I thought that her words were strange but I got up to get my new tape recorder, my pen, and my tablet. Before turning on the recorder, I said, “If there is something you want to say to me as a friend, just tell me and I’ll shut this thing off. If there’s something you want taken out of the interview after I type it up, once again, just say so.”
“Thanks for that but I’m coming out with it all. Fuck ‘em if they don’t like it.”
Once again, I had no idea what she was talking about or who, in particular, she was lashing out at, but I turned on the machine and began the interview. “I guess the question everyone wants an answer to is why did you, after two years with Big Brother, decide to go out on your own?”
“Well, I’m not totally on my own. I took Sam with me.” She replied with a devilish gleam in her eye.
I knew that Sam was the guitar player for the band, he had been with them since their pre-Janis days, but he and Janis were very close. Janis talked about him often and always with affection in her tone. “Sam left Big Brother and the Holding Company?” I asked, genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, man! I mean, he doesn’t have anything against the band. There was no fighting or anything with Sam and the rest of the guys. I think he just did me a favor. He’s the greatest guy I know and he knew I needed help. Hell, he’s the only man I can count on.”
I took all of this in before asking the obvious question. “Is there something going on between the two of you?”
Her grin was beautiful and I thought sure she was about to tell me yes. “No, nothing like that. He’s just my best friend.”
I nodded realizing we had gotten off of the topic. “So what made you leave the band, Janis?”
Taking one of my cigarettes and lighting it up, she exhaled smoke and looked thoughtful, even sad, as she pondered her response. “It just aint no good for me anymore. I mean, we had some good fucking times, you know? But after Monterey shit just changed. The film really got in between the rest of the guys and me. They fucking resent me! When I first joined the band it was fun, all of it was fun. We drank together, we laughed, we talked out ideas, and we had a good fucking time. Now I’ve got assholes who are supposed to be my friends comparing me to Lassie and talking shit right on stage like you wouldn’t believe! It’s like Port Arthur all over again. I don’t understand why they turned against me so there’s nothing I can do to fix it. Why stay?”
“One of the guys compared you to Lassie?” I was flabbergasted and a wave of anger washed over me. Janis liked to pretend like she was a hard ass but the rejection she had suffered in Texas had left the worst kind of mark on her mind and her self-esteem. For a member of the band to do that to her was nothing short of despicable.
Smiling a sad smile she brushed it off with humor like everything else that hurt her. “Yeah. We’re both loud mouthed bitches, ya know? Anyway, it just wasn’t any good anymore. I know what they’re all saying about me. I’m nothing more than a whore who got lucky because of them. I’m just a cheap slut they turned into a star and then I kicked them to the curb. Same shit they’ve been saying for months, man. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I am just a slut with a voice who got lucky. Maybe no one would have found me if I hadn’t joined Big Brother but the way I see it, where would they be right now without me? They had been together for years and no one knew who the hell they were. Imagine their show at Monterey without me. You think it would have been as big? Do you think people would still be talking about it? Shit!” She was getting fired up with every word she spoke.
“So there was just no going back? There was no way to fix the problems between all of you?” I asked.
“Like I said, Lizzy, I don’t even know what they are. I’m done with all that. I’m moving on to my own thing.”
This led into the second question that was on everyone’s minds. “Do you have plans for new music yet? Have you got a new band? What are your plans for your own thing?”
Looking me straight in the eye she said with determination, “I’ve got a band I’m putting together. I’m making a new album as soon as I can. And I’ll tell you what, when that album comes out it is going to blow Cheap Thrills out of the fucking water!”
“So your new plan now is to be bigger than Big Brother?” I questioned softly.
“Not just Big Brother, honey. I want to be bigger than every one! I want to be the fucking best even if it kills me!”
I felt a shiver go up my spine as I saw the truth of her words reflected in her eyes. She meant every word, alright, and that kind of determination in a woman like Janis could be a frightening thing. “Since Sam’s playing with you, why didn’t you bring him down with you? He could have gotten in on this too.”
Looking away from me at last, she said, “He’s still doing damage control in Frisco. I swear, the way everyone is acting over this breakup you’d think we were the fucking Beatles! People are taking sides like people do and everyone is arguing about whether or not I had a right to leave the band. Sam keeps telling me that we’ve got to calm down the fans we’ve already got or we might as well not bother making an album because no one is going to be around to buy it. I keep telling Sam that at this point there are the band’s fans and there are mine. The people saying I had no right to up and quit the guys can stay with them. I don’t give a shit. I’ve still got plenty of people out there who came to those shows to see me and they are the people I’ll be making my album for. He’s also auditioning people for the new band. I had to get away from it all. My birthday’s in a couple of days so tomorrow I’m heading down to Mexico for a few days. I just need a break, you know?”I nodded my understanding. I could tell that all of this was having an effect on her. She looked tired and I could tell she had lost weight since the last time I saw her. I also noticed the long sleeves and bracelets covering her arms. I could guess what they were covering up.'
As I wrote this book I tried very hard to be as historically accurate as possible. However, there were a couple of times when I took some artistic liberties and the time period when Janis left Big Brother was one such example. In the book, she left in late '67 and sat down for this interview with Liz in early '68. In all actuality, Janis was with the band until late 1968. I have seen many many interviews with Janis, both with the band and solo, and I have heard the stories concerning the way certain members of the band treated her. I have also heard the way things changed among them after they went to the premier of The Monterey Pop Festival documentary and the guys realized that Janis was the focus of their set in the film. Simply put, she was resented. There were people loyal to the band that considered her leaving to be a huge betrayal to the men that were with her as she began her rise to the top. However, she had her reasons for parting ways and they had very little to do with any sort of desire to steal the limelight....She never had to do that. As soon as the world saw Monterey, the limelight was handed to her and the band's fate was sealed.
An Interview With Big Brother from 900 Nights:
Big Brother and the Holding Company- Piece of my Heart: