July 28th, 2011

Aretha’s big sis, Janis’s predecessor


Erma Franklin, that’s who.

Aretha’s older sister, she was nominated for a Grammy for the original 1967 R&B version of “Piece Of My Heart,” a song later made far more famous by Janis Joplin.

I’d never heard Erma’s rendition of the song before, but I was expecting it to be almost unrecognizable and very different from Joplin’s version. After all, Erma herself said she didn’t know it was the same song when she first heard Joplin sing it on the radio.

But I don’t know why. Yes, Erma has a more conventional R&B way of performing it, minus the screams and embellishments and the Dionysian desperation and vulnerability that were Joplin’s trademarks. But still, it’s very very much the same song, and Erma’s pretty great herself even in comparison to the other two Very Greats:

The song was written by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy—two Jewish guys, one from the Bronx and one from Philadelphia.

Go figure.

Berns also wrote “Twist and Shout” and the abominable (IMHO) “Hang on Sloopy,” and was an influential producer as well. As for Ragovoy, he also composed “Time Is On My Side;” as well as “Cry Baby,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), and “Get it While You Can” (all covered by Joplin); and “Stay With Me.”

Here’s the incomparable Janis, by the way, in case you never saw/heard her, or to refresh your memory:

And here’s Erma’s reprise of “Piece” in 1992. She still looks and sounds mighty good.

19 Responses to “Aretha’s big sis, Janis’s predecessor”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    I have never before published photos of Janis at her next to last concert… (last one was on the west coast)

    she took a bottle of jack from a friend…
    and chugged it… while dad took photos..
    incredible shots…

  2. Parker Says:

    Janis Joplin brought a tremendous amount of raw emotion to nearly every song she performed, but she was too wild and reckless with a song for my tastes. I didn’t know Aretha had an older sister who was a professional singer. Now I’ll have to find her music and download it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  3. Curtis Says:

    I’m wondering, Neo, if you’ve seen “Mao’s last dancer” and if you think the dancing is good in it?

  4. james Says:

    I saw Janis here in Austin in a gas station/grill called “Threadgills’” owned by Kenneth of the same name. He would close the station, cook a little, then take off his apron and come out front and join the acts with his guitar. She was young, just out the Beaumont/Port Author area.

  5. Gringo Says:

    I was never that thrilled by Janis Joplin’s voice. By comparison to Odetta, for example, she didn’t sound that great.

  6. rickl Says:

    Not that it means anything, but Amy Winehouse’s mother is named Janis. I just learned that yesterday, in the Wall Street Journal of all places.

  7. cathy Says:

    I always figured that NY Jewish composers styled their music based on black influences. The Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Carole King, Laura Nyro, Leiber and
    Lowe, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. In fact maybe they invented the whole genre once it left it’s strict spiritual and blues roots.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo: I agree that Janis Joplin did not have a great voice. Her voice, IMHO, was barely passable.

    And yet she was a great rock/blues singer. She was made so through her ability to pull out all the stops, almost every moment. Her intensity was unparalleled. And with Joplin, the emotion wasn’t fake or posed. It was raw. And although it was heightened (partly by the drugs and liquor she shot and ingested), it came from a very deep and real part of her.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Curtis: I have seen “Mao’s Last Dancer.” The dancing was pretty decent for a movie. Pretty good, but not spectacular.

  10. nolanimrod Says:

    Dionysian desperation

    Very good, Neo. Never heard the whole Janis thing described better. I was at UT (Austin) in 70 staying at this bizarre co-op called the Campus Guild. They told me she used to show up all bedraggled in a filthy sheepskin coat with her guitar. The place had a tricked-out commercial-grade kitchen and she would sing for her supper. One guy had a couple of stills. Oh for a flip cam then!

  11. Parabellum Says:

    Jerry Ragovoy was a fantasitc songwriter (Time is on my side, Cry Baby, Stay with me, etc,).

    He died just a few days ago.


  12. Curtis Says:

    There have been two good movies detailing the recent tyranny of communism: The Way Back and Mao’s Last Dancer. Small, but measurable. And given the success of Captain America, I take hope and look to encourage our conservative young to produce other-than-Hollwood-accepted-themes. Perhaps the progressive hegemony alone, which has mandated multiculturalism and PC, will be enough to produce a small amount of rebellion for rebellion’s sake. (And don’t forget the 10 to 1 ratio.) The failures of the old and hateful crowd of the cultural elite are appearing more and more like the failures of those liberal and progressive parents Robin of Berkeley writes about, like someone mentioned about Julian Lennon remarking his dad may have been all about love, but he never saw any of it.

    The change, the energy of it, is here. Just like a wave in the ocean that hasn’t yet neared the shore enough to manifest, it’s out there. Wait for it. While progressive’s shriek and howl because they understand it is out there too, we work and that cannot be underestimated. We work.

  13. Artfldgr Says:

    I was never that thrilled by Janis Joplin’s voice. By comparison to Odetta, for example, she didn’t sound that great.

    while i never met janis… or any of the really cool ones… why i dont know… later in life in the business i did get to meet special people and know them.

    i knew odetta before she died. i met her at a woman in music special meetign, where she sang and she talked to people. i was doodling a sketch and she came over after singing and us chatting and she signed my work… and we talked… i actually sat on her lap, and there is a photo of it somewhere, but the person neglected to send me a copy.

    she gave me her personal card, and neo can confirm as i sent her a scan (minus the phone number and private address)

    she changed my life that day…
    and turned everything around in a sentence…

    the groupie ladies were all about fantasizing about what it would FEEL like to be her… and so that was the form their questions took…

    how does it FEEL to be a woman that changed music and so on (and had a hair style named after. the naturl or fro, is also an odetta)…

    i can still see her now in my minds eye as i did that day… wearing a kaftan type clothes and a island colorful kind of head wrap… and how she laughed at those ladies… and how she would answer like one would imagine a wise old woman of the south would while rocking..

    she said…

    honey… if your expecting to feel different than you feel now, your going to be disappointed.. you never feel different all your life, your always you. all that happens i that everyone wants you to come to their parties, and there are more invites and opportunities than you can handle… but your always you and you never feel different..

    i am of course paraphrasing as i cant remember the exact words… but remember more the meaning adn the lesson.

    i guess she saw me giggling in the corner drawing..
    and came over. and we had a great time.

    some lady took our picture then tried to ingratiate herself when she saw odetta take time to give me her personal card (not business card)… watching odetta handle her was fun… she said, can i have one too… odetta said no very politely.. the woman pressed on… and like in old movies odetta said. now your making a fool of yourself… :)

    i cried the day she died… and am tearing up now.

    i have met LOTS of people that other people have beliefs about…. some of them were just images and didnt reflect the person…some of them there was no person… and some of them. like her, were always who they are…

    thanks for making me remember her with your words out of nowhere… she is one of my happier life memories… and i am very honored to have crossed paths with her… (and of course others)

    [and given i am an average joe for the most part, when i was in all this and knew people it was always surreal to get a phone message or email. it still is sometime... and once i nearly reflexively responded to a carboard cut out at diesel, of a model i knew well (J Stam), my wife and i cracked up laughing at how polite i was (to cardboard). and once i had a blind date ruined by a runway model when on the date she saw me and came over to say hi! now they dont remember me... as billy joel said... you dont keep it up, your put back in the discount rack like another can of peas... :) ]

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    i knew odetta before she died.

    that didnt quite come out the way i intended… be creepy if i knew her after…

    the point was that i knew her in the last decades of her life, when so many forgot her… just ask a young person about her…

  15. Crystal Says:

    I listened to Emma Franklin’s version first, and I thought she was a very good singer. Then I listened to Janis, and got goosebumps. I guess I never could appreciate what she brought to a song, though I owned and listened to her albums repeatedly. I was never sure if she could really sing or not or whatever that means, but man, she captured that song in a way that someone who can obviously sing, did not. I think that means she can sing.

  16. NeoConScum Says:

    Saw Big Brother and their “new” crazy azz girl vocalist at Monterey Pop-’67. I was on my way back home to L.A. after graduating college in Washington and thought I’d spend a few hours checking it out…2-full days & nights later!! Didn’t see the film of it until just a few years ago. OMG!! Big Brother was a stunner, but my fave was Otis Redding…Damn, he killed us. And was dead in the ice before the end of the year. Ahhhhhhh…. Summer of Love, Baby…

  17. rickl Says:

    Wow, NCS, you’re a lucky guy. I’ve seen the film of Monterey Pop and I think the music was 10x better than Woodstock.

    In 1967 the bands were still young and fresh and full of energy, but by 1969 they were already showing the symptoms of burnout.

  18. rickl Says:

    I neglected to mention this earlier, but I loved Erma Franklin’s version of “Piece of My Heart”. Of course, I have heard Janis Joplin’s version a million times, but I’d never heard the original. Thanks, Neo.

    Curious, I decided to explore further. I listened to Erma’s cover of “Son of a Preacher Man”. Not bad, but inferior to Dusty Springfield’s original.

    And then I heard Joan Osborne’s version. WOW.

    I need a cold shower now.

  19. NeoConScum Says:

    rickl…Yes, indeed…My T-Rex ‘Coot reaction when I finally saw the Monterey Pop film around 2003 was,”Holy ***t, look at those clothes!! And, look at those 12-year olds!!”(Us, not the bands.) Some of the True Biggies wandering around in the crowds were as much–or more–of a trip as the bands performing. Imagine this huge Stones fan coming face-to-face with Brian Jones(feeling NO pain)whilst wandering around. 3-years later the ‘Blocked Blond Bomber’ was dead in his swimming pool of a heroin OD. Too, it was a summer very unlike the next one after the assassinations, TET and other doses of jarring reality. But, hey, even the horrendous 1968 ended on a note of Wonder: Apollo 8 circled the Moon for the first time in human history.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

Regent Badge