Leader Peter Albin, a country-blues guitarist who had played with future Grateful Dead founders Jerry Garcia and Ron McKernan, met Sam Andrew, a professional rock guitarist with a jazz and classical background. After playing together at Albin's home,Andrew suggested they form a band. The pair approached guitarist James Gurley, the resulting threesome playing open jam sessions hosted by entrepreneur Chet Helms in 1965. Helms found them a drummer, Chuck Jones, and Big Brother and the Holding Company was formed at their first gig, the Trips Festival in January 1966. In the audience was painter and jazz drummer David Getz, who soon displaced Jones.
Big Brother went on to become the house band at the Avalon Ballroom, playing a progressive style of instrumental rock. Feeling a need for a strong vocalist, Helms contacted Janis Joplin, who at the time was considering joining up with Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators. She traveled to San Francisco from Austin, Texas and debuted with Big Brother at the Avalon on June 10, 1966