Janis Joplin and her custom-painted 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet
Iconic rock ‘n’ roll singer Janis Joplin returns to Austin in the new musical theatre production ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN when the Texas Premiere, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, plays ZACH Theatre’s new Topfer Theatre from July 10th though August 18th.
In the new musical, Janis – played by singer and actress Kacee Clanton – shares her music, truths, influences, art, philosophy and spirit. Joined by an on-stage band and a trio of back-up singers, Joplin also shares the stage with “The Blues Singer,” who performs as the artists who influences Janis on her musical journey, including Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.
Joplin’s journey started in Port Arthur, where she was born in January 1943. During her school years, she befriended a group considered social outcasts, and that is where she first heard albums by the African-American singers whose voices and styles would shape her own music.
After high school, Janis attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont for one summer before heading north to The University of Texas here in Austin. The free spirit quickly became a local legend, much in the way the late Leslie Cochran was adopted as the unofficial city mascot.
The July 27, 1962, issue of The Daily Texan campus newspaper ran a profile of Joplin, headlined “She Dares to Be Different.” The article began, “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
Her first actual song recording – made on a tape at the home of a fellow student in Austin in December 1962 – was “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do.” The next month, she left Texas for San Francisco, where for three years she sang, drank, developed a taste for hard drugs and recorded blues standards with future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Fearing that the hard-living lifestyle would kill her, her friends convinced her to return to the safety of Port Arthur in 1965.
Back in Texas, Joplin subdued her lifestyle. She once again enrolled in Lamar State College and avoided drugs and alcohol, and made regular trips to Austin to perform at the now-legendary beer joint Threadgill’s, singing solo and accompanying herself on guitar. She also recorded seven studio tracks that year, including her original composition “Turtle Blues.”
Joplin’s performances at Threadgill’s caught the eye of the Austin American-Statesman, which published a piece on the singer. She also caught the attention of promoter Chet Holmes, who convinced her to return to San Francisco to become the lead singer for a new band: Big Brother and the Holding Company. Thus, the legend was created.