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Dave Getz

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Dave Getz, born January 24, 1940, is a percussionist, keyboard player, and visual artist best known for his work as a drummer for Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Early life[edit]

Getz grew up in a crowded Brooklyn apartment with his Jewish immigrant grandmother, parents and two sisters..[1] His first experience with drumming came from his childhood interest in Plains Indian culture, which led to his joining the Heyoka Indian Dancers, directed by a teacher named Grey Owl. In that grouped he learned to play the drum and developed his rhythmic sensibilities. This led to a brief period study at the Henry Adler School on West 48th St. in New York. Getz was otherwise self-taught as a drummer. By the age of 15 he was working professionally, and joined the musicians union local 802.[2] While still a student at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn[3], and later while attending Cooper Union, Getz played numerous parties, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and other gigs in hotels in the Catskills and other venues. This included a stint with Rick Lundy and the Saints, a Dixieland band, on a Holland-America ship from New York to Rotterdam in the early summer of 1959.[4][better source needed] After disembarking in Rotterdam, Getz hitchhiked through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland before meeting up with Lundy's ensemble in Hamburg for the passage back to New York. As a result of this experience he became skilled as a Dixieland jazz drummer.

After obtaining his diploma from Cooper Union, Getz was granted a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine, and was also admitted to Yale University. Turning down Yale, in 1960 he drove instead to San Francisco, where a Skowhegan acquaintance had advised him to relocate, to begin studies at the California School of Fine Arts, soon to be renamed the San Francisco Art Institute. Shortly after he dropped out in order to earn money. Following a brief stint with the U. S. Postal Service, Getz resumed his studies in 1961 and received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1964.[2] During this period in San Francisco, Getz continued his involvement in jazz by sitting in with bebop ensembles, thanks to his friendship with a trumpeter. Although he managed to hold his own in this challenging musical environment, he never felt fully adequate to the complexity of jazz drumming.

For all of his love of drumming, he wished to pursue a career as a painter. After winning a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue creative projects in the visual arts, Getz lived in Kraków, Poland from 1964 to 1965.[2] He had applied for a Fulbright to Poland for a variety of reasons, including his enthusiam for the early films of Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda. In Poland he continued to play jazz with local musicians. [5] On the eve of his departure from Poland he donated his jazz record collection, including albums by Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, and Horace Silver, to the saxophonist Leszek Żądło, who later revealed that this gift resulted in his Krakow home becoming an important center for Polish musicians eager to keep up with recent developments in American music. In this way Getz unwittingly altered the course of Polish jazz.

Upon his return to San Francisco, Getz taught painting at the San Francisco Art Institute during the 1965–66 school year. Even while teaching at the Institute, he continued to play jazz as part of the Studio 13 Jazz Band. In 1965 he met Peter Albin at a cafe close by Getz's art studio, and became the drummer of Big Brother and Holding Company as the definitive replacement for drummer Chuck Jones in 1966, remaining an integral part of the band through all of its subsequent configurations.


Getz performed and recorded with Big Brother and the Holding Company during the years of their greatest success (1966–1968) as well as their later projects. His drumming is clearly audible (and visible) in the two Big Brother performances included in the documentary film Monterey Pop, energetically virtuosic in "Combination of the Two" and solidly supportive in the classic rendition of "Ball and Chain", in which he plays an essential role in keeping the band together amid the melismatic vocal improvisations of Janis Joplin. The performance by the band at the Monterey Pop Festival represented the apex of their success, although as Getz noted in an interview in the documentary Nine Hundred Nights it was also "the beginning of the end" of their most celebrated period. Following the departure of Joplin and Sam Andrew in 1968, Getz and Albin joined Country Joe and the Fish.[6] Getz's drumming can be heard on several tracks ("Here I go again," "I'll survive," and "Maria" from Country Joe and the Fish's album Here We Are Again.[7] Aside from his contributions as a drummer, Getz's work with Big Brother extended to producing the album Cheaper Thrills in 1984.[8]

Getz and Albin reunited with Andrew and Gurley in the Fall of 1969 to reconstitute Big Brother in tandem with a series of collaborators, including Nick Gravenites and the singer Kathi McDonald. Getz found this period very satisfying artistically, later testifying that the reconstituted Big Brother enjoyed creative possibilities that had been out of the question when they were relegated to the role of Joplin's backup band.[9] After two critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums (Be a Brother in 1970 and How Hard It Is in 1971), the band temporarily split once more. Getz toured again with Country Joe and the All-Stars in 1972, and his drumming can be heard on most of the tracks of the Paris Sessions album. Between 1969 and 1975 he played and recorded with several bands including Pendergrass with Kathi McDonald and Ronnie Montrose, The New Boogaloo Express with Terry Haggerty and other members of the San Francisco band Sons of Champlin, Banana and the Bunch with Banana (Lowell Levinger) and other members of The Youngbloods, and the Arica Band with Bruce Langhorne and Al Schackman. In 1975, Getz moved to Los Angeles. Here he met his second wife, singer and actress Joan Payne, with whom he wrote and performed as part of an eclectic ensemble called "Passengers".[10] The band came close to getting a recording contract but never succeeded, and after four years Getz decided to return to his first love, the visual arts. During his years in Los Angeles he also played and recorded with various jazz and cabaret performers including the band Nu York with John York, a former member of the Byrds.

Renewed involvement with visual arts[edit]

From 1979 to 1987 Getz devoted himself completely to the visual arts. Working from his studio in Santa Monica he produced over thirty limited edition prints, hundreds of paintings, cast paper pieces, collages, and mixed-media pieces. Since 1980 his work has been shown in galleries all over the U.S.A. and Europe and has been acquired by numerous corporate and private collections. Getz also served as exhibition chairman of both the Los Angeles Printmaking Society and the California Society of Printmakers.[2] His artworks have been exhibited at the Ruth Bachofner Gallery in Los Angeles, the DeVorzon Gallery, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Works Downtown in San Rafael, Sonoma State University, College of Marin, Studio Z., and the Merriam Perlman Gallery in Chicago.[11]

Drumming style[edit]

Due in part to his early training, Getz at first played with a traditional grip, but when he joined Big Brother he switched to matched grip under the influence of Ringo Starr, whose drumming he had seen in A Hard Day's Night; this provided him with the increased power to be heard above loudly amplified instruments. A rare reversion to traditional grip can be see in the footage "Light is faster than sound" in the 2001 documentary film Nine Hundred Nights. Though largely confined to a supporting role with Big Brother, Getz displayed considerable virtuosity in such tracks as "Oh, Sweet Mary" and "You've Been Talkin 'bout me, baby." A detailed technical account of his drumming on the classic Big Brother recording Piece of my Heart emphasizes the subtle interplay of crash cymbals, snare, and bass drum, concluding that the song "benefits greatly from the drummer's understanding of his place within the band's unique kinetic balance."[12]

Personal life[edit]

Since 1982, Getz has been married to his second wife, Joan Payne, a singer and actress. Payne remains active as a singer in the Marin County area, specializing in standards from the Great American Songbook. Getz and Payne's two daughters are also professionally active in music. Alzara Getz (b. 1969), Getz's daughter from a previous marriage, helped to found the San Francisco-based band Brother Spellbinder, with whom she remains involved as a songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist, playing guitar, harmonica, and ukelele.[13] Getz's daughter Dezi Paige (b. 1986) is a songwriter who has sung and recorded with a variety of performers including the Yancey Boys and the rap artist Common; her singing can also be heard in the 2016 animated film Ballerina. As a bandmate and friend of Janis Joplin, Getz has frequently been interviewed insights into her life, and is often cited in the published literature on her. With Susan Lydon he also co-authored a review of two biographies of Joplin. [14]

Recent musical activity[edit]

Aside from his continued work with later versions of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Getz has collaborated with many other artists, including the Brazilian guitarist Jose Neto and the late jazz vocalists Bob Dorough and Kellye Gray. He has also worked with Bread and Roses, the non-profit musical cooperative founded in San Francisco by Mimi Fariña. He has led drumming workshops in San Quentin prison, and taught drumming and rhythm at the College of Marin and several other schools in Marin County. Getz has also fronted his own band, The Dave Getz Breakaway. The title song of their debut album, Can't Be The Only One, released in 2010, features an unusual posthumous "collaboration" between Getz and Janis Joplin, with whom he had retained a close friendship after her departure from Big Brother in 1968.[15] In the late summer of 1968, shortly before she left Big Brother, Joplin handed Getz a slip of paper containing lyrics she had written to go with a piano riff which she had heard him playing the year before; over forty years later Getz had worked it into a finished product with his new band.[16] The album received strong reviews in the New York Times and the local press in Marin County.


  1. David Talbot, "Big Brother drummer holding onto the times that slipped away." San Francisco Chronicle. May 4, 2017. Retrieved Dec. 31, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Dave Getz : Biography".
  3. Katz, Mike and Crispin Kott. Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to New York City (Lanham, MD: Globe Pequot, 2018), p. 188.
  4. "Dave Getz Interview (2016) Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue, Big Brother & The Holding Company" – via
  5. Tusiewicz, Grzegorz. Krakowski Jazz-Klub "Helikon" 1956-1969: wspomnienia, impresje i relacje (Krakow: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 2006, pp. 94-99.
  6. Larkin, Colin, ed. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Vol. 2 (Enfield, England: Guinness Pub.; New York: Stockton Press, 1992), p. 995
  7. Spörke, Michael. Big Brother and the Holding Co. 1965-2003: Die Band, die Janis Joplin berühmt machte (Kassel: M. Spörke, 2003), p. 124
  8. "Big Brother & The Holding Company ‎– Cheaper Thrills". Discogs. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  9. Spörke, p. 139
  10. Spörke, p. 147
  11. "Dave Getz Made to Last Editions 2015".
  12. Girouard, Bob. "Who's on that song? Big Brother and the Holding Company’s 'Piece of My Heart.' Modern Drummer, April 2019, p. 82.
  13. "Brother Spellbinder bio".
  14. Getz, David and Susan Lydon, "The Search for Janis Joplin," Ms. Magazine, November 1973, Vol. 2, no. 5, pp. 36-39
  15. Friedman, Myra, Buried Alive (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1973), passim.
  16. Evans, Greg (October 1, 2010). "Reviving Janis Joplin 40 Years After Her Death" – via

External links[edit]

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