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Cat Power to Narrate Janis Joplin Documentary
by Jeremy Gordon
July 29, 2015 at 4:37 p.m. EDT

Janis will premiere at the Venice Film Festival

Photo by Will Deitz

Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has been announced as the narrator of Janis, a forthcoming documentary about Janis Joplin. In particular, Marshall will read letters written by the late singer.

Janis was made with the support of Joplin’s estate. The movie was directed by Oscar-nominated Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil), and will premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September.

Curtain Call: Tony Nominee Mary Bridget Davies Returns as Janis Joplin
Craig Byrd
July 22, 2015


A Night With Janis Joplin is back at the Pasadena Playhouse starting tonight.

When A Night With Janis Joplin first played the Pasadena Playhouse in 2013, one patron wasn’t pleased to find Mary Bridget Davies playing the rock icon. “A woman came out at intermission and demanded her money back,” says Davies. “This is A Night With Janis Joplin, this is Mary Bridget Davies. Where’s Janis Joplin?” Theatergoers won’t be asking that question when the show returns tonight to the Pasadena Playhouse as Davies reprises the role that earned her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.

“She’s been dead for 40 years,” Davies laughs. “Where have you been? She was age appropriate. That made me laugh for days.”

Davies has been associated with Joplin for ten years by appearing first in Love, Janis. She was then invited to front Big Brother and the Holding Company (Joplin’s band) before embarking on A Night With Janis Joplin. “I’m not a Janis Joplin impersonator,” she says. “It’s just a character that’s near and dear to me. Being Janis, it’s just been something I love doing. It hasn’t gotten stale. I’ve been lucky. The exposure of being on Broadway got me connected with a great agency and management. I’m recording a new album of my own original stuff in Nashville and writing some killer songs. It’s all finally coming together. It’s falling into place.”

Joplin’s singing style was so unique, how has her style influenced Davies’ singing of her own material? “It’s informed me and my craft,” she reveals, “but it’s not the same thing. Maybe people could say any woman that is strong that can pull grit out of her voice, she’s got a Janis or Bonnie Raitt thing. We have to constantly label and make comparisons in that way. I love her, but she already existed. There doesn’t need to be another.”

Ten years performing as Joplin, Davies does feel that she has certain perspectives in common with her. “I do share a lot of her sentiments,” she offers. “For her it was terribly difficult being a woman in an all-male band. The climate is less unforgiving now. You’re the den mother and the wrangler and the front person and the man. She took a lot of heat for that. She was one of the first women to do that. It’s still a machine. I for one, have no intention of being a pop star. That was never in the cards for me because there’s so much self-compromise. You have to live it. It has to be that authenticity or no one’s buying it.”

When Joplin spoke of soul, she once said “You know why we’re stuck with the myth that only black people have soul? Because white people don’t let themselves feel things.” Does Davies agree? “I think it can be expounded upon. At the time she was on the money. I think people are lot more free with their emotions. It’s not viewed as a weakness as it might have been by her parents’ generation. You go to a funeral and there’s some sniffling and people are sad. I’ve had to go to wakes at a Methodist Baptist Church and people are throwing themselves on the casket. That’s so much better for you to grieve and that’s what Janis did. Culturally, 50 years ago, white people didn’t participate. It was Stepford. It was far more true then, but I understand what she was saying.”

Davies, who maintains an active and entertaining Twitter account, tweeted that she’d love to play Simone in Can-Can. “When Janis is done and my tour is satisfied, I’d love to be in a traditional musical. I went to see On the Town. I wish I was a guy so I could be one of the guys in the show. I would love to be in a real Broadway musical and wear a gown with sequins that weights 35 pounds. When your career starts paying off you become a contender. I would be so diminished if I couldn’t perform. That’s, when I came into this world, what I was ordained to do.”

Full article here.

The Ramones T-shirt: From cult and credible to absolutely everywhere

The Independent
Rhodri Marsden
Tuesday 21 July 2015

You don’t even have to have heard of the Ramones to be seen in the T-shirt, bought in a high street shop. Rhodri Marsden on how a clever design can take on a life of its own.

You see them everywhere these days, on public transport, down the pub, in the local park and at Glastonbury, on the backs of everyone from Jonathan Ross to a 10-year-old girl. The Ramones T-shirt has become a ubiquitous garment, a globally recognised design that retains only a flimsy link to the music made by America’s quintessential punk band.

Many wearers couldn’t name you a Ramones song – although some might hazard a guess at “Hey Ho Let’s Go”, the opening lyric of their 1976 debut single “Blitzkrieg Bop” (currently being used in a TV advert for an online electrical appliance retailer). People of a certain age might see this as a despicable betrayal of the Ramones’ memory, but does it matter? After all, to accuse a 10-year-old child of lacking punk authenticity would seem unfair. Having become a regular fixture in high-street clothing stores, maybe the Ramones T-shirt has merely taken on a strange new life of its own.

“Any kind of band T-shirt that either goes the distance or transcends the original connection is basically down to good design,” says Josh Sims, author of the book 100 Ideas That Changed Street Style. “That good design often follows from whether the band has been fortunate enough have a good logo – like Kiss, AC/DC, or Run DMC.

They just look good, regardless of the band or its music.” The Ramones were fortunate to have a talented lighting director and art co-ordinator, Arturo Vega; his decision to adapt the US Presidential Seal to depict “the ultimate all-American band” was, in retrospect, a stroke of genius. The olive branch became an apple branch, the arrows became a baseball bat, the lettering within the seal changed as the line-up of the band changed. The shirt on sale at H&M for £7 features the names of the original line-up of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy; all now dead, but somehow living on, emblazoned on the chests of people who don’t necessarily know who they were.

While the case of the Ramones shirt isn’t unique (H&M also sells shirts featuring metal bands to people who don’t listen to metal), the demographic of band T-shirt-wearers has remained pretty static over the years: teenage pop acts and metal bands sell way more than hip-hop and R&B artists, with indie sitting somewhere in between. “If you look at their audiences,” says Justin Smith, director of British merchandising company Kontraband, “90 per cent of people at a metal concert will be wearing a band T-shirt and will be likely to buy one.

For us, the best-selling shirts are still ones with tour dates on the back. People want to show that they went to the big gig at the O2, the ‘I was there’ thing.” But he also considers the broadening, cross-genre appeal of band merchandise to be part of a declining tribalism among music fans. “It used to be the case that if you liked a certain band then you weren’t allowed to like another style of band,” he says, “but that’s changed a lot. A band such as [influential US punks] Misfits sell a huge number of shirts in comparison to record sales; the name isn’t big, but people just think it’s a cool shirt.”

Sims, meanwhile, attributes that broadening appeal to a music industry trying to find new income streams in a digital era. “Given that touring and merchandising are supposed to be where bands are making their money,” he says, “there’s a greater interest in selling T-shirts, and improving their design to make them more marketable.”

The various factors that lead a buyer at Next or H&M to put in a Ramones order are complex (and both companies refused interview requests) but whether they’re based on pure design, cultural echoes or some kind of ironic distance, people are evidently buying them. “I wasn’t aware of that Ramones design until about two years ago,” says Sims, “and the only reason I became aware of it is that my wife bought it from H&M for my then one year-old child. And I didn’t even know a lot about the Ramones. I knew that they were a band, that they were influential and that they played at CBGB in New York, but beyond that…”

As the band has slowly receded into history, sales of their shirts have picked up. It was reported that the day after Joey died in 2001, one American clothing chain put in an order for 10,000 units. Ramones Productions Inc, the company set up after the band broke up, still presides over the approval of merchandise and splits the profits among the estates of the former members. Punk purists might consider this to be akin to “selling out”, but the company’s co-owner, Johnny’s wife Linda Ramone, sees it as perfectly compatible with the band’s ethos.

In an interview in 2008 she stated that “Johnny did want to be the biggest band in the world”. And if that accolade is measured by sales of shirts, maybe his wish will come true.

Full article here.

The Story Behind Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’

The Wall Street Journal
July 7, 2015 11:29 a.m. ET


Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” was an accident. The song’s lyrics were written at a Port Chester, N.Y., bar in August 1970 during an impromptu poetry jam between Joplin and songwriter-friend Bob Neuwirth. The lyrics—a sardonic prayer for a sports car, a color TV and a night on the town—were inspired by the first line of a song written by San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure.

About an hour after the song was completed in Port Chester, Joplin performed it a cappella on a whim when she took the stage at the town’s Capitol Theatre. Then on Oct. 1, when she was in Los Angeles recording her album “Pearl,” she sang “Mercedes Benz” in the studio for fun. After she died of a drug overdose three days later on Oct. 4, the song was added to the album.

Issued as a single in 1971 on the B-side of Joplin’s hit “Cry Baby,” “Mercedes Benz” has since been covered by more than 30 artists and used by Mercedes-Benz in its car ads. In advance of the 45th anniversary of Joplin’s death in October, road manager John Byrne Cooke, Mr. Neuwirth, Mr. McClure, and Clark Pierson and Brad Campbell of Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band talked about the song’s evolution. Edited from interviews.

John Byrne Cooke: Back in the summer of 1970, Janis was on tour with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, arriving in New York at the start of August. On Saturday, Aug. 8, Janis and the band performed at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., and then appeared at Harvard Stadium on Aug. 12. Three days later, she attended her high-school reunion in Port Arthur, Texas, and traveled to Los Angeles in September to record “Pearl” at Sunset Sound. She was happy and knew she was hitting a new level in her singing career.

Bob Neuwirth: I first met Janis before she was famous. We both played the same small clubs in San Francisco in 1965. In early August 1970, I was living in New York when Janis came to town for a series of performances. She was staying at the Hotel Chelsea. On Aug. 8, she wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to travel an hour north to perform in Port Chester. She felt the opening acts—Seatrain and Runt—would attract a crowd that didn’t understand her music.

Janis had spoken often about how much she admired actress Geraldine Page. I knew Geraldine’s husband, Rip Torn, and since they both were in town, I invited them to come with us late that afternoon in the limo. While Janis was still upstairs getting ready, Rip and Geraldine came over for a drink at El Quijote, a Spanish restaurant in the hotel. I didn’t tell Janis they were coming. I wanted it to be a surprise. When she came down and saw Geraldine, she lit up. A few margaritas later, they were old pals, and we were ready to go. We rode up in one car and the band traveled in another.

Around 7 p.m., after the Capitol sound check, we had a couple of hours to kill before Seatrain and Runt finished their sets. So the four of us walked to a bar about three minutes away called Vahsen’s [at 30 Broad St.]. At the table, Janis and Geraldine bonded, and all of us were getting into it. At some point, Janis sang out, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” Earlier, in San Francisco, Janis had heard Michael McClure’s song and it stuck with her. But she couldn’t remember the rest of it.

Michael McClure: Allen Ginsberg introduced me to Bob Dylan when Bob was in San Francisco in December 1965. After we met and hung out, Bob gave me an autoharp— a stringed Appalachian folk instrument. Bob knew I wanted to write songs. I kept the instrument on my mantle for three months before learning to play it. In 1966, while I was writing “Freewheelin’ Frank” with Hells Angel Frank Reynolds, [musician] George Montana came over in the evenings with strange instruments, and we’d add music to the songs I was writing and singing.

One of my songs started, “Come on, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz.” The song would get longer and shorter each time I sang it. One day I got a call from [actor-singer] Emmett Grogan. He had heard me sing the song at my house and began singing it with his friends at a local pool hall. On the phone, he said he was shooting pool with Janis and that she was singing it, too. I told him I had nothing against that.

Mr. Neuwirth: At the Port Chester bar, Janis sang the line a few times. Then Rip and Geraldine began banging their beer glasses on the table to keep time. It was like a sea shanty. Janis came up with words for the first verse. I was in charge of writing them down on bar napkins with a ballpoint pen. She came up with the second verse, too, about a color TV. I suggested words here and there, and came up with the third verse—about asking the Lord to buy us a night on the town and another round.

Janis and I were giggling and showing off a bit in front of Rip and Geraldine. The alcohol wasn’t meant to do anything except keep us laughing in that bar, but it assumed control, and the result was “Mercedes Benz.” I figured that what we were doing there was just an exercise to impress Rip and Geraldine and pass the time. Nothing more.

While we were lost in all this blather and laughter, John Cooke, her road manager, came blasting in close to 9 p.m. to tell Janis she was on in 15 minutes. The next thing I knew we were back up the block at the Capitol. Janis came on stage, and after singing “Tell Mama” and “Half Moon,” she surprised everyone by announcing she wanted to sing a new song.

On the bootleg recording from the concert, she says from the stage: “I’d like to do a song of some significance, now. I just wrote it at the bar on the corner, so I don’t know all the words yet. I’m going to do it Acapulco,” which had been my funny way of saying “a cappella.” I think she decided to sing it to further impress Geraldine and Rip.

Janis stomped off the beat and began belting out the lyrics, the way she had done at the bar. The band soon tried to fit in as best they could, and then they reprised the last verse. What’s interesting is that the second verse doesn’t include the “Dialing for Dollars” line. She must have added it later before recording in the studio in L.A., since it’s not on the Harvard Stadium bootleg either.

When Janis finished, she said to the audience: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s not even a song, you know. They turned the jukebox up, and we kept singing it anyway. They turned up ‘Hey Jude’ so loud we had to order another drink.”

Clark Pierson (drummer): The band was pretty surprised she sang “Mercedes Benz” that night. We didn’t have a key for the song and didn’t know how to put it. We also didn’t realize she was going to sing it alone. We just all looked at each other and then tried to follow along. Janis could remember lyrics stone-cold flawlessly, so that wasn’t a surprise to me. The audience was just staring at first, like, what’s going on? Then they had smiles and were clapping along in time. Several nights later she sang it again at Harvard Stadium, which turned out to be her last concert.

Brad Campbell (bassist): On “Mercedes Benz,” Janis wanted to accompany herself on guitar. She took out her Gibson Sunburst and whispered to us, “Watch me boys.” But instead of playing it, she just sang. We eventually played a few notes here and there and sang where we could, figuring she wanted us to follow her.

Mr. McClure: At some point in August 1970, Janis called. She said she was performing the “Mercedes Benz” song but that hers was different than mine. She sang it over the phone. When she was done, I said it was OK. Then I went for my autoharp and sat on the stairs and sang her mine over the phone. Janis’s version was sweet and wry and had the grace of a riddle. Mine was much more outspoken, funny and ironic. Janis laughed and said she liked hers better. I said, “That’s OK, you can sing yours.” And that’s the last I heard of it until “Pearl” came out and I saw my name with Janis’s on the song credit. [Mr. Neuwirth’s name was added later].

Mr. Pierson: On Oct. 1, Full Tilt and Janis were at Sunset Sound in L.A. recording “Pearl” when something happened to the tape recorder that caused everything to come to a halt. As producer Paul Rothchild tried to fix it, we started getting antsy, especially Janis, who didn’t like sitting around. She was still in the vocal booth and could see through the glass that our energy was fading. To kill time and keep us amused, she started to sing “Mercedes Benz” in there.

Mr. Campbell: I could see Janis in the booth. She beat off time by stomping her feet on the floor with her sandals. The bracelets jangling on her arm and the stomping of her feet provided the rhythmic sound you hear on the record. Her eyes were open as she sang, but they seemed closed, as if she were far away. When the song was done, she said, “That’s it,” followed by her famous cackle. She always surprised herself.

Mr. Neuwirth: Paul Rothchild told me later the problem was with his 2-inch tape recorder. The heads shifted or something and needed to be readjusted. Paul had a ¼-inch safety reel going that ran all the time as a backup in case there was an idea he missed in between takes when the 2-inch main recorder was off. While Paul worked to fix the 2-inch tape recorder, Janis sang “Mercedes Benz” on a whim. Fortunately, the safety tape caught it.

Mr. Cooke: “Mercedes Benz” was the last song Janis recorded. Three days later I found her body in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. She had overdosed on heroin that was way stronger than street heroin had any right to be. For the next few days, everyone was in shock. That Thursday, Paul Rothchild played for us everything he had on tape. It was almost an album. Paul and the band worked for another 10 days to create the best instrumental tracks to go with the existing vocals. Although she had sung “Mercedes Benz” a cappella, Paul knew we had to use it as is.

Mr. Neuwirth: About 20 years ago, I had a guitar case overflowing with stuff. It was so full I couldn’t close the lid with the instrument inside. I went through all the junk in there and found four square napkins on which I had jotted down the “Mercedes Benz” lyrics in 1970. I have no idea where those napkins are today. I’d love to find them. I put them someplace in my house, but I can’t remember where.

Full article here.

Universal Music Group Settles With Rick James’ Estate For Over $11 Million
Hugh McIntyre
APR 14, 2015 @ 1:04 PM

After a several year-long court battle, it looks like Universal is finally ready to settle with the estate of Rick James and several other musicians in another in a series of legal cases that sought to redefine how the music industry categorizes digital downloads.

The case looked at the difference between buying a single (as people used to do in physical form) versus downloading one from a service like iTunes. The plaintiffs argued that such an action was not a traditional sale, but rather a licensing transaction, which comes with different royalty rates. Universal argued otherwise, but after several years of the case stretching out, they agreed to settle—though they maintain that they were paying fairly and according to the contracts they had signed with their artists.

The major label has agreed to pay $11.5 million to the plaintiffs, which could possibly number in the thousands. The case was fronted by bigger names like Rick James and Chuck D from Public Enemy, but there were over 14 artists that took part. After attorney’s fees and a certain amount that will be paid to the 14 artists who took pains to see this case through, the remainder of the $11.5 million will be pooled and split amongst all eligible acts.

The number of artists who may be able to take a piece of the settlement is huge, with parties involved estimating it at around 7,500. That number includes every singer, musician, and band that signed a deal with the label before 2004, as all contracts after then specifically stipulate how much every party is paid per digital download.

“For the older contracts and those artists known as ‘legacy’, there is now a clear answer to how much they’ll be compensated for past downloads, and they will now know how much they’ll be paid for them moving forward” said Len Simon, a lawyer that helped represent the plaintiffs.

The idea that digital downloads might actually qualify as licensed products began a decade or so ago when a company that owned much of Eminem’s early catalog sued the label, arguing that the structure under which the label and Eminem were being paid for iTunes sales was not fitting or fair. After losing the case but then winning on appeal, the entire industry took notice, and since then, suits have been brought against Warner and Sony, both of which also settled. Universal is the last of the major labels to close out a legal entanglement like this.

It’s interesting that this settlement comes about now, as digital downloads wane and streaming is quickly becoming king. The music industry seems to change and grow much faster than the American legal system, and often times legislation or court decisions come years after they are needed. The industry is likely gearing up for many years of streaming-related cases, the beginnings of which are just forming now.