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Big Brother and the Holding Company, circa 1965
Big Brother and the Holding Company, circa 1965

Cheap Thrills

 

Jun 29, 2018
by Robert Feuer

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Big Brother and the Holding Company was born during the foggy days of 1965, from a gleam in the eyes of Chet Helms of Family Dog and Avalon Ballroom fame. Helms organized the emergent band from jam sessions in an old Victorian house in Haight-Ashbury, says Dave Getz, their drummer since 1966, during our June interview.

That year, Getz met original member Peter Albin in a café in the Mission District, downstairs from Getz’ loft, and went to listen to the band, declaring them “outasight.” “I was never hired. It wasn’t like that in those days. We played together and looked at each other - it was like ‘yeah,’” Getz says.

The band had lost their drummer, and with a gig at the Matrix that night, they hired Getz “out of desperation.” Three months later, Janis Joplin joined the band.

“We were down and out at the beginning,” he says. They all lived together in a house in Haight-Ashbury, and when recording in L.A. they stayed together in one motel room. Led by her impossible to believe voice, they reached their pinnacle in 1968, with the release of the album, Cheap Thrills. “We were at the top of the rockheap. Then we broke up.”

July 18, at a Peacetown concert in Sebastopol’s Ives Park, with Getz drumming and Albin on bass, Tom Finch and Dave Aguilar on guitar, and Darby Gould singing lead, Big Brother will appear. She’s sung with Big Brother since 2013 and is also known for her work with  Jefferson Starship. The show will predominantly be 1960s music, including most of the Cheap Thrills album. “I can play those songs in my sleep,” says Getz.

After the breakup, with Joplin gone, hard times hit the band. Getz and Albin joined Country Joe & the Fish in 1969 at a time when that band was flying high. “It was one of the best gigs a musician could ever have.” They quit the following year. Getz calls that “the stupidest thing I ever did.”

In 1987, Big Brother came together for a Summer of Love 20-year reunion. “It’s been nonstop since,” he says. Over the years they’ve had 30-40 female singers. “We didn’t want a Janis clone. We wanted women who could sing the material with their own authority.”

Getz began drumming as part of his interest in Native American culture, while growing up in Brooklyn. “By the time I was 17, I was playing with a lot of jazz cats in New York.”

On a parallel plane, he studied art, eventually receiving a Fulbright fellowship in painting from the U.S. government to go to Poland, where he exhibited his artwork while playing drums with some of the finest jazz musicians in Europe.

As to the Sebastopol show, “The music will be within the same feeling, the same spirit of what the band was in the 60’s,” though “I’d rather quit than have to play them note for note.”

“You can’t be 27 again,” Getz says, adding, “We’re much better musicians now.”

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