Janis Martin was one of the few female recording artists working in the male-dominated rockabilly field in the 1950s. Nicknamed “the female Elvis” for her dance moves, the Sutherland, Va. native, born in 1940, recorded a number of singles for RCA Victor and Pallette from 1956 to ’61. Her first single, “Will You Willyum” b/w “Drugstore Rock ’n’ Roll,” sold more than 750,000 copies, landing her national TV appearances. In 1960, her husband demanded she leave music. But she returned in the ’70s, and in 1995 made a guest appearance on Rosie Flores’ Rockabilly Filly album.
It’s here that the saga of Janis Martin’s farewell album, The Blanco Sessions, began. The Blanco Sessions, produced by Flores and Bobby Trimble, will be released on Cow Island Music on September 18, 2012.
Flores will bring The Blanco Sessions alive with a U.S. tour over the fall months during which she will perform music from the album as well as classics from Martin’s storied career.
According to Flores, “It was a dream come true when I finally met Janis Martin in 1994. She was so down-to-earth, upbeat, and it was like I’d known her forever. We promised to stay in touch and just a year later, she agreed to sing with me on my Rockabilly Filly CD. It was during the sessions for that album that I realized how amazingly seasoned her voice was, and I realized I had to get her back in the studio to make a new record. I had produced a few singers, and she would be the dream artist for me to work with. That began a journey that would take me over ten years to complete.”
In 2006, Flores left Los Angeles to return to Austin and found Trimble, an old friend from Big Sandy’s Fly-Rite Boys, living there too. Trimble found a stellar and amazing team of Austin musicians to back Martin up. And in April 2007, the whole band, Janis, and her husband Wayne, drove from Austin to Blanco, Texas where the sessions took place. They cut eleven songs in only two days.
Martin left the Blanco Sessions feeling that she had accomplished something really great, as she told Flores in a phone call that brought tears of joy to Flores’ eyes. But just a few weeks later, Flores received another call from her with the shocking news that she had been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Martin passed away just four months later.
Janis Martin died leaving behind an enormous legacy and thousands of dedicated rockabilly fans who still mourn her passing. Since that sad day in 2007, her name has been praised with awards and accolades. In 2008 she was inducted as an outstanding woman into the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History in her hometown of Danville, Virginia. In 2010, she was recognized by the Library of Virginia at its Virginia Women in History Celebration. She was also featured in the Beth Harrington-directed documentary Welcome to the Club — The Women of Rockabilly that was broadcast on PBS.
Flores spent four years shopping the album around to numerous record labels. All were afraid to take the chance of releasing these recordings, mainly because Martin was no longer around to tour in support of the album. Finally Flores made the decision to release the album herself via Kickstarter. “Once I got the ball rolling Cow Island Music came on board as a partner in the release,” she explains. A total of 332 believers backed the Kickstarter program and Flores is duly grateful.
But mainly she is grateful to Janis Martin herself: “I thank the great Janis Martin up in rock ’n’ roll heaven for inspiring me to do this. I thank you for giving me the chance to help with your final recordings. I will see you again someday, and we’ll work on the next batch of songs! These final recordings are for all of those listeners out there who love your voice, your spirit, your heart, and your rock ’n’ roll soul.”
In addition to Janis Martin’s The Blanco Sessions, Rosie’s newest album, Working Girl's Guitar, will be released on Bloodshot Records. From her original composition of “Surf Demon #5” to George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” these tracks feature Flores as the only guitarist. The set was recorded in Minneapolis with the help of drummer and bassist of Brian Setzer, Noah Levy and Tommy Vee and finished in Austin, Texas — the home of Rosie Flores.