Not one but two local women have been nominated for the 2013 Grammy awards: music writer Holly George-Warren of Phoenicia for the liner notes of The Pearl Sessions, a reissue of Janis Joplin’s 1971 hit album, with supplementary material; and Woodstock resident Elizabeth Mitchell for her new CD Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie. Both recordings also have a Woodstock resonance among their studio personnel, evidence of the creative ferment nurtured by the community.
George-Warren learned about her nomination through a congratulatory email from a friend. “I had no idea!” she said. “I was shocked and surprised and delighted.”
The Pearl Sessions is a two-CD set, also released in vinyl, that includes both Joplin’s platinum album Pearl and alternate takes dug up from the Columbia Records vaults.
The alternate versions are interwoven with talkback in the studio. “You hear Janis coming up with ideas,” said George-Warren, “telling the guitar player what to play, choosing the tempo and the arrangement — although all that is usually the producer’s job.”
Paul Rothchild, who produced the first four Doors albums, was known for being dictatorial and authoritarian in the studio. “He made Morrison do 20 takes” of some songs, noted George-Warren. “But here he was, listening to what Janis said, completely collaborating with her. She hasn’t been given enough credit over the years. She’s stereotyped as a self-destructive artist, but in the studio, she was straight, together, and focused on her artistic vision.”
George-Warren’s credentials include writing for Rolling Stone, New York Times, Village Voice, and many other periodicals, as well as authoring or editing books such as Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry (Oxford University Press, 2007) and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years (HarperCollins, Sept. 2009).
“I have written tons of liner notes,” she said, “and I’ve had the privilege to become knowledgeable about Janis’s music over the years. I was a fan as a kid, and I gave a lecture at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago when she was honored in their annual program ‘American Masters.’”
For the Pearl Sessions notes, George-Warren interviewed Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, the co-authors of “A Woman Left Left Lonely,” one of the songs on the album. Oldham is a keyboard player who backs up Bob Dylan. Penn recalled meeting Joplin in the studio and congratulating her on her success. “He’s never forgotten her reply: ‘I don’t think I’m going to be around long to enjoy it,’” reported George-Warren. “She had a premonition.”
Rothchild passed away from lung cancer in 1995, but George-Warren had interviewed his engineer friend Bruce Botnick for a project on The Doors. “He told me about Rothchild’s relationship with Janis, how they were smitten with each other in the studio.” In the service of art, the two decided to hold off on consummating their passion until the project was completed.
Instead, Joplin died of a drug overdose the day she was supposed to record the vocals for “Buried Alive in the Blues,” which remains an instrumental track on Pearl.
Some of the photos that accompany the current release were shot by the late Barry Feinstein, a long-time Woodstock resident. The Full Tilt Boogie Band, which played back-up on “Pearl,” featured Woodstock piano player Richard Bell.