On Oct 4th, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Hotel Hollywood after an accidental heroin overdose.
By 1970 Janis Joplin had three records under her belt, including her first solo effort since splitting from Big Brother and the Holding Company. She was working on her fourth studio album Pearl. Little did she know that her last record would be her biggest yet.
Here she is in the studio during the Cheap Thrills era (1968):
By this point in her incredibly quick rise to fame her had consistently struggled with drinking. Her drink of choice was Southern Comfort.
Her relationship with narcotics began in high school where she gained a reputation as a “speed freak” and used methamphetamines regularly. Joplin was also known to occasionally use heroin. By the late 60’s she would often perform high on heroin. She was noticeably inebriated at her Woodstock performance. Struggling with lyrics and banter with her band on stage. Watch this clip of her at Woodstock:
In 1970 she went into the studio to record her fourth album with her new band called The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Her management had already held interventions with her about her heroin use. Friends and family begged her to stop yet Joplin continued to use.
On September 26, 1970, Full tilt Boogie Band were recording at Sunset Sound Recorders. Joplin recorded vocals for “Half Moon” and “Cry Baby”. Then Full Tilt Boogie recorded the instrumental track for “Buried Alive in the Blues”. The session ended with Joplin, organist Ken Pearson, and drummer Clark Pierson making a special one-minute recording as a birthday gift to John Lennon. Joplin was among several singers who had been contacted by Yoko Ono with a request for a taped greeting for Lennon’s 30th birthday, on October 9. Lennon told Dick Cavett on-camera the following year that Joplin’s recorded birthday wishes arrived at his home after her death. Listen to the birthday recording here. It’s amazing.
On October 4, 1970, producer Paul 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 356 C 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 a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Cooke believes Joplin had been given heroin that was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer’s other customers also overdosed that week.
Joplin’s death in October 1970 at age 27 stunned her fans and shocked the music world, especially when coupled with the death just 16 days earlier of another rock icon, Jimi Hendrix, also at age 27.
The posthumous Pearl (1971) became the biggest-selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster’s “Me and Bobby McGee” (Kristofferson had previously been Joplin’s lover in the spring of 1970). The opening track, “Move Over”, was written by Joplin, reflecting the way that she felt men treated women in relationships. Also included was the social commentary of “Mercedes Benz”, presented in an a cappella arrangement; the track on the album features the first and only take that Joplin recorded.
Arguably the most haunting track on the album is the cover of Nick Gravenites’s “Buried Alive in the Blues”, to which Joplin had been scheduled to add her vocals on the day she was found dead. the vocals were never recorded and it was included as an instrumental.
Listen to the song here:
One of her very last public appearances was on the Dick Cavett show, of which she was a regular. If you only watch one thing today, let it be this interview.