Janis Martin Hard Rockin’ Mamma – showing this generation how it’s done.

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Music
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Janis Martin was indeed, “The Female Elvis”, a fellow RCA recording artist with the expressed permission of Colonel Tom Parker to use the title publicly! When you really consider what that meant in 1956, it is astounding. But in truth, Janis Martin was much, much more than a female knock-off of that year’s top performer. She was no less than a founding member of the rockabilly style. And before I tell you more about that, you need to know that when she got the call from RCA in 1956, she was only 15 years old!

Janis Martin, The Female Elvis

You’ll know her rich jazzy trumpet of a voice from three songs in particular: “Will You, Willyum” was her biggest hit, with her own “Drugstore Rock and Roll” on the flip side. And her performance of “My Boy Elvis” for Dave Garroway on the Today Show won her a spot in the Grand Ole Opry.

A PRISONER OF THE STAGE – Janis showed early skill as a performer. Her childhood was spent on stage, singing and playing the guitar from age four. The guitar was too big for her, so she started up holding it like a double bass, straight up and down on the floor. Now that’s cute! By age six she was playing chords and singing along. At eight, she began winning talent contests. She was her mother’s little gold mine, groomed for stardom, hard at work when other children were playing outside.

But she became an outstanding guitarist and studied the songs of blues artists, which she performed on radio “barn dance” shows in her native Virginia. In her first Nashville recording session for RCA, she met Chet Atkins, who told her she was “right on track” with the newly emerging rockabilly style. RCA put her with other top session musicians for recording sessions in New York and Nashville. Her work earned her the “Most Promising Female Vocalist” of 1956.

UH OH! – Meanwhile, payback time was brewing. Remember how Janis’ mother made her work all through her childhood? Unknown to anyone, Janis, at age 15, had secretly married her boyfriend just before her first session at RCA! Fortunately, he shipped out to Germany with the US Army. I say “fortunately” because we might never have heard this wonderful artist had they set up housekeeping right away!

During that first session in Nashville, Chet Atkins ironically picked a song for her called “Let’s Elope.” Imagine the suppressed glee Janis must have felt at that! A year later, Janis was on tour in Europe, still secretly married. While she was there, she visited her boyfriend (husband!) at his station in Germany. Shortly afterward, Janis realized she was pregnant. Her secret had to come out.

Eight months pregnant at her last recording session, her manager, Steve Sholes, was reportedly bawling his eyes out! He had believed she could have been a huge star, truly the equivalent of her namesake. All Janis wanted to do was settle down and have her baby and a real life.

YEARS LATER, AN EPIPHANY – In the early 1970s, Janis kids were teenagers and she was a single mom. She convened a new band and tried performing once again. Her own words: “I realized it wasn’t momma pushing me any longer. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it and loved it.”

By 1979, offers for tour dates were flooding in from all over the world. At 42 years old, The incredulous Janis had no choice but to follow the call, receiving the adoration of retro-dressed fans of rockabilly all over England, Europe, and Australia.

Janis still makes appearances today, but is most content with her “real” life. She is retired in Danville, Virginia, about 16 miles from the place where the talented Ms. Martin was born and raised to rock’n’roll!

SEPTEMBER 6, 2007 – It is with sadness that today we mourn the passing of Janis Martin at the age of 67, far too soon. Our condolences to her children and to all who love this brilliant singer and songwriter. We do too.


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