Monday, April 2, 2012

A Perfectly Preserved Moment in Music History


BBHC - Carousel - Cover (22)-300xCD Review: Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents: Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin- Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968

Columbia / Legacy Records - 1st Public Release: 2012

Today, on the southwest corner of Market and Van Ness, at 10 South Van Ness Ave and 1545 Market Street in San Francisco, resides a car dealership. Standing in front of the building, one would never know the history of the Music Scene of this area in the late 1960’s, or the historic event that took place within building. In 1968 this building was the famed Carousel Ballroom, a concert hall that had seen the performances of many of the popular acts and was birthplace to many more. One such 60’s super group was Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring the versatile, bluesy and completely unique Janis Joplin. The Carousel Ballroom was originally known as the El Patio Ballroom and it was located on the upper floor of a car dealership on the southwest corner of the building, and from this lofty psychedelic playground the sounds of a cultural and social revolution were heard.

Owsley Stanley, also known as “Bear”, was an essential and transitional personality in the development of the San Francisco Bay counter-culture and the Music Scene as a whole. His early activities spanned the Beat-era years of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, but he played an equally important role during the explosion of 1960's Psychedelic culture. As a brilliant and eclectic sound engineer, he became best known simply as 'Bear' –a magician-like figure able to use his keen sense of audio technologies to record what would be known as the best quality recordings, even by today’s standards. "Bear", was internationally celebrated, becoming an iconic figure (producer, engineer & artist) to psychedelic rock bands of the era. It was in San Francisco that he would work with the great acts of the day, and through his genius, their music became notorious.

Big Brother and The Holding Company had already been a very popular group, but when Janis Joplin joined in 1966 and began recording with them on their 2 albums – Big Brother & the Holding Company and Cheap Thrills, which were instant hits, one would say “the party really started”. Janis sang from the heart, as a woman from a small Texas town, with a troubled youth and hopes and dreams, Janis was able to find in the San Francisco Music scene what some would think impossible, a real chance to tell her story, and a chance to reach out to the youth of America and help them find their dreams as well.

It would be a weekend set on June 22nd and 23rd, at the Carousel Ballroom in 1968, Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin would play both nights, the tickets for Saturday night was 2.50, for Sunday it was 2.00, but the resulting recordings would be priceless, and now after his unfortunate passing, the estate of Owsley “Bear” Stanley and Columbia / Legacy Records present to you this magical musical event, in an audio soundscape that truly makes it possible you to feel like you are there. Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents: Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin- Live at the Carousel Ballroom, recorded in a pseudo stereo, since stereo recording equipment really did not have a live performance element at the time, “Bear” was able to create what could be considered the first “Surround Sound” experience.

Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents: Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin- Live at the Carousel Ballroom has live renditions of songs that were sung as only Janis Joplin could, with the bluesy true to life emotion that she was to be remembered for. Normally, I don’t list all the songs on an album, but for this momentous release, I feel you should know what’s in store for the listener:



1. Combination of The Two                              7. Jam-I’m Mad (Mad Man Blues)     

2. I Need A Man To Love                                  8. Piece Of My Heart

3. Flower In The Sun                                         9. Coo Coo                

4. Light Is Faster Than Sound                        10. Ball & Chain

5. Summertime                                                11. Down On Me

6. Catch Me Daddy                                        12. Bonus Track: Call on Me


You may recognize many of the now famous and legendary tracks, but some have only now been heard as they were first played live, some were changed or produced differently in the studio, so you actually have a connection to the past in its original, raw and emotionally charged state. Some of these songs were only available in 45rpm and never made the full albums. I will again touch upon the quality and style in which the tracks were recorded, the quality of sound in not only extraordinary due to the clarity, no buzz or overladen hum, the instruments and vocals are completely “legible” and can be told apart. In addition, if you experiment with the balance from left to right, you can hear just music, or mostly vocals and highs – to truly get the right sound, you have to move all your speakers into a “wall of sound”, speakers side by side and adjust volumes so it sounds like the music is coming right out of the amplifiers, like the band is in your room, this is the best way to get the full range of sound from your system.

carousel ballroom 1

Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents: Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin- Live at the Carousel Ballroom is more than live concert material, but a “Way-Back Time Machine” (thank you Mr. Peabody) that will bring you back to the energy filled streets of San Francisco, and directly into the forge of the peace & love movement, social change and the search for enlightenment though the open exchange of ideas though true freedom.

From the initial performance hall title, Carousel Ballroom, to The Fillmore West, to other names, to other businesses, to a vacant space above a car dealership, to now a car parts room, the physical existence has changed and changed, but if you close your eyes, and listen closely, you can hear them still playing, and still hear Janis belting out the blues.


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