Janis, Bear, Bach & Jams: Sitting With Sam Andrew
BR: The Carousel recordings were made just about two years after Janis joined Big Brother And The Holding Company. I think one thing that some folks might not be aware of is that you were already an established band when she arrived on the scene in ‘66. It took the relationship a while to gel, didn’t it?
SA: Yeah, it did. We were already well-known locally – in San Francisco – so Janis was joining this group that had a modicum of success and she was conscious of that.
When Janis came in, she was a coffee house-style singer. She was really, really good, but we were making this whole different style of music with these long jams. But Janis rose to the occasion; she was a real artist and really creative and happy to go along with what we were doing.
Janis was easy to work with; she had a lot of great virtues that you really appreciated in a band situation. You know when you have a co-worker that you really appreciate working with? That was Janis. She’d always do what she said she was going to do – which is rare anywhere in the music business … (laughs)
So we were creating this music together as a group – Janis was never on that prima donna thing where she was the singer and she was out front, which was great. We all really appreciated that, you know?
BR: That’s the sound of this album; that’s what I wrote in my early listening notes: “This is the sound of a band.” It wasn’t Janis and her backup group.
You mentioned the jams and that was one of the things I wanted to ask: was there any one of you in particular that would usually take the wheel and lead the way back out of the jams?
SA: We would try to rehearse for that. In other words, something that you might not hear – say, the bass player does a set of notes signaling that we’re going back into the ensemble playing now rather than the insane playing. (laughs) “Time to get out of the bath now and dry off.” We’d try to build that in during rehearsals.
Peter Albin is a great signaler to this day, both with what he’s playing and visual movements. He really was the de facto leader at the time; everything with Peter was real definite – beginnings, endings, transitions.
BR: Well, you all had to be good formation flyers.
SA: Practicing a lot helped. There were a lot of train wrecks, as well … (laughs) … and still are. (laughter)
BR: Well, up here in Maine I’ve always heard it said that the only guy that never ran aground never left the dock, so I guess if you don’t take the chances … (laughter)
SA: That’s a song title right there. Let me write that down. (laughs)
BR: Big Brother And The Holding Company is still alive and well and playing these days, of course – but do you think about what Janis would be doing now if she were still with us?
SA: Oh, sure – I think about that a lot.
Two of her best songs were “Summertime” and “Little Girl Blue” that she did with the Kozmic Blues band. If Janis had lived, I can see her doing, for instance, an album of jazz standards and doing them really well. And I think at some point she would have called up and said (laughs), “Hey, boys – you want to try another tour; try another album?” It wouldn’t have been a permanent step – just another step along the way – and that would’ve been fun.
I think Janis would have had a long and great career; she’d only used two of about seven separate voices that she had. I can imagine her maybe doing an album of gospel stuff … that would’ve been perfect. I would have loved to produce something like that with her.
If she ever comes back, I have some great ideas for her. (laughter)
BR: Well, you never know.
SA: No, you never know. (laughs)
BR: Sam, I do know that it’s time to let you go. Thank you for the last 30 minutes – and thanks for the last 45 years or so, man.
SA: Well, thank you – it was fun talking with you, Brian. Now, tell me again: “If you’ve never …” How did that go?
BR: Basically, “If you’ve never run aground, you’ve never left the dock.”
SA: (laughs) There’s a song there; you need to write that song.
BR: We’ll collaborate, Sam, how about that?
SA: It’s a deal. (laughter)