Janis Martin Has
Left the Building

Sunset in Little Brittany by Pat Le Meur

Dominique "Imperial" Anglares - Posted 9/7/07

A year ago Bear Family records from Germany had issued a great CD by Janis Martin, once billed "The Female Elvis", with masters and studio outtakes. That neat CD packaged in a Scotch magnetic tape look-a-like box showed us from inside how that Virginia gal could rock as early as 1956. Those outtakes from New-York sessions done in 1956 and 1957 show her at work and blow off our socks and peg pants. Janis, since her first show in Holland in March 1982, was a regular visitor in Europe. She was in France in October 2005 and was booked for a forthcoming show in England. But, last week, the whole Rock'n'Roll community was in shock after her illness was know. Janis was fighting an aggressive cancer and we all hoped she can win the battle. She was a strong rockin' rollin' Lady and we loved her so much. All our hopes were crashed last Monday Sept 3, 2007, when Janis left that world. But who was Janis Martin?

She was the first female to record Rock'n'Roll on her first session at the tender age of 16. She never recorded any Hillbilly or Country records before turning to Rock'n'Roll. She came rockin' and rollin' from the start with 100% vol. pure Rock'n'Roll and she do that until the end. Let me told you her story more in depth:

Janis Darlene Martin was born, 27th March 1940, in Virginia before her family moved to Akron (Ohio) where she learned to play guitar and worked on radio. In 1949, the family was back in Virginia and Janis will be soon featured on WDVA radio out from Danville. She will work one time with Jim Eanes and his Shenandoah Valley Boys before she have her own show, at 13 years old, on WHEE out from Martinsville. One year later, she staged the Old Dominion Barn dance from Richmond and rubbed shoulders with such country stars as Hawkshaw Hawkins, Sonny James or Martha Carson. She was a great fan of Rose Maddox who set, with her big Brothers, the roots for the Rockabilly music raise few years later.

She will meet Elvis for the first time, backstage in Danville, on 20th September 1955. At that time she only knew "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" by the Memphis cat but, as him, she had a strong appeal for Blues and Rhythm and Blues. She already played on stage some Ruth Brown's, another Virginia native, stuff or Lavern Baker songs. She was a great fan of Ruth Brown and they sang once together on stage few years ago in California. Janis made also "The Ted Mack Amateur Hour" but was dropped for being too wild. Janis will meet Elvis once again, in 1956, in New-York. She was working on her recording session and he was there for a promotional pictures session. Both were working so that what just "Hey you, how do you feel" and "Good luck" meeting. Few months later, Elvis send her a dozen roses when she was guest at a RCA records convention in Miami.

In 1956, Janis recorded two demos of songs written by Carl Stutz and Carl Barefoot, both working for WRVA radio. They caught the hears of Steve Sholes who was in charge of the new hot RCA attraction, Elvis Presley. The first session, in March, was set in Nashville, with Chet Atkins, Grady Martin, Bob Moore. They would give birth to "Will You, Willyum" and "Drugstore Rock and Roll", both coupled on her first single who will sell over 750,000 copies. Another session set in New-York, in May 56, gave birth to a cover of the classic Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" and to "My Boy Elvis", one of the ever best songs recorded about the Memphis rockin' cat. Janis will be nominated as "Most Promising Female artist of 1956" in Billboard and even The Rockateens, a rock'n'roll group, recorded a song about her titled "Janis Will Rock" on Roulette records.

Janis was on the road with Hank Snow, Faron Young, Dave Rich, Carl Perkins or Johnny Cash. She liked Carl Perkins stuff better than Elvis one then. She met the glamourous Wanda Jackson and wanted to look as sexy as her. But she was rather seen as a teenage novelty and had to wear circle skirt and ponytail. She has been seen and heard on major radio and TV shows in Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia or New-York. She appeared on The Pee Wee King show and on the Ozark Jubilee. She had nice features on various Country magazines as Country and Western Jamboree, Country song Roundup or Rustic Rhythm.

She recorded through 1957 but as Chet Atkins wanted a more "pop" sound, she cut songs as "Love Me to Piece" and "Two long Years" written by the late great Melvin Endsley. She also covered "I Don't Hurt Anymore" and "Half Loved" and did a great job on such ballads. But in October 1957, she was back rockin' and rollin' with hot stuff as "Good Love", "Cracker jack" and "All Right Baby".

The same year, she was on tour in Europe with Jim Reeves, The Brown, Del Wood and Hank Lockin. In a whirlwind 32 days tour, they worked from Germany to England. She soon met her husband who was stationed in Aungsberg, Germany, and came back pregnant. A last session was cut in July '58 with the guitars masters Hank Garland and Grady Martin before RCA dropped her. From that last session came the killer rockin' song "Bang Bang". RCA had spent a lot of time and money on promotion and, having a child, more or less should have destroyed the teenage image they had build. When her husband returned to the States, about eight months later, they separated. But Janis, never ever regretted her choice.

The main problem for Janis was that she toured mostly with a Country package show lead by Jim Reeves. The country audience liked her work as long as she did country music on the shows. When she went into something rockabilly they still were nice but were kinda strange Ścause they don't know how to accept it. She wouldn't dare go into stuff like "Ooby Dooby" or some wilder tunes like "Barefoot Baby" throwing her shoes off!

During her RCA days, she had records issued in Germany, Japan and in South-Africa where she share a 10 inch LP's with Elvis. That record is a real rare item as Colonel Parker stopped the sales quickly probably Ścause the cover said "Janis & Elvis". He doesn't wanted Elvis being upstaged by anybody even on a record sleeve. That record is so rare than even Janis didn't own an original copy and saw it for the first time in 1977.

In 1960, she cut some great sides for "Palette" like "Cry Guitar" or "Teen Street" and was lined up for a new English tour and for the "American Bandstand" but her second husband made her hang up her rockin' guitar. They soon divorced and Janis was back in music around 1971. In 1977, she was back in studio with a cover of Hank Snow "I'm Moving on" on Big Dutch records. Sure, that high powered Lady, is movin' on when she was in Holland in March 1982. Thousand European fans made the trip to Eindhoven in order to see that "Barefoot Baby". Since she had been on stage in England, France and Spain, to name a few countries, in October 2005, she attracted 1200 people in a small French town named Concarneau. Let me tell you the old town walls are still shaking. Next month, Glen Glenn, a Janis friend, will play there.

I meet Janis in 1982 and then again in 2005 with her long time husband Wayne. They are both wonderful and lovely people. Janis helped me to persuade Laura Lee Perkins (another 50's rockin' Lady) to be back on major Rockabilly show. Her help was worthy and Laura Lee Perkins will headline the next "Viva Las Vegas" festival in April 2008. She was also back in touch with Dave Rich, a RCA label mate, and was in demand for a forthcoming book about Jim Reeves. Since our meeting we shared letters, gifts and happy phone calls until the sad event of early 2007. From then Janis started to feel low and to suffer bad headaches. Nevertheless, she was recently recording ten song with Rosie Flores and nobody could imagine a such end. Once more Cancer had stole another friend but the "Drugstore Rock'n'Roll" clock will never stop to click. Janis loved all her fans, young teen or old rockin' daddies and grannies, and she will be remembered as one of the sweetest and lovely rock'n'roll singers. All our wishes goes to her family and friends.

Dominique "Imperial" Anglares
Brest R'n'R Appreciation Society.

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