April 18, 2014

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 60: Janis Joplin & the Full Tilt Boogie Band ~ Pearl


Janis Joplin ~                         

The album cover, photographed by Barry Feinstein in Los Angeles, shows Joplin reclining on her Victorian Era loveseat with a drink in her hand.

In addition to my 20,000 Vinyl LP collection I'm selling, I have reel-to-reel, pre-recorded tapes for sale as well (see links below). If interested, contact me by email please, not by a comment.

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Of all the albums by Janis Joplin, Pearl is my favorite. It is also one of my top albums of all times. There has never been anything to match it. I remember the first time I heard Mercedes Benz, I thought, "What the hell IS this?" It sounded whacky and fun and I've never gotten tired of listening to it.

reel-to-reel tape box
album cover photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
photo of reel-to-reel tape box by Styrous®

From the opening number, Move Over, with it's drum start, Joplin vocal and guitar back up intro, the song immediately grabs you and won't let go. She's saying, basically, "Shit or get off the Pot!" A great dance song with some fantastic guitar work with organ by Ken Pearson. It gets you up and moving; no if, ands or buts. It was recorded at Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, CA, on September 25, 1970. Move Over! is also the title of an album released for Record Store Day 2011. It contains unreleased, rare and alternate songs from all three of Joplin's backing bands, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band. (links to lyrics and music videos below).

With a scream, Joplin launches Cry Baby and goes into a beautiful slow rock ballad; it is a nice platform which highlights her dynamic voice. The sporadic spoken parts are a nice touch that furthers the emotion of the "Come on back home, baby, I still love you in spite of all you've done to me." It was recored in September and October of 1970. It was originally recorded by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters, in 1963. Great to see it performed in concert.

Half Moon has a bouncy samba beat that is too good to just sit and listen to. Complicated rhythms and a good arrangement make it a delight to dance to over and over until you're just about to drop. Joplin's voice is at it's absolute best on this song. It soars and swoops around the instrumental backup. Nice piano riffs by Richard Bell.

reel-to-reel tape box
album cover back photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
photo of reel-to-reel tape box by Styrous®

This is my very favorite track on the album; to me, the most powerful yet poignant and heart-wrenching line in the song is: 
"I'd trade all of my tomorrows, for a single yesterday
To be holdin' Bobby's body next to mine. . . "

Me and Bobby McGee is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster). It starts out gentle with guitar and Joplin singing, then it slowly builds in emotion and tempo to demonstrate the intensity of a love that once was and the wild adventures of youth. Once again the great organ work by Ken Pearson gives an earthy-feeling quality to the song. Joplin played guitar on this one.

In the original version of the song, Bobby is a woman; Janis Joplin, who was a lover and a friend of Kristofferson from the beginning of her career to her death, changed the sex and a few of the lyrics in her cover. Kristofferson states he did not write this song for her, but the song is associated with her, especially, he has said, in the line "Somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away." In a conversation with director Monte Hellman in a film short called, "Somewhere Near Salinas", Kristofferson states that the film La Strada was an inspiration for the song and remarks on the irony of how a song inspired by a classic "road movie" should come to be used in another.

Bobby McGee was originally performed by Roger Miller. Others later performed the song, including Kristofferson himself, and Joplin who topped the U.S. singles chart with the song in 1971 after her death, making it the second posthumous number-one single in U.S. chart history after (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.

reel-to-reel tape box details
album cover back photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
detail photos by Styrous®

What can I say about Mercedes Benz? What a delightfully irreverent song! Written by Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, It was recorded in one take on October 1, 1970. In the lyrics of the song is a reference to Dialing for Dollars, a franchised format local television program, which required one to be watching the show in order to win. I remember watching this program on  Channel two, which is now KTVU, Channel 20. KTVU shows new stuff as well as old stuff, snippets of appearances by local people of  the sixties. Déjà vu? Oh, my, yes!

The song is considered a hippy-era rejection of consumerism. It's ironic that Mercedes-Benz used it in television commercials for their cars as early as 1995; and another commercial, for the BMW Z3, had the driver listening to a cassette tape of the song, frowning after Mercedes-Benz was mentioned, and throwing the tape out of the car after the Porsche is mentioned.

This was one of the three last tracks Joplin ever recorded; she died three days later, on October 4.

Then there are the love songs.

Trust Me is a beautiful song about love and it's potential, if one can "give it time". Some beautiful session work in it.

Get It While You Can has a nice piano start with an organ that gives it a gospel-like feeling. Another beautiful ballad by Joplin that builds to a nice finish. Apparently there is a movie project about Joplin in the works with the same title as the song.

Janis Joplin ~ Pearl
reel-to-reel tape box detail
album cover back photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
detail photo by Styrous®

All nine tracks were personally approved and arranged by Joplin. It was the final album by her and the only album she recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, her final touring group. It was released posthumously on Columbia Records in January, 1971. Pearl peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200, holding that spot for nine weeks. It has been certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA. 

Because of the expertise of producer Paul A. Rothchild and her new backing musicians, Pearl is more polished than the albums she recorded with Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band. Rothchild was the recording studio producer of The Doors, and worked well with Joplin, calling her a producer's dream. Together they were able to craft an album that showcased her extraordinary vocal talents. The album was recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles.

Janis Joplin ~ Pearl
reel-to-reel tape box detail
album cover back photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
detail photo by Styrous®

Pearl features the number one hit Me and Bobby McGee, on which she played acoustic guitar, written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster; Trust Me, by Bobby Womack, written for Joplin; Howard Tate's Get It While You Can, showcasing her vocal range; and the original songs Move Over and Mercedes Benz, the latter co-written by Joplin, Bobby Neuwirth and Michael McClure

Joplin sang on all tracks except Buried Alive in the Blues, which remained a Full Tilt Boogie instrumental because she died before adding vocals, but she had approved the instrumental track. The recording sessions, starting in early September, ended with Joplin's death on October 4, 1970. Her final session, which took place on Thursday, October 1 after a break of several days, yielded her the a cappella song, Mercedes Benz.

reel-to-reel tape box detail
album cover back photo by Barry Feinstein
album cover design by Tom Wilkes
detail photo by Styrous®

By 1968, Janis had the means for some rock star transportation, and paid a Beverly Hills car dealer about $3500 for a ’65 Porsche 356c Cabriolet. The plain, white paint job did not suit her, however, and she promptly asked friend (and Big Brother roadie) Dave Richards for something more dramatic.

Richards succeeded in creating nothing less than a four-wheeled icon of the psychedelic era. It is painted in vivid colors, and covered with day-glo flowers, cartoon buterflies, representations of astrology, nature, and even a portrait of Janis’ band.

Obviously, this is one Porsche that was hard to miss, and it quickly became associated with the star. If you saw the 356, you knew Janis was not far away. Fans would leave notes under the wipers everywhere it was parked. Once, the car was stolen and rattle-canned gray… but Joplin recovered it and found a body shop to restore the custom paint job

 Janis Joplin's 1965 Porsche 356 
Summer of Love - Art of the Psychedelic Era 
exhibition at the Whitney Museum, New York

  Janis Joplin & the Porsche 356
late 1960's 

On October 4, 1970, producer Paul A. Rothchild became concerned when Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Recorders for a recording session. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood where Joplin was staying. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche 356C Cabriolet in the parking lot. Upon entering Joplin's room (#105), he found her dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly compounded by alcohol. Cooke believes that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin that was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer's other customers also overdosed that week. Peggy Caserta and Seth Morgan had both failed to meet Joplin the Friday immediately prior to her death, October 2, and according to the book Going Down With Janis, Joplin was saddened that neither of her friends visited her at the Landmark Motor Hotel as they had promised.

Joplin's will funded $2,500 to throw a wake party in the event of her demise. The party, which took place October 26, 1970, at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, California, was attended by Joplin's sister Laura, fiancé Seth Morgan, and close friends, including tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, Bob Gordon, Jack Penty, and road manager Cooke.

reel-to-reel tape
photo by Styrous®

There is an album, 18 Essential Songs, which is a collection of songs recorded throughout Joplin's career (both career and with Big Brother & The Holding Company), released in 1995 on Columbia. It reached gold RIAA certification on April 12, 1999.

reel-to-reel tape label detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Track list:

Side one:
1. Move Over - written by Janis Joplin - 3:39
2. Cry Baby - written by Jerry Ragovoy & Bert Berns - 3:56
3. A Woman Left Lonely - written by  Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham - 3:27
4. Half Moon - written by John Hall & Johanna Hall - 3:51
5. Buried Alive in the Blues - written by Nick Gravenites - 2:24

Side two:

1. My Baby - written by Jerry Ragovoy & Mort Shuman - 3:44
2. Me and Bobby McGee - written by  Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster - 4:29
3. Mercedes Benz - written by Janis Joplin, Bob Neuwirth & Michael McClure - 1:46
4. Trust Me - written by  Bobby Womack - 3:15
5. Get It While You Can - written by Jerry Ragovoy & Mort Shuman (Howard Tate 1966 rendition) - 3:23


Additional personnel:

Produced by:

  • Paul A. Rothchild - Productor
  • Phil Macy - engineer
  • Barry Feinstein - Photography 
  • Tom Wilkes - Design for Camouflage Productions

Music videos on YouTube:
Move Over
Cry Baby (live)  
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues 
Me and Bobby McGee (live in Austin, 1970)
Mercedes Benz  
Get It While You Can (live)

reel-to-reel listings on eBay

Thanks for the all wonderful times I've had while listening to your terrific songs, Janis. 

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