Big Brother’s set holds onto the past and looks towards the future
San Francisco’s Big Brother and the Holding Company, which will play at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend, is known worldwide as the band that launched the late Janis Joplin into superstardom right after the Summer of Love in 1967.
Many people don’t realize that the classic line up — drummer Dave Getz, bassist Peter Albin, guitarists Sam Andrew and James Gurley recruited additional vocalists and musicians and continued to perform into the early 1970s, disbanded, then reunited in 1987, according to Getz.
"It was kind of an accident," Getz told The Park Record during a telephone interview from his home in Marin County, California. "We took a 15-year respite where we didn’t play together, except for one time in 1978 at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, before we put it away, for what we thought would be for good.
"What happened in 1987 was the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love," he said. "Someone called and asked us to play a festival."
What helped was that the original lineup Getz, Albin, Andrew and Gurley after moving away from San Francisco, had moved back to the Bay Area.
"For some strange reason that wasn’t planned at all, my wife and I moved back to Marin County from Los Angeles," Getz said. "Peter was already living here, but Sam, who was living in New York at the time, came back, and James, who was living in Palm Desert, moved back. This was funny to us, because we hadn’t talked with each other for the longest time."
The four considered the offer and went ahead and played.
"We decided to do it, but not for the person who called," Getz said. "We played together for ourselves,"
The musicians felt the vibe and chemistry again.
Nearly 30 years after reforming, the band, helmed these days by Getz and Albin, has gone through some lineup changes spurred by the deaths of Gurley in 2000 and Andrew earlier this year.
"We’ve got two really great guitarists, Tom Finch and Tommy Odetto," Getz said. "Tommy went to high school with my daughter, and was Tom’s guitar student. They have a chemistry between them alone and then with the rest of the band."
The weekend performances at the Egyptian Theatre will feature new and classic songs, especially ones from the band’s 1968 album, "Cheap Thrills," Getz promised. "We also probably do three or four songs that most people haven’t heard. These are ones that we have introduced in the past 27 years, after we got back together. We even do one or two things from the early 1970s from when we were still together after Janis left. So, it’s a pretty complete show."
Taking on the lead vocals is former Jefferson Starship vocalist Darby Gould.
"We had a lot of singers and one of them was a gal named Cathy Richardson, who sang with us until earlier this year," Getz said. "The funny thing is that the Starship stole her away from us. They made her an offer for more money and more work. She’s a great and versatile singer who can sound like Janis and sound like Grace Slick.
"Anyway, Cathy went with the Starship, and sometime after that we called Darby," he said with a laugh. "It wasn’t simply because our singer had gone with the Starship. We had worked with Sophia Ramos, who was in New York, and [we] toured Europe many times with a singer named Mary Bridget Davies, who, in the past three or four years, has gone off on her own. She did a show called ‘An Evening with Janis Joplin’ and started to get recognized and became unavailable. So, with the economics of everything, we needed to find a singer who lived in the Bay Area and Darby was the logical choice."
As for the songs themselves, Getz said the band still creates the Big Brother vibe.
"They way we play things [has] changed over the years because we’re unique and original people who created the music and we’re still creating it," he said. "However, we try to keep the original feel of the music, but there are limits. We can’t play ‘Piece of My Heart’ as a polka, right?"
That doesn’t mean the band comes off sounding canned.
"From a musician’s point of view and from a person who’s played this stuff thousands of times now, there has to be an approach where it still has to be fun, but at the same time, don’t want to do it like you’re in a tribute band," he said.
"After Janis left Big Brother, we didn’t do any of that material. We decided to get away from the songs that Janis had sung and tried to reestablish a whole new identity as a band. It worked for a couple of years, but wasn’t commercially successful.
When the band reformed in 1987, Getz and his band mates decided to perform the songs off of "Cheap Thrills" and the music it was known for, but in a realistic way.
"For example, I’m the drummer in Big Brother and if I want to play a different drum fill from what’s on the record, I will do that," Getz said.
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Big Brother and the Holding Company on Friday, Oct. 16, and Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $23 to $35 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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