“Big Brother and the Holding Company was a prime example of a band where the chemistry was right, where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. You cannot buy or manufacture the natural feeling that was in that band.
Big Brother played from the heart and soul with the goal of achieving a direct connection with the innermost feelings of the audience.” – Sam Andrew
Evolving out of the San Francisco rock scene of the 1960s, Big Brother was in the forefront of the psychedelic music movement.
The band was formed by Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, James Gurley and Chuck Jones in San Francisco, in a Victorian mansion/boarding house owned by Peter’s uncle at 1090 Page Street in the Haight-Ashbury. That house became the site of Wednesday night jam sessions which were organized by Chet Helms who was the real “Big Brother,” naming the band, bringing James Gurley into the fold and later seeing that his old friend Janis Joplin came to sing with them.The first official Big Brother gig was at the Open Theater in Berkeley, January 1966. Within a short time they became the house band for Chet at the Avalon Ballroom and began to develop a loyal following, largely due to the charismatic, pioneering guitarwork of James Gurley. The band had what Sam Andrew callled a “progressive-regressive hurricane blues style,” playing such tunes as Hall of the Mountain King, Coo Coo, That’s How Strong My Love Is, and Down On Me.
During the winter of 1966, Chuck Jones left the band and was replaced by Dave Getz who played his first gig with the band on 12 March at the Matrix on Fillmore Street. Peter Albin was the main vocalist at this time, and although Sam Andrew helped out with the singing, both men knew that the band needed a singer who could match the group’s instrumental energies. Chet Helms remembered a friend from his University of Texas days, Janis Joplin, and proposed that he bring her back to San Francisco, where she had tried to launch a singing career in 1963-1964. Janis came to town, sang a couple of tunes with the band at their Henry Street studio, and was enthusiastically welcomed into the group, playing her first Big Brother engagement at the Avalon Ball room on 10 June 1966. Big Brother had been a loose, ramshackle,experimenting ensemble and now, with Janis, the music became more sturctured, and the band became a family. They moved out of San Francisco, north to Lagunitas in Marin County, found a beautiful house where they could all live and rehearse and settled down to some serious music making.
In August 1966, Big Brother went to Chicago, their first real on the road experience, and they played a month at Mother Blues, a club in Old Town, and recorded their first album at Mainstream Records. It was to be a year before this effort was released and the band went through the winter of 1966 and the spring of 1967 becoming a more professional unit and building an audience. June of 1967 brought the Monterey Pop Festival, a big shift for Big Brother. Janis had learned how to sing in front of an electric band, she became larger than life and her “screamingly mournful vocals and potently sexual stage act,” had, as a reviewer noted, propelled Big Brother into the national spotlight. Peter, Sam, Dave and James, strong personalities in their own right, were wise enough to give Janis the freedom truly to be herself, and people responded to the power of the band and to Janis’ truly unique voice.
Big Brother acquired a new manager at Monterey, Albert Grossman, who brought them to Columbia Records.where they made their second album Cheap Thrills which was number one on the charts for eight weeks. The music on the album was energetic and driving, the perfect match for Joplin’s voice. Guitar Player magazine called James Gurley the “Father of the Psychedelic Guitar,” and Rick Clark in the All Music Book wrote “Anyone who thinks Guns N’Roses mastered hard electric blues-grunge hasn’t heard Big Brother’s James Gurley and Sam Houston Andrew duke it out on tracks like ‘Ball and Chain,’ ‘Summertime,’ and ‘Combination of the Two.’ ”
Janis Joplin left Big Brother in December 1968 and Sam Andrew went with her, while Peter Albin and Dave Getz joined Country Joe and the Fish. In the fall of 1969, Peter, Sam, Dave and James resurrected Big Brother with the help of Dave Schallock (guitar), Nick Gravenites(vocals and great songwriting), and Kathi McDonald. one of the best singers ever. The band released two albums Be A Brother (1970) and How Hard It Is (1971), toured for a couple of years and then decided to rest for a while.
In October 1978, Big Brother and the Holding Company played for old friend Chet Helms at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley, but it was not to be until almost a decade later (1987) that they reunited, adding Michel Bastian on vocals. Since that time, Big Brother have played all over the world and have become, in the process, better musicians than they ever were. This is partly because they have played with some wonderful players and vocalists over the years. On guitar, Tom Finch, Ben Nieves, Chad Quist, Joel Hoekstra and Kate Russo on violin have been superb, while on vocals, outstanding singers have been Lisa Battle, Lisa Mills, Mary Bridget Davies, Stefanie Keys, and the redoubtable Sophia Ramos.
Recent Big Brother and the Holding Company CD releases have been Do What You Love, the Janis Joplin boxed set on Sony, Live At Winterland. Hold Me which is a live recording of a concert in Burg Herzberg, Germany, with Sophia Ramos and Chad Quist, and containing such tunes as Hold Me, Piece of My Heart, Ball & Chain, Down On Me, Summertime and Turtle Blues. This CD was the soundtrack for a Big Brother 40th Anniversary tour of the world. More recently have been the releases of The Lost Tapes in 2008 and Live at the Carousel Ballroom in 2012.
Through a dear friend of the band, Catherine Cavalieri, Sam Andrew met Tim Murphy who was a godsend. Tim kept the band working and went far beyond the call of duty in handling the somewhat tempestuous and emotional aspects of the artists’ lives. There is a renewed sense of excitement and hope with Big Brother today largely due to Tim’s help and support.
Come hear the band and you will realize that they are recreating themselves and delivering a dynamic show.