Paul Liberatore: Still a piece of his heart
Paul Liberatore
Article Launched: 01/04/2007 04:02:59 PM PST

On the wall of David Getz's home/studio in Fairfax are two proud possessions that define his life: a master's degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and a gold record for one of the classic rock albums of all-time: "Cheap Thrills," by Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin.

In 1966, Getz left his job as a young teacher at the Art Institute to become the drummer for Big Brother during its brief but fiery existence with Joplin, who died of a drug overdose in the fall of 1970 when she was just 27 years old.

The mid- and late '60s were the seminal years of the San Francisco Sound, when the Bay Area was the center of the rock 'n' roll universe and the drug-saturated psychedelia of the Haight/Ashbury was creating what would become known as the counterculture.

Dave Getz, in front of his paper
inlay artwork, left his job as an art
teacher to become the drummer
for Big Brother and the Holding
Company. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)

We've all heard the old joke that if you remember the '60s you weren't there, but Getz and many others of his vintage were indeed there and remember a great deal about that historic period.

They now have the luxury of the passage of time, the ability to look back on it from the vantage point of five decades.

On Tuesday night, Getz will be part of a panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of 1967's Summer of Love and the Human Be-In.

The event will be hosted by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, a nonprofit group working to transform San Francisco's Old Mint into a history museum that will include the San Francisco of the 1960s.

It's easy to become enamored with the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll of the '60s, to focus on the mythology and romanticized self-destructivness of the movement - the deaths of Janis and Jimi and Jim Morrison.

In doing that, we lose sight of the larger issues, the strides that were made in peace and social justice and musical expression by idealistic young people who survived the excesses of their youth and are now in middle-age and beyond.

"When you look at society now, you can see that we're not all done with racial issues in this country, we're not all done with gay issues, we're not all done with feminist issues, we're not all done with farming and food issues, but all of these things were incubated in the '60s," Getz says, sitting among his drums and memorabilia, his artwork and musical instruments.

"One of the things that people think about the '60s is that the whole thing crashed after the Summer of Love, and it did," he continues. "We were beaten back and beaten down. The counterculture suffered a bitter defeat and bubbles were burst, but it's not like the battle was over in 1969 and '70.

"A lot of the ideas from the counterculture got absorbed and appropriated, maybe not in the way the people from the Whole Earth Catalog would have liked them to, but we won little battles, we scored little victories, and gradually things have gotten better."

Getz, on this day sporting a baseball cap with "Maui" stitched on the front, comfortably dressed in a beige sweater and nylon athletic pants, is an articulate man with a neatly trimmed grayish/brown goatee. He celebrates his 67th birthday this month.

He still tours with a version of Big Brother that includes original members Peter Albin and Sam Andrew along with various women vocalists singing Janis' old hits.

He also performs locally with his wife, jazz singer Joan Getz, and teaches drums, seeking students through He and his wife, together 31 years, live with their 20-year-old daughter in the same hillside Fairfax home where he has lived since 1969.

Born and raised in Brooklyn's Flatbush, Getz was something of a drumming prodigy, playing with Dixieland groups in the Catskills when he was a teenager. He had a union card before his 16th birthday.

But he wanted to be a painter more than a musician, studying art at Cooper Union in Lower Manhattan before migrating to the Bay Area to get his master's at the Art Institute.

After meeting Albin, the bass player for Big Brother, Getz was invited to join the budding group just as Janis and her bandmates were preparing to move into an old hunting lodge in Lagunitas to live together and hone the sound that would produce hits like the immortal "Piece of My Heart."

At the time, Getz was working as a chef at the Spaghetti Factory in North Beach, he had a nice apartment above the restaurant, his own painting studio and a job teaching at the Art Institute.

"I thought this band will last a little while, I'll have some fun and get laid a lot," he recalls with a smile. "Then when Janis came and we were going to live together, it started to get serious.

"I had to give up my apartment, I had to give up my studio, which was a big thing for me. None of us, including Janis, really were sure if we wanted to put this much faith into this thing.

"But we were playing every weekend, at the Avalon and the Matrix, and we were making money. We were all very hesitant, but I ended up giving up my apartment and moving out to Lagunitas to become the drummer for Big Brother."

It would be the predictable thing for Getz to say that he would do it all again, even though Janis ended up leaving Big Brother and striking out on her own before her untimely death.

But he isn't so sure he would.

"Looking back, given the choice again, I probably wouldn't do it," he says, then pauses, changing his mind. "I guess I probably would, but sometimes I think about what would have been if I didn't.

"All the guys I graduated from the Art Institute with in '64 and '65 went on to have lots of art shows and most of them wound up teaching at universities, becoming the head of the art department at Notre Dame or St. Mary's or small colleges like that.

"They're all retired now, collecting $75,000-a-year pensions. But I'm going to be playing drums for the rest of my life because I don't have anything like that. Big Brother collects royalties, but it's not enough that I don't have to work. I'm going to have to work for the rest of my life because I made that choice."

Pondering his decision even more deeply, he comes to the conclusion that he probably did the right thing after all. This was not another girl singer he played behind, you understand. This was the great Janis Joplin.

"On the other hand," he goes on, "I had an incredible experience. What a ride. How many people get to play with Janis Joplin in their life. That was a thrill, a THRILL. To be on stage with someone like that. It was like going to war with a nuclear bomb. You know you're going to win."

If You Go :

What: Dave Getz joins a panel moderated by rock critic Joel Selvin that will discuss the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the Human Be-In

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9

Where: The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St.

Tickets: $5 donation is requested

Information: Call 775-1111 or go to

Paul Liberatore can be reached at

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