Come-and-go lovers. Wisecracking bravado. Southern Comfort. Fluctuating weight issues. Feather boas and love beads. That gut-wrenching, bottomless howl. Janis Joplin embodied the blues in music and in life, and remains as iconic for her personal struggles and freewheeling style as she is for singing with the titanic force of a revival tent preacher.
The career of the Port Arthur, Texas misfit went supernova after her incandescent performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the release of 1968’s “Cheap Thrills,” despite grumbling from some quarters about chick singers. Melissa Etheridge described her as “the only goddess in a sea of rock gods” at Joplin’s 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and her nonconformist battles against hypocrisy, sexism and double standards have made her an enduring touchstone of inspiration for generations of female singers, including Florence Welch and Pink.
Joplin’s own influences included Beat poets and, most profoundly, blues singers like Bessie Smith — a creative debt Joplin acknowledged by paying for a headstone on Smith’s unmarked grave. Those inspirations appear as characters in “A Night With Janis Joplin,” coming to the Rose next Thursday. Star Mary Bridget Davies, who portrayed Joplin in a previous incarnation of writer/director Randy Johnson’s show at the Pasadena Playhouse, earned a 2014 Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her performance on Broadway. Some of Joplin’s hits are placed in the mouths of the Joplinaires — i.e., influential blues forebears to whom Joplin frequently paid tribute, chief among them Smith, Etta James and Nina Simone.
Veteran music journalist Holly George-Warren digs into those influences and Joplin’s childhood in her new biography, “Janis: Her Life and Music,” to trace the arc of Joplin’s artistic development. Her discussion of the book at the Grammy Museum Monday will be augmented by a brief performance of Joplin songs by rock belter Pearl.
In one of Joplin’s famous interviews with Dick Cavett — living in perpetuity online — she plunks down in a seat alongside her suave host, breathing hard after performing “Move Over.” Decked out in velvet bellbottoms and beads, she’s a paragon of hippiedom and not at all concerned with revealing how much singing physically demanded from her. When Cavett asks her about the song, she flashes the sass and vulnerability that imbued her four albums (particularly “Pearl,” released three months after she died of a heroin overdose in October 1970). The song, she explains, is about men dangling their affections in front of women like carrots before a mule, “always hold[in’] up somethin’ more than they’re prepared to give.” Joplin, in contrast, gave more than expected.
Mary Bridget Davies stars in “A Night With Janis Joplin” at the Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17; $38-$98. Doors open 6 p.m. Info: (888) 645-5006. Holly George-Warren discusses “Janis: Her Life and Music” at the Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Downtown LA, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14; $20. Info: (213) 765-6800. janisjoplin.com, anightwithjanisjoplin.com, wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com, hollygeorgewarren.com, thepearlband.com, grammymuseum.org