October 4: Janis Joplin Died

A rock icon gone too soon

On October 4th, 1970, Janis Joplin died in her room at the Landmark Hotel Hollywood after an accidental heroin overdose at the age of 27.

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. During her Woodstock performance in 1969, she was noticeably inebriated, struggling with lyrics and banter with her band on stage. 

By the time she died in 1970, Janis Joplin had recorded three albums and was partway through recording Pearl, her second solo album. 

Her management had already held interventions with her about her heroin use, while friends and family begged her to stop. But Joplin continued to use.

Recording Pearl

Joplin and her new band, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, began recording Pearl on July 27. They recorded many of the tracks on stage, two months before they began recording in studio with Paul Rothchild. 

Rothchild, who was known for his work with The Doors, had initially turned down the project. When asked to come on board by road manager John Cooke, he responded, “Oh, John, I don’t know. Last time I saw her, she was a junkie and couldn’t focus on her art and was abusive to people around her” 

But according to Cooke, “She was a changed woman … She had a band that worshipped her, she had been straight for a few months and she was feeling in charge of herself.” Eventually, Rothchild was won over. 

During what would be her final recording session at Sunset Sound Records on October 1, 1970, Joplin recorded the social commentary “Mercedes Benz”. It was her first and only take of the song.

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. 

Janis Joplin’s Last Days

By October 3, Joplin had nearly Pearl. She had spent the day preparing to lay down the vocals for “Buried Alive In The Blues” the following day. 

On October 4, producer Paul Rothchild became concerned when Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Recorders for a recording session. He sent John Cooke to the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood where Joplin was staying. When he got there, 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. 

Her death stunned 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 album became the biggest-selling album of her career. Joplin wrote the opening track, “Move Over”, reflecting the way that she felt men treated women in relationships. The album also 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). 

Nick Gravenites’s “Buried Alive in the Blues” is arguably the most haunting song on the record. Having died the day she was meant to record the vocals, only an instrumental appeared on the album. 

Other Notable Rock Events From October 4

1957 – The Annual NME readers poll named Elvis the #2 singer. (Pat Boone came in at #1)

1961 – Bob Dylan played for 53 people at New York’s Carnegie Hall. It was his concert hall debut, earning him $20. 

1963 – The Beatles appeared on Ready Steady Go! for the first time. 

1963 – Eric Clapton replaced Anthony Topham in The Yardbirds. 

1968 – Cream began their farewell tour. 

1969 – Abbey Road by The Beatles was at #1 on the UK charts. 

1967 – George Harrison and John Lennon argue for Transcendental Meditation on David Foster’s TV show. 

1969 – CCR’s Green River was the #1 album in the US. 

1974 – Jon Lennon released Walls And Bridges. Lennon recorded the album during his time apart from Yoko Ono. 

1974 – Thin Lizzy introduces their new lineup which included Scott Graham and Brian Robertson. 

1975 – The #1 album in the UK was With You Were Here by Pink Floyd. 

1979 – Jimmy Buffet appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine to promote the release of Volcano. 

1980 – Queen took the top spot on the US singles chart with “Another One Bites The Dust.” It was their 2nd US #1 and they stayed there for 3 weeks. 

RELATED: Ranking 3 of the best songs by Queen …

1980 – The University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band received a platinum record for their contribution to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. 

1980 – Genesis won Band Of The Year, Phil Collins won Best Drummer and Pink Floyd won Best Single in the Melody Makers readers poll. 

1986 – An unknown-assailant hit Journalist Dan Rather from behind while saying, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” over and over again. The event led REM to write “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

1988 – Ringo Starr flew to Tuscon, Arizona with his wife Barbara Bach where the pair attended the Sierra Tuscon Rehabilitation Clinic for 6 months.  

1990 – Lawsuits by parents of Harold Hamilton and Michael Waller are combined on appeal. The suits alleged that Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Suicide Solution” was at fault for the two young men committing suicide. The court did not reinstate the case, which a judge had previously thrown out. 

1994 – Danny Gatton committed suicide after locking himself in his garage. The musician was named the 63rd Greatest Guitarist Of All Time by Rolling Stone. 

1996 – Gary Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar in Van Halen. 

1997 – The Dave Matthews Band and Beck performed at Farm Aid, held in Illinois for the first time since 1985. 

1999 – Jimi Hendrix’s sister planned to exhume his body so she could move it to a mausoleum where people could pay to view it. She abandoned the idea following a public outcry. 

2005 – Nickelback released All The Right Reasons. 

2007 – The Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang tour was the highest-grossing tour of all time. 

RELATED: Ranking 3 4 of the best songs by The Rolling Stones …

2019 – The Beatles’ Abber Road returned to #1 in the UK following the release of the anniversary edition. 

Rock Birthdays

1960 – Jim Fielder of Blood, Sweat & Tears (Bass)

1960 – Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire (Multi-instrumentalist)

On This Day In History – October 4

Whether it’s the birth of influential rock stars, the end to the too-short life of rising stars, or the debuts of game-changing bands, October 4 has witnessed rock legends shaping the course of music history.