Happy Birthday Janis Joplin: Kozmic Pearl's Myrna Sanders On The Late Rock Icon

Today would have been rock great and former Port Arthur resident Janis Joplin's 69th birthday, a fact that would have Joplin snicker for the next year. Since her death in 1970, at the sad magical age of 27, the legend of Joplin has grown immensely, with her vocal style and stage presence helping influence most every frontwoman to follow, from rockers to punkers. You can hear Joplin in modern artists like the Black Keys, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, and especially the quickly-blossoming Alabama Shakes.

Hell, even guys could learn a lot from listening to her phrasing and grasp of an audience too.

Speaking of Port Arthur, she's not the only famous resident to come from that coastal town. There is also UGK -- both Pimp C (RIP) and Bun B -- actor G. W. Bailey from the Police Academy movies, boner pill spokesman and former football coach Jimmy Johnson, and artist Robert Rauschenberg. Joplin is in good company, even if she left Port Eh and Texas as soon as she could to escape bullies and ignorance.

Rocks Off spoke to Myrna Sanders, who fronts Kozmic Pearl, a very popular Janis tribute act, covering all stages of her career, with Big Brother & The Holding Company and beyond, about all things Joplin, including what she thinks she would be up to today.

Rocks Off: When do you first remember being touched by Janis' music?

Myrna Sanders: I was about 10 when she died. A few weeks later when the Pearl album came out, they'd play "Me & Bobby McGee" incessantly on the radio and I dug it,  bought Pearl and learned it on the guitar.  That song and album has always stuck with me and no matter what bands I've been in, I've always performed it live. 

RO: What is one song in her catalog that you think is the most underrated?

MS: All of them really because she was so underrated herself as a singer/performer.  Everyone has heard Me & Bobby McGee, Piece of My Heart and Ball & Chain, but there are so many hidden gems that she did with Big Brother and the Kozmic Blues Band that no one knows about and they're great songs.   

RO: In terms of influence, what do you think Janis brought to the table for female artists that came after her?

MS: She definitely brought some balls to the table for us.  She left Texas as soon as she could and blazed the trail for us all.  I can't think of any other female singer that made a name for herself and took her place in rock royalty the way she did.  

She wasn't afraid to really let it rip when she opened her mouth.  Not only did she sing it the way she saw it,  but she felt it, owned it and became it and made us all feel it too just by listening and watching her. She was definitely a big influence to me, and to countless other females. 

RO: When did you start inhabiting the Janis character?

MS: In 2005, we were asked to do an opening set of Janis stuff for a Pink Floyd Tribute at Fitzgerald's.  We put it together in about a week, and it was so much fun, and got such a great response, we kept doing it. 

RO: Are there any Janis songs that you enjoy performing more than others? Any songs you want to tackle yourself someday?

MS: Well sometimes I get tired of singing "Me & Bobby McGee" and "Piece of My Heart" since I do both of these not only with Kozmic Pearl but also in my solo and original project and have been doing them most of my life. I really love doing "Turtle Blues", "A Woman Left Lonely" and "Get it While You Can" though.  I have thought about recording one of her songs, but it's really hard to pick one.   

RO: What does it take to become Janis onstage?

MS: Energy! Mass quantities of caffeine, concentration, lots of rehearsals, a really good night's rest, sweat, and a little buzz wouldn't hurt. 

RO: If Janis were alive today, what do you think she would be doing? Maybe recording with Jack White?

MS: Wow, wouldn't that be cool?! I think if she were alive today, she'd probably be living on a beach or in the mountains somewhere in northern California, with a bunch of dogs and cats, horses, and a bit of Southern Comfort in her coffee cup, painting pictures and hanging out with her old pal, Grace Slick.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty