Local fans who have been missing the frenzied performances and powerful vocal chords of Cathy Richardson since she moved to San Francisco last year will get the opportunity to actually see her twice in Chicago this month. Richardson—who learned to rock out to Heart and has been playing the part of Janis Joplin on and off for eight years in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis—has been touring this summer with Joplin's original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and will perform with the band at Northalsted Market Days as well as with her own Cathy Richardson Band. Windy City Times spoke with Richardson about her many projects.
Windy City Times: Well, I know you are touring right now with Big Brother and the Holding Company for the Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Tour. How did that come about and what has the experience been like?
Cathy Richardson: The experience has been great so far. I'd been doing this Janis Joplin play [ Love, Janis ] on and off since 1999, and I know Sam Andrews from Big Brother through that. ... I don't know why they haven't asked me to sing with them before now, but I'm glad. Now that I'm doing it, it's going so well. I just hope they keep asking me.
The Summer of Love was a very political time, and some people are trying to make comparisons and parallels with the Iraq War and Vietnam—is there a political vibe to the tour or is it just let's go out and have fun?
Nobody is talking about anything political on stage. ... It's about the music. I mean, to me, that was the most important time in rock and roll history…the music and those people that were there who made that music. The music wasn't necessarily political but it was like the soundtrack to the times and what was going on in San Francisco. I think it was a beautiful, awesome time. ... It was cool.
WCT: You played the famous Monterey location [ scene of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival ] on July 28-29. That must have been amazing.
CR: It was. It's so funny how your fantasy is so different from how it is in real life. I didn't know what to expect. I was taken aback at how small the space was. In the movie it seems like a football stadium. It's really not that big... [ but ] looking at it, it's like, 'Wow, that's the stage and that's where Clive Davis was sitting.' ... It's just a crazy thing to imagine back then with all these famous people there milling around in the crowd.
WCT: Do you have a favorite Joplin song you like performing?
CR: Out of the Big Brother stuff, something I really get a kick out of singing is Combination of the Two and, of course, Ball and Chain. Actually, the highlight of the Big Brother show is a new song they have called Hold Me. ... I just love her soul period; that's when she was doing her best singing. That stuff seems to really fit in my breadbasket; it feels just like an extension of me.
WCT: So, you will be in Chicago next for the NortHalsted Market Days, both with your band, the Cathy Richardson Band, on Aug. 11, and with Big Brother on Aug. 12. What is it like to play in Chicago?
CR: I love Chicago. That's where I've been my whole life. I've only been living in San Francisco for a year now, and I go back all the time. That's where my biggest support system is and fan base, so it's great. It takes a lot of pressure off of me. I don't have to win these people over, because right now that's the story of my life. I go out there in these new towns and people have their arms folded and they're like, 'Okay—impress me,' and you've got these huge shoes to fill. So when I get up on stage in Chicago at Market Days, which I've played many times, it's just relaxed. Everybody is out there. They're singing along; they're totally with you; and they're your friends and family.
I'm so excited to be able to bring Big Brother here. They recorded their first album [ the self-titled Big Brother and the Holding Company ] on Mainstream Records, an indie label out of Chicago.
WCT: What can the audience expect from the Cathy Richardson Band and from the Big Brother performance?
CR: It's totally different. I write some blues songs, but I call my music rock and roll, where I would say Big Brother is more blues. When I'm singing with Big Brother, I am basically doing my version of Janis, but when I sing with my band, it's my voice, which is quite different. I have an amazing band, too.
WCT: You are also promoting your new CD, Delusions of Grandeur, and I was wondering what that album is like in comparison to other albums you've put out?
CR: This record is extremely personal; I was definitely making it for myself. My whole life, I've put thought into what will be commercially successful and [ tried ] to craft my songs in that way.
Two records ago I had basically two albums worth of material and I was trying to make cohesive albums that work together. So, I took the happier, poppier, lighter songs and made the Road to Bliss, and as soon as that was done, I started on Delusions, which was a little bit darker [ and ] a little bit sadder. We'd been nominated for a Grammy for the album art for the Road to Bliss, so we thought that we had to top it this time and the artwork and the whole album is very elaborate. The inside painting took Bill Dolan a year to do. He recreated a Pannini masterpiece.
See www.crband.com .