Big Brother Live
Enjoying the Scenery with Big Brother and the Holding Company
This past Thursday at The Pioneer Place in Saint Cloud, the band that made Janis Joplin famous gave the pinnacle of rock shows to a sold out crowd.
Big Brother and the Holding Company, or BBHC, perform today without their legendary lead singer Janis Joplin and psychedelic guitar guru James Gurley. In their place for the show in Saint Cloud were Stacy Bauer on vocals and Mark Hasbrouck on groovy guitar.
“It was great playing with BBHC,” Hasbrouck said. “Thursday night was definitely the best show we have done with them so far. It was MUCH tighter and everyone was a lot more loose on stage. I could tell Sam, Dave and Peter were having a lot more fun than previous shows too.”
Founding members Sam Andrew (songwriter, singer and guitarist), Peter Albin (bass and back-up vocals), and Dave Getz (drums) are still touring and carrying on a spirit and sound. The sold out crowd cheered many times during their performance and validated a collective appreciation of great music.
“I love playing at The Pioneer Place Theatre,” Sam Andrew said. “It is a theatre, and a place where plays are performed. You can feel that there. Stacy and Mark are so congenial, easy, and gifted that it is a real pleasure to be with them always.”
The song that stood out most from the show was their hit “Summertime,” off of the band’s second album, Cheap Thrills. The intricate harmonies and staccato guitar licks showed the skill and depth of BBHC’s songwriting abilities. A sound that taught the band how to create greatness in the studio also stands as the apex of their careers.
“Well, we have to remember about ten things in that song, but it's a beautiful tune,” Sam said. “It has a history, and I get to quote not only Bach, but Beethoven too. The other night I saw Itzhak Perlman and he did the Bach violin concerto where the second movement has a “Summertime” like riff. I almost jumped out of my chair and yelled “‘Plagiarism,’ but thought better of it.”
When Sam plays the song he makes his guitar look as though it is light as a feather and his fingers move up and down the neck, tapping on the strings.
“These are called artificial harmonics,” Sam explained. “When you touch a string that way and fret it (finger it) a certain distance away it will make an octave of the sound. It's like a chime. Pythagoras, he of the theorem, discussed harmonics 2,500 years ago. He found when you touched a string at the halfway point an octave was produced, and that, in fact, you can derive the entire musical scale from different places where you touch the string. I have become very interested in this lately, but have always played harmonics, both natural and fingered. It has always seemed difficult to me, although I have played the guitar a LOT, and especially lately have been practicing with a purpose.”
BBHC have a few different guitarists and singers that travel with the band on their tours in North America and Europe. He teaches them their music and trusts them with the band’s sound.
“I put in a lot of time training our “side” people (who are really the main people, so that's a funny term for them),” Sam said. “I am only reminded of this when we try to do a song where I haven't trained them on it, for example, the first night in Minnesota where someone had the brilliant idea of doing “Bye, Bye, Baby”, when I hadn't gone over it with Mark or Stacy, and it sounded like it too. Live and learn. Every time I see Mark, I grab him and go off and practice something with him.”
Bauer and Hazzy, as Hasbrouck is called, both play in the bands Stearns County Pachanga Society and Led Zeppelin cover band Blimp. They fill the theatre with fans and blow them all away with their skills.
“We had a total of about 15 minutes of practice before the show on Wednesday,” Hazzy said. “Practice isn't exactly a high priority for them. We would do like 30 seconds of certain parts of songs on the potential tricky parts, and then we did all of "Summertime" without Stacy because she wasn't there yet. That tune is probably the most difficult as it is fairly complicated. That was it for any rehearsal. I pretty much learned the songs on my own from CDs and their “Hold Me” DVD. Sam and I spent some time at my house the Friday before the shows back in May running over some new or changed arrangements, but that was about it.”
Hazzy and Bauer have had a few shows now to get to know BBHC, and an aura seemed to be forming the night I saw the band.
“I think with any band I play in, getting a song “down” is only half the battle of making it truly breathe and rock or whatever word you want to use,” Hazzy said. “It's like if you're driving somewhere and you're not really sure how to get there, it makes it hard to enjoy the scenery, but if you know exactly where you are, to the point of not even having to think about it, all you can do is enjoy the scenery. Then it becomes fun! I think I finally reached that point with BBHC. It took 6 shows, but I think Stacy and I were more comfortable playing with them Thursday than any of the previous shows.”
The management of BBHC and other bands like Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Canned Heat is out of Minnesota. They would love to play Duluth, and they are planning on returning to our state soon after spending the next few months touringEurope.
“We are going to make playing a regular thing, I hope,” Sam said. “Coming to that specific spot and playing, maybe a couple of times a year. Of course, we are always wanting to play bigger venues, and we do play bigger venues. It's fun to do a variety of things.”
Hazzy and Bauer await BBHC’s return.
“I'm pretty sure they will be coming back,” Hazzy said. “As long as we can fill up rooms so they can pay their bills, that's really what it boils down to unfortunately. I really hope next time we can string some more shows together out of town. I think it will be even better next time they return. It's been a great experience for Stay and I.”
I asked Sam if he ever had another job and what he did when BBHC wasn’t touring.
“I am a painter. I do abstracts and portraits in oil. It's difficult to tell whether I am principally a painter or a player, but I love both. I always say that I "retired" when I was 18. In the 1980s I took other jobs, but only to please someone who was never going to be pleased with anything I did anyway.”