets. I loved my time with her. Janis was a great friend. She had great qualities, intelligence, and she was very funny among them.”
Andrew signed up a few years ago to be music director for the play “Love, Janis.” The play focuses on letters she wrote to her parents with songs performed between each letter.
As director, Andrew taught the band how to play Joplin’s songs.
“It’s very emotional, a beautiful play which has opened many times,” Andrew said. “It’s still running in New York Village Theatre, which used to be the Village Gate. The play is Janis’ words, the real thing.”
Through the play, Andrew met Los Angeles vocalist Kacee Clanton, who sang Joplin’s part. She will appear with Big Brother and the Holding Company this Saturday, singing the renowned singer’s tunes.
Even though Andrew will only perform a third of the songs he played with Joplin, he’ll be thinking of his late friend.
“Her career was short. On some levels, the band is a tribute to Janis. We’re still playing that stuff,” he said.
WHAT: Big Brother and the Holding Company in a dance concert
WHEN: Saturday. Bodhi Busick opens at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $15. Tickets at Foggy Mountain Music, Yabobo, BriarPatch and at the door.
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