Interview with Sam Andrew from Big Brother & The Holding Co

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big brother and the holding company
Big Brother & The Holding Co

Interview by Scott Preston

Evolving out of the San Francisco rock scene of the 1960s, Big Brother was in the forefront of the psychedelic music movement.

The band was formed by Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, James Gurley and Chuck Jones in San Francisco, in a Victorian mansion/boarding house owned by Peter’s uncle at 1090 Page Street in the Haight-Ashbury. That house became the site of Wednesday night jam sessions which were organized by Chet Helms who was the real “Big Brother,” naming the band, bringing James Gurley into the fold and later seeing that his old friend Janis Joplin came to sing with them.The first official Big Brother gig was at the Open Theater in Berkeley, January 1966. Within a short time they became the house band for Chet at the Avalon Ballroom and began to develop a loyal following, largely due to the charismatic, pioneering guitar work of James Gurley. The band had what Sam Andrew called a “progressive-regressive hurricane blues style,” playing such tunes as Hall of the Mountain King, Coo Coo, That’s How Strong My Love Is, and Down On Me. (from www.bbhc.com)

Cincy Groove: So how did Big Brother first end up getting together?

Sam Andrew: I was walking down the street one day in San Francisco and heard some guitar playing coming out of a window. It turns out it was Peter Albin, who plays bass in Big Brother. It sounded really good so I told him “Lets start a band”. So we started playing together every week, sometimes more frequently than that. Over the course of a year we evolved into a band. We were very well known in the San Francisco music scene before Janis came on board. But after she arrived we really started having fun.

Cincy Groove: During 1972-1987 when Big Brother & The Holding Company wasn’t together, what were you doing musically?

Sam Andrew: I went back to New York and studied music at a couple really good schools with some great teachers. Studied things like harmony, counter point, and wrote a lot of classical music. Also in that time frame before Big Brother got back together, I went to Seattle and became a father, got married and settled down for a while.

Cincy Groove: Who brought up the idea of Big Brother & The Holding Company getting back together in 1987?

Sam Andrew: There was this promoter who called us who asked us to play this 20 year anniversary of the Summer of Love gig he was putting together.

Cincy Groove: How many of the original members are currently touring in the band?

Sam Andrew: There are 3 of us from the original band, and we will usually pick up another guitar player and a female vocalist when we go out on tour. I have about 10 different singers that I can call to come out and play with us depending on what part of the country we are performing in. We will be in the Ohio area performing in August and will have a great singer playing with us. She is Mary Bridget Davies and Ben Nieves is a guitar player from Cleveland, OH. Ben is definitely a better guitar player than me, James or anyone else in Kozmic Blues or Full Tilt.

You can’t really compare anyone to Janis because she is unique just like Billie Holiday or Tina Turner. Janis is one of those people you can’t copy without being ridiculous. What we end up getting are some really strong singers with a great sense of self.

Cincy Groove: I see that Big Brother & The Holding Company had their 40th anniversary last year.

Sam Andrew: Yeah we did. I think they will probably try to milk it again. I don’t know about a 50th year anniversary show unless they have it in the nursing home (laughing). We will all be in wheel chairs with oxygen tanks.

Cincy Groove: What did you think the first time you heard Janis Joplin sing?

Sam Andrew: I thought she sounded really authentic, like an old 78 rpm record. She had a very pure voice, great sense of pitch with on edge.

Cincy Groove: Does Big Brother have any new recording projects in the works?

Sam Andrew: Well we just released some material from when we were first together with Janis Joplin called “The Lost Tapes”. We have a record of a concert we did in Germany from a few years ago that sounds really great with Sophia Ramos and Chad Quist.

Cincy Groove: What were some of the bands that you really enjoyed playing with back in the late 1960’s?

Sam Andrew: Well, Jimi Hendrix and ourselves became known about the same time as a result from an appearance at The Monterey Pop Festival. There were a series of dates that year that we played on same bill as him. Jimi was a musical scholar and he was very soft spoken when he was off stage. I also liked Moby Grape, Carlos Santana who I have known since he was 17.

Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?

Sam Andrew: One is somebody who I just got to play with the night before last, Little Richard. He has been my idol since I was 14. To this day I still think he has the greatest voice in rock and roll.

Big Brother and The Holding Company:
Janis Joplin – vocals
Peter Albin – bass
Sam Andrew – guitar
Dave Getz – drums
James Gurley – guitar

Upcoming Big Brother and The Holding Company tour dates:
For complete show details visit www.bbhc.com
July 3 – Mandeville, LA Mandeville Seafood Festival
July 9 – Walker, MN Moondance Jam 17
July 12 – Salem, MO Camp Zoe
July 18 – Bay City, MI Rock ‘N’ Wheels Festival
August 1 – Bangor, ME Club Gemini
August 2 – Southbridge, MA Mill Street Brews
August 3 – Scituate, MA Scituate Harbor Heritage Festival
August 8 – Kitchener, Ontario Kitchener Blues Festival
August 16 – Salmon Arm, British Columbia Salmon Arm Roots And Blues Festival
August 21 – Loraine, OH
August 22 – Cuyahoga Falls, OH Rockin’ On The River
August 23 – Warren, OH Warren Community Amphitheatre
August 24 – Niles, OH
August 26 – Russia
August 27 – Russia
August 28 – Russia
August 31 – Hillsboro, TX Texas Pop Festival Revisited
September 18 – St. Louis, MO
September 20 – Canton, OH
October 11 – Cleon, France
October 12 – Paris, France
October 17 – Tripoli, Greece
October 18 – Athens, Greece
October 19 – Greece