“Can’t Be The Only One” started out as a blues riff in C# that I was playing on piano back in 1967. It was a ‘call and response’ kind of riff; the bass ‘calling’ and the high part ‘responding’. Originally, it was called “C# Razzamatazz”.
Big Brother and the Holding Co jammed on it one day at Manhattan rehearsal studio in the summer of 1968 and Janis said that she was going to write some words for it. This was a time when our album ‘Cheap Thrills’ was about to be released and would become the #1 album in the country. A few weeks later, in her room at the Chelsea Hotel Janis told everyone that she was quitting the band to go solo, but sometime in between she’d handed me these lyrics she’d written for ‘C# Razzamatazz’ They were written on the back of a flyer for a party that the band had thrown for our friends, I still have them. After the time of her announcement there was never another rehearsal or any chance to play or record it. We went out on our final tour together and at the end of November, 1968 we were split-up as a band.
Since that incredible time forty two years have past. I’ve been in a number of bands including all the different manifestations of Big Brother and the Holding Company: in the early 70s, when we tried to musically separate ourselves from the tag of ‘Janis Joplin’s backup band’ and from 1987 to the present where we’ve embraced our 1966-68 repertoire and perform most of the songs that Janis sang with us; I’ve been in a few other blues/rock groups with strong female singers as well.
In all that time I never even thought about doing “Can’t Be the Only One” with any of those groups. Until about two years ago those lyrics were just part of my collection of memorabilia: a piece of the legacy I’d managed to save in a box.
One day while showing this ‘artifact’ to someone it hit me that this was a song: something that went with music, my music and Janis’ music, not just a piece of paper that conjured memories, questions and appraisals. This was a blues I’d written that has lyrics by someone who is considered by many; including me, to be one of the greatest Rock and Blues singers of all time as well as someone who transcended music, became an icon of the sixties and a symbol to many women of their struggle to re-define themselves. I suppose that would be enough, but what I saw for the first time was not only how honest and personal these words were, but also how prophetic they were at the time she wrote them:
She still felt pain and loneliness despite all the accolades. She knew that there were others that felt the same; this was her connection with her audience. She wasn’t ‘the only one cryin’ at night’. She knew that she had to give what she had to give. “I’ll add my part, take this lonely heart…” She also knew her own tendencies and what could happen: “Reachin’ too high babe, can’t help from getting burned. Twenty five years of sorrow and tears, (she was 25 in ’68) you’d think by now I would have learned”. She saw her own tragedy as it was about to unfold.
I’m so happy to have Kathi MacDonald sing this song as well as two others. Kathi was the first woman to sing with Big Brother and the Holding Co. after Janis; she has the voice and the feeling to bring the song to life and she is karmicly connected to this music. I’m also grateful to all the other great singers and musicians who make up The Dave Getz Breakaway, without their talents and creativity this record would not have been possible.