I got my first dose of Janis Joplin at a party on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. This was sometime in early 1969 and, being a straight-laced but impressionable high school senior from the sticks, I was shocked to see how some of these college students were behaving. What was that smoke wafting through the house? Why did people seem to be spilling as much beer as they were drinking? Weren't there exams to be studying for?
I had visited Madtown before, but this was my true coming out party. And setting the tone was a stereo system blasting "Cheap Thrills'' by Big Brother & the Holding Company. So this was Janis Joplin. What a wild sound, what incredible pipes. They weren't playing this on the radio stations back home. This had to be the "acid rock'' my parents had warned me to stay away from. But now it was too late.
Little did I know -- did anybody know -- that the following year Joplin would be dead at age 27. Even if they're wild and reckless, as Joplin certainly was, you assume they'll be around awhile. But you never know. Three weeks earlier, Jimi Hendrix, also 27, was found dead in London.
A year later, on this date in 1971, Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee'' hit the top of the Billboard charts, becoming the second posthumous No. 1 rock song ever, following "(Sitting' on) the Dock of the Bay'' by Otis Redding, who, ironically, died when his plane crashed into Madison's Lake Monona in 1967. He was 26.
I found this studio recording of "Bobby McGee'' which Joplin apparently nailed on the first take. Give it a listen.