Power Pickers
of the '60's

Musicians of the Flower Generation


Backing Up Janis from the Gallery

I “met” Janis Joplin, for the second time, at the Cabale, a coffee house on, I think, San Pedro Street in Berkeley, sometime in the winter of 1963. I put “met” in quotes because I didn’t really have an exchange with her, at least at first, since she was onstage and I was in the audience. However, by the end of the night I was playing backup guitar for her, an honor I bestowed on myself with a stunt of real musical sleaze.

She had recently come to Berkeley from Houston and was just starting to get her feet wet in the big folk music scene around the college, but not yet far enough along to be able to pick her own musicians to play with. In fact, that night she was being accompanied by a guy playing a classical-type guitar with nylon strings, and the contrast between her belting blues delivery and his dainty folk picking was painful.

In fact, after three or four songs it hurt so much I began wondering how I could get on that stage and back her up myself. “How can I make this happen?” I asked myself. The answer was obvious: start pickin’ from where I was, in the audience, loud enough for everyone in the small room to hear it, and that’s exactly what I did. I had no shame in those days (BTW, this nasty little shiv-slip was later recognized as the invention and first use of the “front-up,” i.e., backing up someone from their front). My big, steel-strung Gibson Southern Jumbo guitar with sunburst finish cut through everything, even the waitress’ taking orders and dropping glasses every chance they got.

I later “learned” (I already knew it) that accompanying someone from offstage when they already had a sideman onstage is one of the lowest things you can do to a accompanist. But I already said I was a lowlife in those days, so…

Anyway, cheesy as that was, Janis immediately heard the difference between my playing and the folky’s, and asked me to do the rest of her sets with her that night. She invited the other guy to stay on stage with her and play along with me, but declined the offer being as humiliated and furious as he was. In fact, the only reason I didn’t get my ass kicked that night was that the guy was a lot smaller than I was and sort of wimpy, which I took into consideration before taking my guitar out of the case.

Anyway, I finished out the rest of the one-nighter with Janis, and the rest of the audience seemed to like it pretty much. So did Janis, or at least she seemed to. But after the last set she told me that that was one of the “most chickenshitest way to get next to” her she’d ever experienced. However, she also complimented me on my playing and told me I could sit in with her anytime I wanted to, as long as I asked her first.

But, would you believe this was not a particularly big deal for me at the time, because she was not yet famous or even much known in my circles of players, and couldn’t afford to pay me anything if I did play with her. I sat in with her a couple more times before I changed schools and towns and enrolled at UCLA, because I’d decided that was where the action was about to be.

The next time I heard anything about Janis was around 1965, before she’d become a superstar, but long after I’d decided she wasn’t going anywhere, because she was too unsightly and couldn’t attract good enough musicians. Do you think my business instincts suck?\

One-liner Notes:

“To play in a rock band all you need is a strong back and a big dick.” Anonymous band member in the late 1960’s, before there were roadies to carry amps for new bands and Safe Sex to protect them.

  1. Nicole Says:

    I just saw your site on the wordpress forum. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your posts, interesting writing from what seems like an interesting guy.

    One note: you can’t have too many pictures, in my opinion…

    take care

  2. allan Says:

    Thanks, Nicole. And I totally agree with you about pictures, and I’ll start using more as quickly as I can master-hah!-the technology of doing a blog.


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