The 40th anniversary of Woodstock is revealing music that the world has waited four decades to hear. Imagine my surprise today when two discs each from Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Sly & The Family Stone, Johnny Winter and Santana were waiting for me in my mailbox.
The official launch date is June 30, 2009, but what the heck, TMR Zoo readers are going to get this critic’s perspective a month in advance. Readers can advance order the material on Woodstock.com so be of good cheer, and keep watching TMR Zoo as Sly, Johnny, Santana and The Airplane will all get the treatment in the coming weeks.
The title track, “Kozmic Blues”, from the above pictured album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, has always been one of my favorite songs of all time. Written by Janis and her producer, the amazing Gabriel Mekler (y’know, “Born To Be Wild”, “Magic Carpet Ride”, 3 Dog Night hits, Etta James, etc.), the mix on the Woodstock live disc is tremendous. This was the horn band Janis wanted, not exactly her Blood, Sweat and Tears, but a lot closer to that end of the spectrum than fans of Big Brother & The Holding Company wanted. This was a huge leap, even for a superstar like Janis, and four decades later her musical vision is vindicated, the underrated studio classic gets packaged alongside the live performance by her classy band at this historic festival.
Joplin fans have been slighted over the years, her catalog as closely guarded as Fort Knox with even the underground tapes and bootlegs being pulled from the shelves and pushed deeper into the underground than perhaps any other series of “boots” by any other mainstream artist. Even the Columbia soundtrack to the film Janis Joplin was a double-edged sword…it provided rare early Joplin while depriving the fans of the all the actual music on the film. Some studio tracks were on the soundtrack instead of the actual soundtrack! (quote Ashley Judd in the film Double Jeopardy “Can you believe that?”) Whatever the reason it is time to rejoice because both “Kozmic Blues” and its live counterpart are delightfully sharp and totally exciting.
There was a soundboard CD of this material floating around in the esoteric record stores (see photo) and it was your typical soundboard, vocal heavy but so very necessary for the fans. Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance is out on DVD and audio, so many of the artists got facetime (well, eartime) on both Vol. 1 (the three record set) and Vol. 2 (the two record set) of the Woodstock vinyl albums on Cotillion/Atlantic lo so many years ago. So to finally have a mixed and ready to rock full Woodstock set from the Kozmic Blues band along with a copy of the studio album. But let me go back to the bootleg for one moment, despite the buzz/humm on the source tape and the distorted instrumentation I gotta say the driving chaos on the soundboard for the song “Summertime” is absolutely blazin’! It’s immense. The refined mix definitely loses the edge so essential to rock & roll and it is in the bootleg version for the purists who need all things Janis! The rendition on the Sony/Woodstock disc is beautiful, more in line with the tender reading from Big Brother on the “Cheap Thrills” disc, but trust me on this, same take, same moment in time, the ragged soundboard has a magic…as does its well-mixed counterpart.
Now for the hardcore collectors it gets even better. The versions of “Summertime” and “Piece Of My Heart” from Woodstock appear with different mixes on the “Box Of Pearls” 5 CD boxed set edition of I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! – along with an out-take of Bob Dylan’s “Dear Landlord” not on the earlier or this new Woodstock version of Kozmic Blues. There’s also a short audio commercial for the album tagged on. It’s actually quite terrific.
“Dear Landlord” appears on the JANIS 3 CD boxed set (the boxed set prior to Box Of Pearls) as does an outtake of “Summertime” as well as Ed Sullivan show live takes of “Raise Your Hand” and The Chantels/Three Degrees song “Maybe”. And for the true connoisseurs there is an outtake of Sam Andrews’ guitar playing for “Work Me Lord” found on the very first CD release of I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! So seek it out! Something that might show up on Boxed Set #3 if there’s any justice in the world.
To sum it up, it’s just fantastic that Janis Joplin fans aren’t forced to set a VCR to grab one song off of a “rare” Woodstock night on VH-1 or other such silliness. There is a lot of Janis Joplin stuff out there, very hidden, but out there nonetheless and it would be great for Sony and Joplin’s estate to get all the good stuff together with specific liner notes and photos galore. Read my biography of guitarist John Till on Allmusic.com or Billboard.com to get a glimpse of the history of the man playing on the Woodstock show, and original guitarist Sam Andrew, who played on the Kozmic Blues album and all the earlier Joplin/Big Brother albums, can be found on Facebook…if he invites you in! Both are gifted axemen and the both give Janis that launching pad for her phenomenal sound, look and attitude. It’s all here on this Woodstock release, a studio aspect of the singer that has yet to be fully appreciated and a full live set from the grooving Kozmic Blues band. Like Three Dog Night said through the magic of producer Gabriel Mekler – “Celebrate”.