Janis Joplin

Clive Davis on Risk by Anne Kreamer

In a new memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life, Clive Davis, the Chief Creative Officer for Sony Music Entertainment and the former head of Columbia, Arista and J Records, describes one of his biggest professional risks, signing Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. “But my most startling and decisive revelation occurred on the afternoon of Saturday, June 17, when the second band of the day, Big Brother and the Holding Company, took the stage [at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967].  They were a San Francisco group and did not have a record out yet.  In the rigorously democratic spirit of that time and place, the band’s singer, the electrifying Janis Joplin, received no special introduction or billing.  But as everyone now realizes, she was unquestionably the star of the band, and her performance was incendiary…Janis’s performance somehow brought the entire meaning of the festival home to me.  The impact of seeing an artist that raw, earthy, and fiery just floored me.  This is a social and musical revolution, I thought, how could it be that none of us in the East knew that this was taking place?  It was literally spine-tingling, and along with the larger insights that came to me about what was going on in the culture, I experienced a personal epiphany as well.  This has got to be my moment, I thought.  I’ve got to sign this band. That was a defining realization.  Although I had begun to make some creative decisions at Columbia, I had no idea that I would really be in the business of signing artists.  I was still very conscious of my lack of a musical background.  But opportunity conspired with necessity for me at Monterey.  Yes, seeing Janis Joplin perform provided one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.  But that occurred within the context of my continual, unspoken awareness that I was running a company that was virtually on the brink.  Nothwithstanding the grandeur of its past, Columbia was barely breaking even.  I had to do something soon, or all my promotions and important titles would amount to nothing.  I’d been relatively cautious for more than a year, but now I had to take some risks and put myself on the line.  Time was of the essence.”

Here's a video from Janis's performance: