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Westchester Secret: Janis Joplin At The Cap

Janis Joplin wrote "Mercedes Benz" at a restaurant before her performance at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.
Janis Joplin wrote "Mercedes Benz" at a restaurant before her performance at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. Video Credit: Tom Kucer
The restaurant where Joplin wrote "Mercedes Benz" before a show at the Capitol Theatre. Photo Credit: Geoff Tischman
The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. Photo Credit: Stephanie May.

Janis Joplin’s hit song “Mercedes Benz” was performed for the first time in Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre on an August 1970 night. It was written just before her show at a bar down the street.

Both buildings stand today and hold the story as part of their history.

“We're very proud of the Janis Joplin 'Mercedes Benz' story," said Capitol Theatre's Marketing Director Stefanie May. "It's a great part of our history."

The then-27-year-old rock singer formulated the song with the help of friend and songwriter Bob Neuwirth, according to May and the Wall Street Journal. The two, along with two other friends were killing time after the sound check and went to the bar Vahsens (now called Bambu Restaurant and Night Club Inc.), which is a few doors from the theatre.

Joplin began singing the lyrics to a song written by San Francisco-based poet Sam McClure. The song’s opening line was “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” but she couldn’t remember the rest of it. An impromptu session began after their friends started to bang their beer glasses on the table.

Joplin started adding more to it while Neuwirth wrote it on a napkin.

Her manager then came to let her know she performing in 15 minutes. During the show, she spontaneously decided to sing it a cappella (see link for recording) where she stomped to make a beat for the song.

Tthe band improvised and the rest, more or less, is history.

The Texas native took the tune back to California where she reached out to McClure for permission to use the song. Both liked their versions better but allowed each to coexist.

“Mercedes Benz” was added to Joplin’s 1970 album Pearl after she died on Oct. 4, 1970.

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