Throwback Thursday: Tough Lady on Stage

Twenty-six-year-old Janis Joplin performs in the University Gym on February 14, 1969. (Photo courtesy of UAlbany Archives) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 14, 2017) — Albany Student Press reporter Alan Lasker well-captured the moment of February 14, 1969:

Screaming with Hell’s fire, gulping Southern Comfort and grooving to the beat, Janis Joplin, a female leadbelly, a Texan in and out of four colleges, a one-time folksinger, entertained the University’s capacity-filled gym last Friday night.

Joplin was one of the many leading rock stars (and now legends) of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that made the University a stop on their extensive college tours. The UAlbany appearance was actually a first stop on such an 8-college tour for Joplin, sandwiched between a Feb. 11-12 gig with the Grateful Dead at New York’s Fillmore East and a March 18 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Tickets were at a premium — so much so that about 40 were forged, all with the number 1503. Student Activities was tipped off and the concert was delayed to only let legitimate ticket purchasers in the doors. The 40 forgers were ultimately let in anyway.

Joplin at UAlbany was typically unrestrained, reported Lasker: “screaming, drinking, clapping and dancing — Janis does them all. She feels and acts in the manner that she wishes on stage. She’s free.”

Her voice, on such rock hits as “Piece of My Heart,” was weathered and gritty, revealing a hard-drinking and hard-drugging lifestyle, bent seemingly on living the song’s lyric, “I’m gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.” Yet, she could sing ballads with emotion and intelligence (she loved the recordings of Frank Sinatra, whom she referred to simply as “the man”), as she did that night on the classic Gershwin song “Summertime.”

Just over 17 months later she died, age 27, in a Hollywood motel room after another late-night combination of booze and heroin. None of us is that tough.

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