Janis, Bear, Bach & Jams: Sitting With Sam Andrew
The recent release of Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 from Big Brother And The Holding Company is notable for (at least) two reasons.
First, read the cover – right up at the very top where it says Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents. “Bear” would be the late Owsley “Bear” Stanley, folks – sonic genius, amongst many other things – and one can only hope that there’s more to be shared where these tapes came from. (Do your part to support the Stanley family’s effort to restore Bear’s archives: check out http://www.owsleystanleyfoundation.org for more details.)
Secondly, the performances captured on this album may very well be some of the best examples of the band Big Brother And The Holding Company (guitarists Sam Andrew and the late James Gurley; drummer Dave Getz; bassist Peter Albin; and, of course, Janis Joplin on vocals), rather than a powerhouse vocalist and her hot backup group. They come out of the blocks sounding like a psychedelic soul revue (the pounding, churning “Combination Of The Two”) and take you home in the arms of “Call On Me”, swaddled in bluesy sweetness. And in between, they soar; they roar; they bring it down to the dull hum of the amps and then let it fly as far as it wants to go; they pull off reckless jams and turn-on-a-dime arrangements. And none of this takes one watt of spotlight off of Janis Joplin – it simply acknowledges all the talents contained within the walls of Big Brother.
Jambands.com recently had the honor of chatting with guitarist Sam Andrew about the Carousel recordings, the challenges of playing live in 1968 – and even played a short round of “What If?”
Ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls; children of all ages – we present Big Brother And The Holding Company’s Sam Andrew.
BR: Sam, I know we have some official work to do here, as we’re meant to be talking about the new Live From The Carousel Ballroom release, but first – and I’m sure you hear this all the time – I just want to say thank you for all the great music over the years.
SA: You’re welcome, Brian. We always love to hear it. (laughs) I’m sure you get a lot of compliments on what you’re doing.
BR: (laughs) No, but it tickles me to know that the words mean something to someone now and then. One thing I wanted to ask you right off the bat: the original tapes from the Carousel shows really were working tapes that Owsley made for his own use; to review after the fact, right?
SA: That’s right. Owsley was brilliant – a genius – but slightly mad (laughs), as were many people at the time … including those of us in Big Brother, possibly …
BR: Possibly … (laughter)
SA: And he recorded us, the Dead, and others to … well … I don’t know what his end view for those tapes was. I guess he simply wanted to get the raw material and hear what was happening.
BR: So when did you first know that this recording existed?
SA: Well, we knew back when we played at the Carousel in 1968 that he was recording – whenever Owsley was around, we knew we were being taped. (laughs)
I think it was maybe five years ago – maybe a little longer; maybe a little less – that he called and said, “Hey, I’m in Berkeley at the Meyers Sound Lab and I’d like you to come over and listen to this recording I’ve got of you at the Carousel Ballroom.” That was the first time we actually heard the recording.
A lot of people made tapes back in the day, but it was a long time ago and who knows what happened to them, you know?
BR: Uh-huh; it’s not like they necessarily went right into laboratory-like conditions for storage.
SA: (laughs) No – maybe they went into somebody’s basement … or garage. So the three of us went over to listen – Peter Albin, Dave Getz, and myself.
BR: What was it like to hear the show all these years later?
SA: Well, to tell you the truth … (laughs)
BR: Oh? (laughter)
SA: Well … there are two aspects about a recording. There’s how well it was recorded, and how the people performed when they were doing it, you know? It’s just like having a photograph taken of yourself – the photographer can be great and they can have a really expensive camera and have taken the best shot of their life, but if you didn’t look that good … (laughter) Or maybe you were really shining that day, but they had a crappy camera. (laughter)
So when we went over to Berkeley, we were impressed with the quality of Owsley’s recording – it was amazing. But I don’t think we thought it was our greatest performance that first listen.
BR: But now?
SA: You know, listening to it now, we sounded fine. (laughs) We were pretty good! (laughter)