Big Brother and the Holding Company

San Francisco circa 1967/68 was home to some of the most successful and forward-thinking rock bands of the time, including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring singer Janis Joplin. Joplin was a larger-than-life presence who approached the stage like a gladiator fighting against the demons that tormented her. Very few performers have commanded as high a level of critical acclaim and audience admiration as Janis, who held nothing back onstage. According to Big Brother drummer Dave Getz, the band members never worried about their live shows because, from his perspective, “Having Janis Joplin in your band was like having an atomic bomb in battle. Meaning, when you have a lead singer who continually performs at 90 percent of her capacity, it gives the band confidence to play at the highest level they’re capable of. At the same time, Janis was very sensitive; her swagger was a façade. She did have a little-girl side to her.”

Big Brother and the Holding CompanyTo commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the group’s seminal second LP, Cheap Thrills, Columbia/Legacy has applied its originally proposed title, Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills, to an alternate version of  the set consisting of copious unreleased performances. The original album featured the track “Piece of My Heart,” which broke the singer and her (soon-to-be former) band nationally. “It was 1968, the year following the Summer of Love,”recalls Getz.“The Cheap Thrills sessions took place in April, May, and June of that year. The project initially began as a live album recorded in Detroit, but we weren’t satisfied [with the results], so we would go between CBS Studios in New York City and CBS in Los Angeles.

“‘Piece of My Heart’ was written by Brill Building tunesmiths Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy,” Getz continues, “though we actually acquired the song from Jack Cassidy, the bassist for Jefferson Airplane. He wanted to come down to the studio and play something he thought would be perfect for us. Jack played the Erma Franklin version, which was soulful but restrained. Janis and [guitarist] Sam Andrew ‘Big Brotherized’ it, as Janis identified with the song enough to make it her own.”The other members of Big Brother who appear on the recording are guitarist James Gurley and bassist Peter Albin.

Getz is forthright when asked about the contributions of engineer Fred Catero and  producer John Simon to Cheap Thrills. “Fred was a great engineer,” says Getz, “and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his work. We recorded the album entirely live [to 16-track], with only vocal overdubs. Our connection to John Simon was purely through our manager, Albert Grossman. Albert was grooming John at the time. [Simon was also working with the Band around that time.] I have great respect for John, but as a band we felt pressure from him that he didn’t understand where we were coming from. We thought as musicians that he had a lot of disdain for our music, and he was doing it strictly as an ‘assignment’ for Albert. That being said, he did a great job.”

Getz literally comes crashing out of the gate on “Piece of My Heart,” slamming his bass drum and crash cymbal on the downbeat of the song’s famous intro, then building tension with dynamic buildups on the ride, snare, and floor tom before Joplin’s classic “Come on!” vocal entrance. In the first verse Getz settles into a nice soul groove, with 2 and 4 on snare and alternating singles and doubles in his kick. Setting up the chorus, he accentuates with 8ths on his kick, though concert clips from ’69 show that he began using a double-kick setup and switched to 16ths to support. Later Getz caps the sixteen-bar guitar solo (2:29) with a sweet and subtle triplet-based snare/ bass drum fill that nudges the energy in the right direction without over- or under- selling it. This can be said about Getz’s entire performance on “Piece of My Heart.” A prime example of Joplin’s highly emotional vocal style, the song benefits greatly from the drummer’s understanding of his place within the band’s unique kinetic balance.

Since 1987, Getz has performed in the U.S. and Europe with a reconstituted Big Brother and the Holding Company, which also features original bassist Peter Albin.

What’s on That Song?

Dave Getz utilized a Rogers five-piece set and Zildjian cymbals on the Cheap Thrills sessions. Today he endorses Kumu drums.