Joplin's Old Band Hunts For New 'Pearl'
Sam Andrew will soon embark on what mildly might be called a challenging task: to replace his rock band's long-dead singer -- Janis Joplin.Sam Andrew will soon embark on what mildly might be called a challenging task: to replace his rock band's long-dead singer -- Janis Joplin.
This time around, his band's recruitment may not involve seduction, wild sex, drinking and drugs as, according to legend, happened with Joplin's induction and adventures with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Rather, if the aging San Francisco-area rock act has its way, the 21st century auditions to replace a 1960s icon will become the previously announced television reality show "Search for the Pearl," a reference to Joplin's nickname.
"In one way or another since the 1960s I've been searching for Pearl," said Andrew, a guitarist who played with Joplin on some of her best-known tracks, including "Piece of My Heart," "Summertime" and "I Need a Man To Love."
Forty years ago, Andrew founded Big Brother, a band that along with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane helped define San Francisco the center of the 1960s counterculture of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
"The bass player and I were such terrible singers that we said we just need a singer, so that was our 'Search for Pearl' in 1965," said Andrew, 63, who lives on a remote hillside in Marin County north of San Francisco. "To replace her, my life has been a constant search for Pearl since then."
Joplin first landed in San Francisco in 1963 but moved back to Texas after her career did not take off amid drug abuse. Big Brother's manager lured Joplin back in 1966 by sending a charming emissary to convince her to audition. Joplin departed Big Brother after the 1968 hit record "Cheap Thrills" but kept working with Andrew until shortly before her 1969 Woodstock performance.
Despite the hippie mantra of "turn on, tune in, drop out" Joplin and the band worked hard to succeed. "We were asking people to drop out and express themselves and all that and we had a full-time job that we worked really hard," he said. "It was that built-in contradiction."
Big Brother faltered and collapsed soon after Joplin's 1970 death, and Andrew said he was addicted to heroin for the next five years. The band, which reunited in 1987, embarks on a month-long European concert tour in April.
Over the years Big Brother has gone through about 10 singers. Andrew said he even once auditioned for porn star Marilyn Chambers, who wanted to form a band in 1971; she performed Joplin's "Down on Me."
Laura Joplin, who oversees her sister's estate, said the "Search for Pearl" could provide a fitting tribute.
"We're not really looking for Janis or a Janis clone. It's really trying to have a vehicle to introduce her to a whole new generation of people," Joplin said. "We're certainly not looking for any 'American Idol'-like thing; we're looking at something that's more a celebration."
Since Big Brother's promoters announced the "Search for Pearl" last month, they have yet to find a network or cable sponsor. "In some cases you're dealing with 28-year-old programming executives who don't have a clue," said promoter Jamie Watson.
Yet Watson remained confident the idea would get under way by late summer or early fall with a superstar tribute concert featuring such icons as Pete Townshend of the Who, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney as well contemporary music stars. Then the reality show would follow.
"Supposedly it's going to be us, at our age -- I can't even imagine this -- on a bus traveling around in Mississippi or something stopping at these little juke joints and hoping this girl was going to be there," said Andrew.
As for band camaraderie, well, Andrew and his two Big Brother bandmates are not really friends. "No one got along all that well back then," Andrew said. "Still don't. We were grumpy young men; now we're grumpy old men."
But for all the difficulties, Andrew is excited about the "Search for Pearl" project. "The best ending to this whole thing would be if we found someone and she were her own self and she became famous," he said. "It would be like Janis kind of launched us and we are launching this girl, we are paying her back. That would be a great ending to the whole story."
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