Big Brother & the Holding Company

Nine Hundred Nights

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Nine Hundred Nights might start with the premise of documenting the history of Big Brother & the Holding Company's birth, rise to fame, and brief moment in the sun, but it inadvertently provides evidence of how bright Janis Joplin's star was and still is, and how without her energy these talented guys may have remained an obscure San Franciscan cult band. The first 19-20 minutes have the focus on Sam Andrew, James Gurley, Peter Albin, and David Getz, and a few moments with Janis Joplin, but as it unfolds it's clear this is a deep DVD chock-full of rare photographs, insight, and valuable commentary not readily available elsewhere. Journalist Ellen Willis, guitarist Lenny Kaye, songwriter/journeyman Nick Gravenites -- the man who wrote songs for Joplin's post-Big Brother work while replacing her in the band -- and the individual members of the group make it clear why Janis was such a big, big star. All due respect to the four guys who provided backup to Pearl, and to the recurring mantra on this disc that James Gurley was the star prior to Janis taking control, the sparkle is evident mostly when the singer moves, walks, or gestures: all eyes go to her. When Janis sings, forget it: game over. That distinctive voice brings the Holding Company's experimental psychedelia to another level. Keep in mind that in the day Cream was a much, much bigger band than Big Brother & the Holding Company, with more chart action, and that it was guitarist Eric Clapton who eclipsed the other musical giants in the group, vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Had James Gurley been as phenomenal on the guitar as Janis was as singer and front person, it would have been the Van Halen scenario of changing lead singers but still maintaining an audience.

Big Brother & the Holding Company should be a huge draw today, for they do have talent, but, as this DVD will show, they continue to remain forever in the shadow of Janis Joplin. The Kiss eXposed DVD goes to great lengths to construct a silly dialogue to augment the story line -- something the producers here do with efficient ease utilizing the square, well-groomed, and well-dressed commentator interviewing the longhair group then adding cuts of stock '60s color footage looking like outtakes from the film The Trip, producing a humorous balance. Despite the importance of this historical documentation in these interviews, it's the D.A. Pennebaker footage from The Generation Club, a full and extraordinary performance of "Piece of My Heart" along with "Comin' Home," and the inclusion of Monterey International Pop Festival video of the song "Combination of the Two" which sweeten the pot. There's an interesting audio-only "Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt available nowhere else, but the screen is entirely black. Had only they put that song alongside the exquisite collections of photographs and posters which are included on the bonus tracks. With rehearsal and Cheap Thrills recording session material as well as black-and-white footage from KQED's Come Up the Years program recorded April 25, 1967, Nine Hundred Nights has much to offer. Outtakes of interviews not used in the main story are available as a bonus, so you get to hear the seven individuals give even more detail on Big Brother's days with Janis Joplin. For years Columbia failed to issue much of the music by the legendary female vocalist, going so far as to replace the live tracks with previously issued studio versions of songs on their soundtrack to the film Janis. The times they are a changin', and finally this important artist is getting her due. It would be nice if this DVD could help Big Brother put this phase of their career in the past and maybe inspire them to start releasing the music they are quite capable of creating so many years after their initial stardom. Nick Gravenites and Big Brother & the Holding Company would be a formidable team, and Nine Hundred Nights is as good a place as any for them to jump start their career(s). The disc is narrated by film star Rip Torn.