Dubbed "the female Elvis," Virginia native Janis Martin's sobriquet alone fostered great expectations for the young performer in the 1950s. As the fusion of R&B and country evolved into rockabilly, and a charge of primarily male artists heralded its arrival, she was a rarity – though her musicianship, charismatic stage persona and a series of memorable recordings meant the annals of history would not dismiss her as a novelty.
A precocious performer reared in a family of musicians, Martin's earliest experiences singing and playing guitar came before she reached her teens. Although initially drawn to country music, Martin's exposure to R&B in the Fifties proved captivating, and the resulting genre-blending sound she cultivated was enough to pique the interest of RCA/Victor, who signed her when she was 15 years old. "Victor, having taken the gamble with Presley and emerged a winner, has now come up with the 'Female Elvis Presley.' This lass is Janis Martin, and her first disk, 'Will You, Willyum' is already getting sales action in all fields," noted the May 12, 1956 issue of Billboard. From roughly 1956 through 1960, Martin recorded and released numerous cuts – from the suitably rocking original "Drugstore Rock and Roll" to the ballad "Cry Guitar" to the pop-orientated "Squeeze Me," co-credited to Duke Ellington. In the ensuing decades, Martin was mostly absent from the music industry, but the spirit of her recordings continued to find new audiences and inspire artists, such as rockabilly and country star Rosie Flores (pictured below).
Flores' 1995 album Rockabilly Filly garnered considerable attention, and her duets with Wanda Jackson and Martin helped introduce those pioneering females to a wider audience. In 2007, Martin and Flores teamed with Bobby Trimble to produce 11 new songs. Sadly, Martin passed away that September. Five years later, the album is finally slated for release.
Flores will bring the legacy of Janis Martin's songs and stories to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday, January 25 for a special appearance that will include live performances by Flores and vocalist Marti Brom, backed by T Jarrod Bonta on keys, Bobby Trimble on drums, Kevin Smith on bass and Tjarko Jeen on guitars. Flores and Brom will use song, videos and photographs to guide a rousing telling of the Janis Martin story, and it will be live streamed on rockhall.com.