5 Things You Never Knew About Janis Joplin

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Today she’s considered a legend in the music industry. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 10 years later. But there was more to Janis Joplin than her music and her tough, hard-drinking reputation. You may recognize her strong, bluesy vocals and her iconic ’60s style, but how much do you really know about the woman behind the music?

5 She Had Only One Hit Single

Her profound and pioneering influence on the music world is undisputed, but when Joplin died, she had yet to see one of her songs hit No. 1. Her album “Pearl,” which she was recording when she died, was completed by her producer and released a year later. The album itself became a smash hit, reaching quadruple-platinum sales to become the greatest success of her career. Her single, “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson, became her first and only No. 1 hit.

4 She Once Tried to Play it Straight

Joplin escaped the pressures of conservative Texas for the free love scene in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in 1963. She made a little headway in the music scene, then traveled to New York. But increasing drinking and drug use got the best of Joplin. Scared straight, she returned to Texas in 1965, resolved to give up music and the hard-partying ways that went with it. She returned to college, adopting a conservative beehive hairdo and putting away her hippie clothes in favor of more straight-laced attire. She found no satisfaction in this lifestyle, however. She returned to San Francisco in 1966, eventually hooking up with the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company.

3 She Was a Victim of Bullying

The loud rebel rocker the public saw hid a painfully traumatized side of a woman who’d frequently been bullied as a teenager and young adult. In the small, conservative Texas town where Joplin grew up, she found her interests were drastically different from those of the mainstream. She liked hanging out with boys and going to blues and jazz bars, developing an early reputation for drinking and sexual promiscuity. With the weight gain and acne that accompanied puberty, classmates called her a “pig.” In college, she fared no better, with a fraternity voting her “ugliest man on campus.” The vicious cruelty of her fellow students may have been one of the reasons she never graduated from college.

2 Her Last Recording Was a Birthday Greeting to John Lennon

The final vocal Janis Joplin recorded was the song “Mercedes Benz,” which would appear on her album “Pearl.” On Oct. 1, 1970, she recorded the vocals of the song with producer Paul Rothchild at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles. After she’d finished laying her track for that song, she recorded a quick birthday greeting for John Lennon, in which she sung a portion of the song “Happy Trails.” On October 3, Joplin died of an accidental heroin overdose. Lennon later recalled that he didn’t receive the recorded birthday greeting until after her death, which makes the lyrics “Happy trails to you, until we meet again” seem quite eerie.

1 She Bought Her Idol’s Tombstone

As a teenager, Janis Joplin found inspiration in the recordings of blues vocalist Bessie Smith. She came to idolize the late singer, later crediting Smith as one of the reasons she became a singer. Smith drank heavily throughout her career and was killed in a car wreck in 1937, but her body of work gained immense popularity and respect after her death. When Joplin learned that Smith’s grave was unmarked, she purchased a tombstone herself to pay due respect to her idol.

Jennifer Mueller has been writing professionally since 1995, when she began writing a bi-monthly column for "This Week in WNC." Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law.

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