"Little Girl Blue" — Amy Berg's Janis Joplin documentary narrated by Cat Power — will have its Boston premiere Jan. 8 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. Holliston singer-songwriter Kate Russo will perform live pre-screening, and while there's no doubt the New England Conservatory-trained violinist is qualified for the task, her appearance is extra special as she spent years playing with Joplin’s own backing band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
"We toured everywhere, even as far away as Thailand," says Russo, 44, who has also played with Van Morrison and Gavin DeGraw. "When I met Big Brother in 1996 I didn’t know who they were. But they wanted a rock violinist and we became great friends."
Along the way, Russo took on Joplin’s vocal role and the film reveals that’s no easy task.
Oscar-nominated Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil,” “West of Memphis”) gives her viewers a front row seat to Joplin’s live performances and glances behind the scenes. The 103-minute documentary follows the Texan’s rise from San Francisco’s hippie haven, Haight-Ashbury, to worldwide renown for “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart.”
Joplin died in 1970 from an accidental heroin overdose; she was only 27. Even today, it’s hard to say whether she fell victim to inner demons, or was just a product of the times. “Nobody knows an artist, not really,” says Russo. “She was a smart girl from what I’ve heard, and impassioned, yet very shy.”
And whatever hyperbole surrounds her name today, Joplin’s influence on the likes of Joss Stone, Courtney Love, Joan Jett and PJ Harvey is undeniable.
“She had a very special gift and it never lessened — over the years it only grew in importance. Everyone always says she had this raw quality, and that’s true. She was so raw, so emotional,” Russo says.
“The guys in Big Brother told me they loved it. I wanted to wait and see it on Friday. I have this personal connection, but I’m like a giddy fan, too.”
"Little Girl Blue" premiere with Kate Russo. Friday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. $12 advance; $15 day of show/$10 for Regent Theatre members. "Little Girl Blue" will play through Jan. 14. Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington. 781-646-4849. www.regenttheatre.com