Big Brother and the Holding Company is an American rock band that formed in San Francisco in 1965 as part of the same psychedelic music scene that produced the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane. They are best known as the band that featured Janis Joplin as their lead singer. Their 1968 album "Cheap Thrills" is considered one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic sound of San Francisco; it reached number one on the US Billboard charts, and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The band was formed by Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, James Gurley (1939 ? 2009) and Chuck Jones in San Francisco, in a Victorian mansion/boarding house owned by Peter's uncle at 1090 Page Street in the Haight-Ashbury. That house became the site of Wednesday night jam sessions which were organized by Chet Helms who was the real "Big Brother," naming the band, bringing James Gurley into the fold and later seeing that his old friend Janis Joplin came to sing with them. The first official Big Brother gig was at the Open Theater in Berkeley, January 1966. Within a short time they became the house band for Chet at the Avalon Ballroom and began to develop a loyal following, largely due to the charismatic, pioneering guitarwork of James Gurley. The band had what Sam Andrew called a "progressive-regressive hurricane blues style," playing such tunes as Hall of the Mountain King, Coo Coo, That's How Strong My Love Is, and Down On Me. Janis Joplin made her debut with Big Brother at the Avalon Ballroom in June 1966, and a year later, in June 1967, Big Brother and Janis performed at The Monterey Pop Festival. From that point on, Janis became the main focus of attention, with her high voltage and raw emotional performances, while Big Brother faded into the backgroud and became known for being her back-up band.
At the end of the summer of 1968, just after appearing at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival in San Francisco, Joplin announced that she was leaving Big Brother in the fall of that year. The official reason given was her desire to go solo and form a soul music band. Sam Andrew also left the band to join Janis in her new project. Janis played with Big Brother until December 1, 1968, at a Family Dog Benefit concert in San Francisco. Twenty days later she and Sam played in Memphis for the first time with her new band, later called Kozmic Blues Band.
After Janis left Big Brother, Dave Getz and Peter Albin joined Country Joe and the Fish and toured the U.S. and Europe and played on the Country Joe album Here We Go Again (Vanguard Records 1969). Getz and Albin left Country Joe in May 1969 with the intention of re-forming Big Brother with guitarist David Nelson. They auditioned several singers including Eddie Money, Kathi McDonald and John Herald but the band finally came back together in the fall of 1969 with nearly the same line-up (except Joplin): Albin, Andrew, Getz and Gurley were joined by Nick Gravenites (vocals), Dave Schallock (guitar) and Kathi McDonald (vocals). Be a Brother was released in 1970. Gurley moved to bass guitar while Albin played rhythm, Sam Andrew sang more lead vocals with Kathi McDonald, David Schallock on lead guitar, Dave Getz on drums and occasional keyboards. Nick Gravenites would also produce the album, write and sing on a number of the tracks. They releasad their last studio album, How Hard It Is, in 1971. The same lineup: Kathi and Sam and Nick on vocals joined by organist Mike Finnegan. The band remained with this lineup until 1972 but drugs, loss of management, lack of gigs and internal squabbles caused them to gradually fall apart and disband during that year. During the next 15 years they re-united once to play "The Tribal Stomp" in 1978 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.
The latest incarnation began in 1987, and has been touring part-time ever since with most of its original members, including Sam Andrew, Peter Albin, Dave Getz, and James Gurley. James left in 1996 because he did not support his colleagues' idea to hire a female singer to replace Joplin. He was replaced in 1997 by Tom Finch. Big Brother no longer has a fixed lead singer; Michel Bastian, Lisa Battle, Halley DeVestern, Lisa Mills, Andra Mitrovich, Kacee Clanton, Sophia Ramos, Mary Bridget Davies, Chloe Lowery, Jane Myrenget, Lynn Asher, Maria Stanford, Cathy Richardson, and Superfly's Shiho Ochi are among the singers that have played in concerts with them. Ben Nieves is the present guitar player along with Sam Andrew. In 1999 the band released the album Do What You Love, with Lisa Battle as the lead singer. The album contains some new versions of classic tunes like "Women is Loser" and a few new songs. The "Hold Me" album, with Sophia Ramos as lead singer and Chad Quist as guitar player, was recorded live in Germany in 2005, and released in 2006. In 2008 they released the two-CD set The Lost Tapes, with songs recorded at concerts between 1966 and 1967 in San Francisco, and featuring Janis Joplin as lead singer. Some songs had already been unofficial releases, but there are 12 never-before-released songs.
Former guitarist James Gurley died on December 20, 2009 of a heart attack, just two days before his 70th birthday.