One of Parade's Top Ten Rock n' Roll Reads
As a road manager and filmmaker, he helped run the Janis Joplin show—and record it for posterity. Now he reveals the never-before-told story of his years with the young woman from Port Arthur who would become the first female rock and roll superstar—and depart the stage too soon.
In 1967, as the new sound of rock and roll was taking over popular music, John Byrne Cooke was at the center of it all. As a member of D.A. Pennebaker’s film crew, he witnessed the astonishing breakout performances of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival that June. Less than six months later, he was on a plane to San Francisco, taking a job as road manager for Janis and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. From then on, Cooke was Joplin’s road manager amid a rotating cast of musicians and personnel, a constant presence behind the scenes as the woman called Pearl took the world by storm.
Cooke was there when Janis made the difficult decision to leave Big Brother and form a new band. He was with her when the Kozmic Blues Band toured Europe in the spring of 1969, when they performed at Woodstock in August, and when Janis and Full Tilt Boogie took their famous Festival Express train trip across Canada. He accompanied Janis to her friend and mentor Ken Threadgill’s 70th birthday party, and was at her side when she attended her tenth high school reunion in Port Arthur, Texas.
This intimate memoir spans the years he spent with Janis, from her legendary rise to her tragic last days. Cooke tells the whole incredible story as only someone who lived it could.
INCLUDES PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHS
From 1967 to 1970, Cooke was the tour manager for Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, giving him a first-hand view of Joplin's ascent to stardom, her reaction to fame, and her untimely death from a drug overdose. As someone who worked for and also befriended Joplin, Cooke has a unique perspective, writing both about his own experiences on the road and painting a picture that covers the full spectrum of Joplin's personality as an artist and a person, as well as the world she lived in. An accomplished musician himself, Cooke is able to write about Joplin's music with not only the critical precision of an expert but also the unmitigated joy of a peer who knows exactly how amazing her talent as a singer and performer really was. The key to Cooke's success in writing about such a dynamic character lies in the fact that he, too, is a strong presence. His own story, which includes working at the Monterey Pop festival where he first saw Joplin perform, fighting for his job when Big Brother wanted to fire him, and finding Joplin's lifeless body in her hotel room, gives a weight to his writing that makes this work poignant and important. Though it only covers the last three of her 27 years, all these factors combine with Cooke's insider perspective to make this the most thorough exploration written about Joplin's life. B+W photos