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Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on this day in 1970 — 53 years ago
Janis Joplin, 1968
Photo by Elliot Landy
Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on this day in 1970 — 53 years ago.
In the summer of 1966, Joplin was a drifter. Four years later, she was a rock-and-roll legend. She had gone from complete unknown to generational icon on the strength of a single, blistering performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in the summer of 1967.
She'd followed that up with three years of touring and recording that cemented her status as, in the words of one critic, "second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator/recorder/embodiment of her generation's history and mythology."
Born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943, Joplin made her way to San Francisco in 1966, where she fell in with a local group, Big Brother and the Holding Company. It was with this group that she would become famous, first through her legendary performance of "Ball And Chain" at Monterey, and then with the 1968 album, Cheap Thrills.
Her voice and personality were far too big to be contained within a group, and she soon split off to launch a solo career. "I'd rather not sing than sing quiet," she once said in comparing herself to one of her musical idols. "Billie Holliday was subtle and refined. I'm going to shove that power right into you, right through you and you can't refuse it."
But if sheer abandon was Janis Joplin's vocal trademark, she nevertheless always combined it with a musicality and authenticity that lent her music a great deal more soul than much of what the psychedelic era produced. Far from being an empty cliché, "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" was a revolutionary philosophy to many in the late 1960s, and Janis Joplin was its leading female exponent.
Her string of romantic conquests ranged from Kris Kristofferson to Dick Cavett. Her drug and alcohol consumption was prolific. And the rock and roll she produced was timeless, from "Piece Of My Heart," "Get It While You Can" and "Mercedes Benz" to her biggest pop hit, "Me And Bobby McGee."
In autumn, 1970, Janis Joplin was in Los Angeles working with producer, Paul Rothchild. She was putting the finishing touches on Pearl, the album that would prove to be the biggest hit of her career.
On Oct. 4, 1970, she died of an accidental heroin overdose and was discovered in her LA hotel room after failing to show for a scheduled recording session with Rothchild. She was 27 years old.
Here, Joplin performs “Raise Your Hand” with Tom Jones.
Duke Robillard, New York City, May, 2014
Photo by Frank Beacham
Duke Robillard is 75 years old today.
Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Robillard is a blues musician. After playing in various bands and working for the Guild Guitar Company, he co-founded Roomful of Blues with pianist, Al Copley, in 1967.
He has also been a member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, which included Kim Wilson, replacing Jimmie Vaughan on guitar.
Experienced in jazz, swing and rock and roll, aside from his preferred blues music, Robillard is a guitarist keeping alive the blues style of T-Bone Walker. He has recorded with artists such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Snooky Prior, Jay McShann, Hal Singer, Pinetop Perkins, Joe Louis Walker, Todd Sharpville, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
In 2006, Robillard was hired by Tom Waits, who was looking for a blues guitarist and a master of American roots music for his Orphans Tour. Although Robillard did not record with Waits, the 2006 dates were widely bootlegged.
Robillard's Tales from the Tiki Lounge, was a tribute to Les Paul. He played an array of Gold Tops and other Les Paul models, plus an Epiphone Broadway.
Robillard began to tour April 5, 2013, as lead guitarist with Bob Dylan and his band. He left in July, 2013.
Robillard has been nominated for and has received numerous awards over his career. These include the 2007 Rhode Island Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the 2000 and 2001 "Best Blues Guitarist" W.C. Handy Awards.
Robillard’s album, Blues Full Circle, was released in 2016. His Duke Robillard and His Dames of Rhythm Duke was released in 2017. Duke plays classic swing tunes with Madeleine Peyroux, Maria Muldaur, Elizabeth McGovern and Catherine Russell. His latest album is Ear Worms.
Here Robillard performs “Blues for T-Bone” in Germany, 1988.
Buster Keaton in The General, 1926
Buster Keaton, comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer, was born 128 years ago today.
Keaton was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression. The films earned him the nickname "The Great Stone Face.”
Keaton has been recognized as one of film’s greatest directors. In 1999, the American Film Institute also ranked Keaton the 21st-greatest male star.
Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton's "extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."
His career declined afterward with a dispiriting loss of his artistic independence when he was hired by MGM, which fueled a crippling alcoholism that ruined his family life. However, Keaton later recovered in the 1940s, remarried and successfully revived his career to a degree as an honored comic performer for the rest of his life, earning plaudits like an Academy Honorary Award in 1958.
Orson Welles said that Keaton's The General is "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made and perhaps the greatest film ever made."
A 2002 worldwide poll by Sight & Sound ranked Keaton's The General as the 15th best film of all time. Three other Keaton films received votes in the magazine's survey: Our Hospitality, Sherlock, Jr. and The Navigator.
Keaton designed and modified his own pork pie hats during his career. In 1964, he told an interviewer that in making "this particular pork pie," he "started with a good Stetson and cut it down," stiffening the brim with sugar water. The hats were often destroyed during Keaton's wild film antics, while others were given away as gifts and some were snatched by souvenir hunters.
Keaton said he was lucky if he used only six hats in making a film. He estimated that he and his wife, Eleanor, made thousands of the hats during his career. He observed that during his silent period, such a hat cost him around two dollars. At the time of his interview, he said, they cost almost $13.
Keaton died of lung cancer on February 1, 1966 at age 70 in Woodland Hills, California. Despite being diagnosed with cancer in January, 1966, he was never told that he was terminally ill or that he had cancer.
Keaton thought that he was recovering from bronchitis. Confined to a hospital during his final days, Keaton was restless and paced the room endlessly, desiring to return home.
In a British television documentary about his career, his widow, Eleanor, told the producers of Thames Television that Keaton was up out of bed and moving around, and even played cards with friends who came to visit at their house the day before he died.
Here is a tribute to Buster Keaton.
Bernice Johnson Reagon, singer, composer, scholar and social activist, is 81 years old today.
Reagon founded the a cappella ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock, in 1973. The daughter of Baptist ministers, Reagon was born and raised in southwest Georgia, where music was an integral part of life.
She entered Albany State College in 1959 (now Albany State University) where she began her study of music. She also became active in the local NAACP chapter and then the SNCC. After being expelled from Albany State because of an arrest for her civil rights activism, she attended Spelman College, where she completed undergraduate degree in 1970.
Reagon then received a Ford Foundation fellowship to study at Howard University, where she was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1975. She was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as a member of The Freedom Singers, organized by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), for which she was also a field secretary.
The Freedom Singers were organized by Cordell Reagon in 1962. This group was the first to travel nationally. The singers realized that singing helped provide an outlet for protestors when dealing with things like mobs and police brutality.
Thanks to her roles with SNCC and the Freedom Singers, she became a respected song leader during the Civil Rights Movement. Reagon is a specialist in African-American oral history, performance and protest traditions.
Frederic Remington, artist of the American West, was born 162 years ago today.
Born in Canton, New York, Remington was the son of a comfortable, if not wealthy, family. He was one of the first students to attend Yale University's new School of Fine Arts. At Yale, he became a skilled painter, but he focused his efforts largely on the traditional subjects of high art — not the Wild West.
When he was 19, Remington's father died, leaving him a small inheritance that gave him the freedom to indulge his interest in traveling in the West. As with other transplanted upper-class easterners like Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister, Remington quickly developed a deep love for the West and its fast disappearing world of cowboys, Indians and wide-open spaces.
Eventually buying a sheep ranch near Kansas City, Remington continued to travel around his adopted western home, endlessly drawing and painting what he saw.
In 1884, Remington sold his first sketches based on his western travels, and two years later his first fully credited picture appeared on the cover of Harper's Weekly. After that, his popularity as an illustrator grew steadily, and he returned to New York in order to be closer to the largely eastern market for his work.
Frequent assignments from publishers, though, ensured that Remington was never away long from the West, and gave him the opportunity to closely observe and sketch his favorite subjects: U.S. Cavalry soldiers, cowboys and Native Americans.
Remington's output was enormous, and during the last 20 years of his life he created more than 2,700 paintings and drawings and published illustrations in 142 books and 42 different magazines.
Leroy Van Dyke, country music performer, is 94 years old today.
Best known for his hits, "The Auctioneer" (1956) and "Walk On By" (1961), Van Dyke continues to perform today.
Born in Mora, Missouri, he majored in agricultural journalism, but was catapulted into country music fame in 1956 with his composition, "The Auctioneer,” co-written with Buddy Black. It sold more than 2.5 million records.
He wrote the song about the life of his cousin, Ray Sims, also a Missourian who was a National Auctioneers Association Hall of Famer. Van Dyke had the lead role of a budding country music performer in the 1967 movie, What Am I Bid?, in which Sims played himself as an auctioneer.
In his 50 years-plus career, Van Dyke has recorded more than 500 songs, dozens of them making the charts. His record, "Walk On By" (1961), was named by Billboard magazine in 1994 as the biggest country single of all time, based on sales, plays and weeks in the charts.
On this day in 1957 — 66 years ago — the Soviet Union inaugurated the "Space Age" with its launch of Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite.
The spacecraft, named Sputnik after the Russian word for "satellite," was launched at 10:29 p.m. Moscow time on Oct. 4, 1957 from the Tyuratam launch base in the Kazakh Republic.
Sputnik had a diameter of 22 inches and weighed 184 pounds. It circled the Earth once every hour and 36 minutes. Traveling at 18,000 miles an hour, its elliptical orbit had an apogee (farthest point from Earth) of 584 miles and a perigee (nearest point) of 143 miles.
Visible with binoculars before sunrise or after sunset, Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to Earth strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. Those in the United States with access to such equipment tuned in and listened in awe as the beeping Soviet spacecraft passed over America several times a day.
In January, 1958, Sputnik's orbit deteriorated, as expected, and the spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere.
Esplanade de Trocadéro, Paris, 2012
Photo by Peter Turnley