Origins is a new music feature in which an artist reflects on the background of their latest song release.
On November 30th, Columbia/Legacy will release the restored and retitled version of Big Brother and The Holding Company’s major label debut, Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. Called Cheap Thrills upon its initial release in 1968, the album was the major breakthrough for the band and their iconic singer, Janis Joplin.
Featuring 30 rare performances and 29 outtakes — 25 of which are previously unreleased — the forthcoming reissue celebrates the album’s 50th anniversary and includes liner notes by Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick and Big Brother drummer David Getz.
In anticipation, Consequence of Sound has an exclusive stream of “Piece of My Heart (Take 4)”, which appears on the two-CD version of the album. This early recording of the classic track features a different performance from Janis, unsupported by backing vocals on the memorable chorus. There is one additional voice, however, as someone calls the track what it is right at the end: “Fantastic.”
Stream the track below and read our exhaustive interview on the reissue with Getz shortly after.
Getz took some time to chat with CoS about what went into putting together Sex, Drugs and Cheap Thrills, revealing the Origins of the collection through tales of the original recordings, compiling the new reissue, and more.
On Putting It Together
They started sending me all these outtakes to listen to, and I listened to all of them. And I basically gave my assessment of what I thought should be put on or what should just be left as outtakes [laughs]. That was about four months ago. So I can’t tell you exactly if I remember which take was “Piece of My Heart (Take 4)”. And I never got a response. No one ever said to me, “Okay, Dave, we’ll go with your choices.” Everybody was weighing in at a certain time.
I’m excited about this whole thing. Of course, I’m excited that the record after 50 years now, people still consider it important and listenable. Something that in some way holds up over time. That’s great to me. I’m excited to listen to all of this stuff again in the form of a record rather than a bunch of MP3s that are being sent to me, for me to receive the whole package.
I’ve written a couple of essays that are in there; I’m excited about seeing my own ideas finally find an avenue out into the world about what I think happened with Cheap Thrills, and what’s good about it, what’s not good about it, what happened with the cover. All of those things. I personally have a lot invested in it in that way.
On Different Takes
In terms of the music, I have to hear it again, because it’s been four months now. It’s going to be a shock to me again now to know it’s really out there in the world. It’s not outtakes anymore, they’re out there. I’ve looked at the tracklisting. For some of the songs, like “Turtle Blues”, which is really just Janis and piano, I know a few of them have me playing on a table with brushes, I think, on some of it. I remember there were several different takes and they were all kind of interesting in their own way. I’m excited to hear that again and hear her little changes that she made in the vocals, things like that.
Let me put it this way, I call it the cringe factor. There’s a certain amount of that always. It’s 50 years ago, and in some sense more than 50 years ago, that we were playing it and recording it. I think we started recording in March or April, maybe slightly after that, in 1968, and we were working on it through the summer of ’68, so it’s more than 50 years ago. There are certain things that I’ve gotten better at. I’m still playing, I’m still a guy out there who since that time I’ve gotten a lot more chops in my playing. I’ve played with dozens, if not hundreds, of other bands and some really great bands, some great musicians, and I’ve developed. My ears have developed and all of that. It’s listening to it with a different sensibility. Plus I’m an older guy now.
There’s a certain factor when you’re older where you can sort of let go. There was a certain period of time in my 40s and 50s where I couldn’t listen to any of it. I just couldn’t listen. Because I was starting to really get better as a musician, and I was very judgmental and I knew people were very judgmental about Big Brother, so it was very hard for me. But then you get passed that point and you can start to except it for what it really is and what’s really good about it. And the mistakes and the flaws and the flies in the ointment, you can sort of ignore that more. That’s one of the nice things about getting older and being able to let go of stuff like that.
I remember when they sent me the stuff there was one thing that I’d never heard. That was a jam that we had that I didn’t even know we’d recorded. It’s on there. [I forgot what the name they gave it.] But it was something that I’d really never heard before. I remember at the time when we were doing Cheap Thrills, everybody went in to mix it. At one point Janis and Sam [Andrew] went in and spent hours mixing it, and then James [Gurley] went in and spent time, and then I went in with the engineer at one point myself and spent about 12 hours. We listened to everything all the time. Then the album came out and it is what it is. And over the years all of that stuff just recedes and you forget all of these little things, these little outtakes. It’s all compressed now on my memory. It’s like now when I hear this thing coming out and the CD, which as a lot of the outtake, it’ll be like adding water to some instant mix. It’s all gonna get blown up again big in front of me. It’ll be interesting.
The way that we recorded Cheap Thrills, you’re realizing of course this if before digital. A time when everything went down on tape and any edits that had to be made had to be physically made. What we were trying to do at that time is to get a good basic take. Big Brother tried to record live in the studio, without the vocals. We tried to play live, meaning bass, drums, and guitars are all playing at the same time rather than layering, which sort of started happening more in the ’70s. We were trying to do the whole band basically instrumentally at one time and then do the vocals.
So we did a lot of instrumental takes that were discarded or had a mistake in them, sped up or slowed down, something like that. We didn’t have click tracks or anything like that then. We’re playing live in the studio as an instrumental quartet. When we got the take that we liked, that had the energy and at the same time didn’t have any obvious mistakes in it, that would be the one that we would work on vocally. Sometimes Janis would maybe put her vocal on a couple of things as options, then whatever had her best vocal, then the last thing would be to try to get some backup vocals. We didn’t work on all of them to completion.
We would settle for maybe three or four at the most of the instrumental take, and then select maybe just one or two. I didn’t even know that Janis had done her vocals on more than one — on something like “Turtle Blues”, where she’s just playing with the piano, yes she did a lot of vocal takes. But I didn’t know on “Piece of My Heart” that there were several Janis vocal takes. That’s news to me.
On “Piece of My Heart”
I do remember that in terms of certain things, certain endings, they were worked out in the studio. What people understand as the finished arrangement of “Piece of My Heart” wasn’t the finished arrangement when we started to record it. Eventually, putting the ending the way it is, things like that, that was resolved in the studio. I remember instrumentally on that one we did a lot of takes. I don’t know how many exactly.
But the funny thing in those days is the engineers were just trained to do things a certain way. So sometimes if it was a false start, it could be like, just someone counted off, “1, 2, 3,” and if someone didn’t come in on the first beat, that was a take. Sometimes there would be two or three takes before we even got to play the song. It was crazy for us, it was very frustrating. We weren’t used to that at all, this official way Columbia’s engineers have to do everything by the book. Even if someone goes, “1, 2, 3,” and someone misses the entrances, it’s, “Okay, take two.” So everything is there somewhere in their vault.
You start to get crazy. You start to think, “Holy shit, we’ll never get this thing.” You’re just listening to these numbers like that, it’s very discouraging.
On Recording Troubles
I don’t want to put down [producer] John Simon. I have tremendous respect for him as an intellect, a producer, and as a musician. But John, I think everybody in Big Brother felt this way — I talk to him once in a while now, and he sort of denies it — but he had a kind of disdain for the music, and that came through right from the beginning. He was also working on the first The Band record. He loved The Band, and loved their music. John was coming from a place of being classically trained, of having studied music, of knowing what the right notes are, how to read.
Big Brother was very much an intuitive band. We were coming from a totally different place. I don’t think even to this day he understands what we were really about. So there was a feeling in the beginning that was very tense. We felt we were assigned this producer that was coming from a different world than us. He was given to us, presented to us, “This is your producer.” Albert Grossman was the one who really chose John to do this, he was grooming him to produce other things for him. There was a feeling of discomfort right from the beginning. That put a shadow over it.
I think we got through, at certain points. We got to certain places because we were so much a family and had all lived together, had a lot of laughs together, we were able to, in certain moments, transcend it. It was difficult in the beginning to get past that sort of thing of John standing there and saying, “Okay, listen you guys. You have to come in and listen to all of these mistakes you made. You can’t do it.” But we did. We felt we could. We really believed that we could adapt ourselves to record something that was without mistakes in it, fairly perfect.
And still what we were going for was the energy. We were going for the spirit. That was much more important to us in some ways as a band than other things. We had to compromise a little bit with the energy and accept in certain ways something that was a little more perfect but maybe didn’t have the excitement. But we got it; I felt we succeeded.
On Live Crowd Sounds
John had a brilliant idea there. We had tried to record earlier live in Detroit, we recorded a whole live show. It wasn’t good. We listened to it and all agreed it didn’t even sound good. It was very live, but out of balance, hadn’t been recorded well we felt. Too many mistakes, too many out of balance things where guitars were too loud or drums would disappear. We knew we had to do it in the studio. We knew we had to somehow make it seem like a live recording. And John was able to help create that effect.
On Engineer Fred Catero
Fred Catero, who was the engineer, has to get more credit than people understand. How good an engineer Freddy was. It was difficult to record — we’re just kind of getting into the area where things are converting from 8-track to 16-track. I don’t know that much about engineering, but I know that when we were in the band recording, we were in the red a lot. A lot of feedback, going into the red. A lot of, “How are we going to record these guys?”
From traditional engineers who had been working at places like Columbia and RCA at that time, they couldn’t figure out how they were going to record Big Brothers and the Holding Company, bands that were over-the-top level-wise. We were one of the first bands that were able to go in and play the way we play live and stay within the boundaries of what could be recorded and be put on vinyl at the time.
On Being Passed Out on the Album Cover
I’ve had to live with that all this time. As I said in the essay, [comic artist R. Crumb] came to one of our shows. Everything he saw, he nailed each character in the band literally by watching, by observing over maybe a three, four hour period sitting in the corner of our dressing room. He didn’t know anybody in the band. The only person he’d met was Janis, who’d gone to his house. Before that, he’d just had a phone conversation with her. He came to the gig, he sat there and took notes and made little sketches, and went home and did this. Somehow he really nailed everybody.
When I saw how he saw me, I thought, “Well, most of the evening I must have been very high and kind of just laying around on a couch in the corner.” So he just thought, “Dave Getz is just a total pot head. We’ll just do him that way.” It kind of bothered me, but at the same time, Crumb is a genius and like everything else, I just accepted it over the years. That’s what it was. That’s okay. I’m not so much as I was, but at one time we did smoke a lot of grass. James did too, we both did. Peter didn’t much at all. Janis liked it a little but. James and I would smoke it all day long.
Sex, Dope, and Cheap Thrills Tracklist:
01. Combination Of The Two (Take 3)
02. I Need A Man To Love (Take 4)
03. Summertime (Take 2) *
04. Piece Of My Heart (Take 6)
05. Harry (Take 10)
06. Turtle Blues (Take 4)
07. Oh, Sweet Mary
08. Ball And Chain (live, The Winterland Ballroom, April 12, 1968)
09. Roadblock (Take 1) *
10. Catch Me Daddy (Take 1)
11. It’s A Deal (Take 1) *
12. Easy Once You Know How (Take 1) *
13. How Many Times Blues Jam
14. Farewell Song (Take 7)
01. Flower In The Sun (Take 3)
02. Oh Sweet Mary
03. Summertime (Take 1)
04. Piece of My Heart (Take 4)
05. Catch Me Daddy (Take 9)
06. Catch Me Daddy (Take 10)
07. I Need A Man To Love (Take 3)
08. Harry (Take 9)
09. Farewell Song (Take 4)
10. Misery’n (Takes 2 & 3)
11. Misery’n (Take 4)
12. Magic Of Love (Take 1) *
13. Turtle Blues (Take 9)
14. Turtle Blues (last verse Takes 1-3)
15. Piece Of My Heart (Take 3)
16. Farewell Song (Take 5)
01. Combination of The Two (Demo)
02. I Need A Man To Love (Take 3)
03. Summertime (Take 2) *
04. Piece Of My Heart (Take 6)
01. Harry (Take 10)
02. Turtle Blues (Take 4)
03. Oh, Sweet Mary
04. Ball And Chain (live, The Winterland Ballroom, April 12, 1968)
01. Roadblock (Take 1) *
02. Magic Of Love (Take 1) *
03. Oh Sweet Mary
04. Flower In The Sun (Take 3)
01. Catch Me Daddy (Take 1)
02. Turtle Blues (Take 9)
03. How Many Times Blues Jam
04. Farewell Song (Take 5)
All tracks previously unreleased except *