Big Brother & The Holding Company feat. Janis Joplin Play “Summertime”

Cheap Thrills Big Brother & The Holding Company
The cover of *Cheap Thrills*, as designed by renowned cartoonist on the ’60s Counterculture scene in San Francisco, Robert Crumb. Janis Joplin was a big fan of underground comics in general, and Crumb’s work in particular. As it happens, Crumb is an enthusiastic collector of old blues records from the ’20s to the ’40s of the sort that brought Joplin to her singing career.

Listen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic blues band fronted by transplanted Texan R&B shouter Janis Joplin. It’s “Summertime”, a re-telling of the Gershwin-Heyward American songbook classic as featured on the band’s 1968 debut album Cheap Thrills. 

The song is one of three cover versions on the record, and the one with the longest pedigree having been covered by many over the years since it was written in 1935 for the musical Porgy and Bess. That musical, and certainly this song, was a snapshot of American southern life through a very romanticized lens. Maybe this band covering this song is kind of an unexpected choice for a long-haired rock ‘n’ roll band like Big Brother & The Holding Company. The song had grown a sheen of respectability by the 1960s along with the jazz traditions out of which it came. But, when you think of where jazz, the blues and rock music comes from, and the idealistic nature of the counterculture, it really isn’t all that much of a leap. After all, George Gershwin was as fascinated by African-American folk culture as any white rock ‘n’ roll singer was by 1968.

But, I think this cover version is notable for something else, too when it comes to Big Brother frontwoman Janis Joplin. In many ways, this song was waiting for her to record it. Because its story is hers. Read more