Janis Martin

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This article is about the American rockabilly and country singer. For the American opera singer, see Janis Martin (soprano).
Janis Martin
Janis Martin 1956.JPG
Martin in 1956
Background information
Birth name Janis Darlene Martin
Born (1940-03-27)March 27, 1940
Origin Sutherlin, Virginia
Died September 3, 2007(2007-09-03) (aged 67)
Genres Rockabilly, country, rock and roll
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1956–2007
Labels RCA, Palette

Janis Darlene Martin (March 27, 1940 – September 3, 2007) was an American rockabilly and country music singer. She was one of the few women working in the male-dominated rock and roll music field during the 1950s and one of country music's early female innovators. Martin was nicknamed the Female Elvis for her dance moves on stage, similar to those of Elvis Presley.

Biography[edit]

Early life and rise to fame[edit]

Martin was born in Sutherlin, Virginia, east of Danville. Her mother was a stage mother, and her father and uncle were both musicians. Before she was six, Martin was already singing and playing the guitar, inspired by Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams. Over the years, this resulted in statewide contests with over 200 contestants, which she won. As a result, Janis was asked to play on the same bill as Cowboy Copas and Sunshine Sue. Through them Janis became a member of the Old Dominion Barndance on WRVA, which came out of Richmond every Saturday Night on CBS network. When she was in her mid-teens, she was appearing with country singers including Arnold, Hank Snow, The Browns and Jim Reeves. She soon claimed she was tired of country music and began a rock and roll career.

Teen rock and roll star[edit]

The WRVA station announcer, Carl Stutz, wrote a song called "Will You Willyum", and asked Janis to sing the song live on stage that Saturday night so he could make a demo tape and send to his publisher in New York. A week after the recording, Stutz called Janis that RCA was interested in recording "Will You Willyum". As it happened, the publisher offered the song to Steve Sholes at RCA records and asked whether Sholes had an artist to record "Will You Willyum". Apparently Sholes replied, "Well, who's the girl doin' the demo?"

At age 15, Martin was signed with RCA in March 1956, just two months after Elvis Presley signed with the label. She recorded "Will You Willyum" on March 8, 1956, backed by her own composition, "Drugstore Rock 'n Roll".

The song became the biggest hit of her career, selling 750,000 records and hitting the country and pop charts. Soon Martin was performing on American Bandstand, The Today Show and Tonight Starring Steve Allen. She also appeared on Jubilee USA, and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, becoming one of the younger performers to ever appear. Billboard named her Most Promising Female Vocalist that year.

Presley and RCA were so impressed with her stage presence, they dubbed her the Female Elvis.[citation needed][1] Presley sent a dozen red roses to Martin when she appeared at the RCA Records convention in Miami, Florida. Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, offered to take over her management seeing the potential of a successful double "boy-girl" bill. Just before, due to his extremely taxing touring schedule, Elvis had collapsed on stage in New York due to exhaustion. Safeguarding the young Janis for this, her parents decided to not accept Parkers offer, and instead go with the head of the Old Dominion shows. She was chosen by RCA to tour as a member of the Jim Reeves show and continued recording rock and roll and country material that ended up being successful on both charts, including "My Boy Elvis", "Let's Elope Baby", her cover of Roy Orbison's song "Ooby Dooby", and "Love Me to Pieces".

On January 7, 1956, Martin eloped with her boyfriend, a paratrooper. She told her parents of her marriage only after her husband was safely shipped overseas in Germany. Her father tried to have it annulled, because she was only 15 years old. Eventually, the matter was left, although Janis' mother ordered her to keep her marriage a secret to safeguard her career. In 1957, Janis went on an USO tour in Europe with Jim Reeves, Del Wood piano player "Down Yonder", The Browns and Hank Locklin. Her husband got a 30-day leave and went on the road with her, which resulted in her getting pregnant with her son. Janis' teenage pregnancy caused RCA to drop her in 1958. It was probably in this period that it was released in South Africa a 10" LP album titled Janis And Elvis. This was immediately recalled upon request from the USA since it suggested the idea that the two performers were singing together. Although King Records and Decca Records were interested, she signed with a Belgian label, Palette, in 1960.

Later career[edit]

By 1960, Martin was on her second marriage, and her husband demanded she leave the music business. In the 1970s, she began performing again with her newly formed band, The Variations. In 1975, she was working for the Halifax, Virginia Police Department when Music Historian, Dennis West tracked her down. Edd Bayes a record collector from Maryland asked Dennis for her address which Dennis gave to him. He then coaxed her to appear locally and tell her story in Goldmine magazine. Martin toured through Europe as part of the rockabilly revival there, and in 1979 Bayes convinced RCA to release four Martin songs in their vault. They were released on Dog Gone Records in 1977. Edd Bayes took one of the songs that had been recorded twice ("Love Me Love") at different tempos and added the 'cha cha' to the title. In the 1980s, the Bear Family label gathered Martin's complete record history with the compilation album The Female Elvis. Since the early 1980s Janis started performing again at Rockabilly shows through Europe and the US. One of her live shows was released on a CD called "Here I Am" Hydra Records. In 1995, Martin appeared on Rosie Flores's Rockabilly Filly album for HighTone Records. Flores recorded an unreleased album with Martin six months before her death. These recordings were released as The Blanco Sessions by Cow Island Music on September 18, 2012.

Death[edit]

Martin died from cancer on September 3, 2007, at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. Her only son, Kevin Parton, died that January.

Honors[edit]

The Library of Virginia named Martin one of the 2010 Virginia Women in History.

Charted singles[edit]

Year Single [A / B] Serial U.S. Pop Singles
1956 Drugstore Rock And Roll / Will You, Willyum RCA VICTOR 47-6491 35
Ooby-Dooby / One More Year To Go RCA VICTOR 47-6560
My Boy Elvis / Little Bit RCA VICTOR 47-6652
Barefoot Baby / Let's Elope Baby RCA VICTOR 47-6744
1957 Two Long Years / Love Me To Pieces RCA VICTOR 47-6832
Love And Kisses / I'll Never Be Free RCA VICTOR 47-6983
All Right Baby / Billy Boy, Billy Boy RCA VICTOR 47-7104
1958 Cracker Jack / Good Love RCA VICTOR 47-7184
Bang Bang / Please Be My Love RCA VICTOR 47-7318
1960 Hard Times Ahead / Here Today And Gone Tomorrow PALETTE PZ 5058
1961 Teen Street / Cry Guitar PALETTE PZ 5071
1977 I'm Movin' On / Beggin' To You BIG DUTCH 2085
Rockin' All Over The World / Live And Let Live BIG DUTCH 2086

EPs[edit]

Year Songs Serial
1956 Let's Elope Baby/ Barefoot Baby

All I Can Do Is Cry/ St. James Infirmary

RCA Victor (N.J.) DJ-38
1957 Love Me To Pieces/ Two Long Years

Calypso Sweetheart/ Marriage And Divorce

RCA Victor (N.J.) DJ-76
Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Squeeze Me)/ My Confession

I Don't Hurt Anymore/ Half Loved

RCA Victor (N.J.) EPA-4093 [mono]

LPs[edit]

Year Title Serial
1959 Janis And Elvis RCA T 31.077 (South African only)
2012 The Blanco Sessions Cow Island Music

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sun Records also dubbed Jean Chapel the female Elvis Presley in 1956 when she began recording rockabilly songs including "I Won't Be Rocking Tonight".

References[edit]

External links[edit]