Big Brother & The Holding Company Biography

Formed in September 1965, this pivotal San Franciscan rock outfit evolved out of ‘jam’ sessions held in the basement of a communal house. Sam Andrew (18 December 1941, Taft, California, USA; guitar/vocals), Peter Albin (b. 6 June 1944, San Francisco, California, USA; bass/vocals) and Chuck Jones (b. 7 May 1939, San Francisco, California, USA; drums) had originally played with Dave Eskerson (guitar) and Paul Ferrez in Blue Yard Hill, but by the time Big Brother And The Holding Company had been inaugurated the latter two members had made way for guitarist James Gurley (b. 22 December 1939, Detroit, Michigan, USA). Jones was in turn replaced by new drummer David Getz (b. Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA) in March 1966. The restructured quartet initially eschewed formal compositions, preferring a free-form improvisation centred on Gurley’s mesmeric fingerpicking style, but a degree of discipline gradually evolved. The addition of Texas singer Janis Joplin (b. 19 January 1943, Port Arthur, Texas, USA, d. 4 October 1970, Hollywood, California, USA) in June 1966 emphasized this new-found direction, and her powerful, blues-soaked delivery provided the perfect foil to the unit’s instrumental power. The band rapidly became one of the Bay Area’s leading attractions, but they naïvely struck an immoderate recording contract with the Chicago-based Mainstream label. Although marred by poor production, 1967’s Big Brother & The Holding Company nevertheless contained several excellent performances, notably ‘Bye Bye Baby’ and ‘Down On Me’.

Big Brother And The Holding Company rose to national prominence in 1967 following a sensational appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Joplin’s charismatic performance engendered a prestigious management contract with Albert Grossman, who in turn secured their release from all contractual obligations. The band then switched outlets to Columbia Records, for which they completed 1968’s Cheap Thrills. This exciting album topped the US charts, but despite the inclusion of in-concert favourites ‘Piece Of My Heart’ and ‘Ball And Chain’, the recording was fraught with difficulty. Joplin came under increased pressure to opt for a solo career as critics denigrated the other musicians’ abilities. The band broke up in November 1968 and while Sam Andrew joined the singer in her next venture, Albin and Getz joined Country Joe And The Fish. The following year the latter duo reclaimed the name and with the collapse of an interim line-up, re-established the unit with ex-colleagues Andrew and Gurley. Several newcomers, including Nick Gravenites (b. Chicago, Illinois, USA; vocals), Kathi McDonald (b. 25 September 1948, Anacortes, Washington, USA; vocals) and David Schallock (b. 8 August 1948, Marin County, California, USA; guitar/vocals) augmented the quartet on an informal basis, but despite moments of inspiration, neither Be A Brother (1970) nor How Hard It Is (1971) recaptured former glories. The group was disbanded in 1972, but reconvened six years later at the one-off Tribal Stomp reunion in Berkeley, California.

In 1987 singer Michel Bastian (b. USA) joined Getz, Gurley, Andrew and Albin in a fully reconstituted Big Brother And The Holding Company line-up, still hoping to assert an independent identity. During the mid-90s, vocalist Lisa Battle (b. Redondo Beach, California, USA) and replacement guitarist Tom Finch (b. 13 August 1969, Van Nuys, California, USA) were brought into the line-up and featured on 1998’s Do What You Love, Big Brother And The Holding Company’s first new studio album in over 25 years. In 2005, the band announced plans to televise their auditions for a new singer.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.