Track 1 – Can’t Hardly Stand It Track 2 – Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby
In the music world, earning a legendary status doesn’t necessarily stem from hits, success and riches. Such is the case with the highly influential and respected rockabilly wonder, Charles Feathers. Yet this unique talent who was there in the Sun sound booth spurring on a young Elvis, never even saw a billboard credit.
Charles Arthur Feathers was born in Slayden, Mississippi, just outside of Holly Springs, on June 12, 1932. Growing up on his parents farm, he became interested in music at a young age, singing in church and regularly tuning in to WSM’s ‘Grand Ole Opry’. The Opry was where young Charlie would find his earlier influences like Bill Monroe, but he’d was also picking up on the sounds of the Negro sharecropper’s who worked the fields in the Mississippi backwoods. One field hand in particular, Junior Kimbrough, introduced him to the acoustic guitar, providing him with valuable lessons which he eagerly absorbed.
By the age of nine, Feathers had become an adept guitarist and was beginning to develop his unique vocal style, which likely was patterned after that of his hero Bill Monroe. Honky tonk great Hank Williams’ MGM recordings of the period also impressed Charlie greatly. He could understand and appreciate the feeling in Hank’s lonesome hillbilly whine, and it soon rubbed off on him.
Charlie left school at a very early age, after the second or third grade, likely around 1948. He struggled finding any employment, so he traveled to Cairo, Illinois to work the oil pipeline’s with his father. This work later took him to Texas where Charlie, guitar in hand, hit the honky-tonks and juke joints in his spare time, providing him with valuable experience in playing the live circuit. In 1950, 18 year old Feathers moved back to Memphis where he got hitched. He also started working for a box manufacturer until a bout with spinal meningitis left him hospitalized. While bed ridden, he listened to the radio incessantly, and would emerged from his stay with drive and determination to become a professional singer.
By 1954, Feathers was working his way into the confines of Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, with an eye toward getting something released on Sun Records. He filled in whenever and wherever he could, helping with arrangement ideas, even playing spoons on a Miller Sisters recording, Someday You Will Pay. He soon scored a very important writing credit along with engineer-steel guitarist Stan Kesler on the Elvis 7″, I Forgot to Remember to Forget. Released on August 20, 1955, this Sun 7″ is flipped with the gorgeous Junior Parker song (billed as “Little Junior’s Blue Flames” on the Nov. 1953 Sun release) Mystery Train!
Phillips decided to start up a non-union label called Flip to test out new local artists. He paired up Feathers with country session songwriter-musicians Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and released Charlie’s first single on that label, Peepin’ Eyes, flipped with I’ve Been Deceived. Released in April 1955, the record did reasonably well on regional charts, selling approximately 2585 copies in that first month (1). An eager Phillips brought Feathers back into the studio on November 1, 1955 for a second session.
January ’56 saw the release of titles from that session, Defrost Your Heart and Wedding Gown Of White (Sun 231). Phillips had complete faith with Feather’s latest release, but obviously disappointingly surprised with the unexpected low amount of units sold (approx. 919) this time around. The lack of success was certainly a unjust mystery, as some would say the two tracks were just as strong as Charlie’s Sun predecessor. As Feather’s contract was due to expire soon, Phillips was unwilling to renew his commitment to him for a second term, as he was now devoting much of his time to Sun’s latest stars, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, whose flames were shining far more brightly than Feathers’.
But the artist had bigger visions. Now tired of being cast in the hillbilly mould, and eager to record rockabilly, Charlie set about reforming his band in order to cut this new sound (2). Booking studio time for January 31st, the band headed to 706 Union where they cut four proto-rockabilly styled numbers, Honky Tonk Mind, So Ashamed, Frankie And Johnny and Charlie’s own Bottle To The Baby. But the shackles tying Feathers to a hillbilly stereotype proved difficult to break and the hope to convince Phillips to extend his contract with Sun for another term, seemed hopeless. But luckily for Feathers, his talent had not passed completely unnoticed.
Les Bihari, head of Sun’s cross-town rival Meteor Records, who had become aware of Charlie’s rockabilly intentions and unique talent, invited him to visit his studio on Chelsea Avenue to cut a demo session. Along with lead guitar player Jerry Huffman and Jody Chastain, who had switched from steel guitar to string bass, they laid down the two-sided rockers Tongue-Tied Jill and Get With It. Acetates of the two songs were sent back to Phillips who was, by all accounts, uninterested in either song but, particularly Tongue-Tied Jill, which he considered degrading to the vocally impaired. But Bihari on the other hand, showed a keen interest, and coupled both songs for release in June (Meteor 5032), both on a 10″ and a 7″ in 1956. Despite the quality of the record and the surprisingly good sales, royalty statements were poor, prompting Huffman to state “The first check was such a pittance. We told him (Bihari) what he could do with it”. Now, with no contract, the trio began to flounder. That is, until they were approached by Syd Nathan’s strong Ohio based independent label, King Records. Alerted by a Memphis based distributor for King who had heard the Meteor disc, Nathan dispatched King’s country division A&R head, Louis Innis, to the southern locale to audition Charlie and his band. An immediate contract was organised, and with the ink barely dry, a refreshed group were in King’s Cincinnati studio to cut their first session for the label on August 18. Four tracks were laid down with dirt and authority, and it is here that Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly flame burns best.
His gift was apparent from the beginnings, and his 1956 King releases were all shine from the get go! The first King release for Charlie is my standout Feather’s 45, with the flaming echo laden Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby on the A side, and the infamous flipped out flip, Can’t Hardly Stand It (King 4971 October 1956).
Well, the sun’s gone down
And you’re uptown
And you’re just out runnin’ around
I can’t hardly stand it
You’re troublin’ me
I can’t hardly stand
It just can’t be
Well, you don’t know, a-babe I love you so
You got me all tore up, all tore up…
The lines are simple, but the infatuation is deep. Feathers sings this broken ballad while drunk on love, and I can’t help but feel, that if that little lady could only hear this howling call out on his six string, she would have him back in a smack! God I love this! Even his guitar feels sadness, like that of a loyal dog when he knows his master is feeling lost. One bass, one guitar and one bruised man, and you have an iconic Feathers classic. Again, many years later covered by The Cramps, and with that great electrifying shock wave manner that The Cramps do so well, but this song belongs to Feathers, and it’s him inside and out! From that same one day session, One Hand Loose and a reworked Bottle To The Baby (King 4997 December 1956) was released and is another two sider, filled with hot twangy stuttering goodness!
Very soon after, another four titles (3*) were cut in the studios on January 6th, 1957. Louis Innis oversaw the session and attempted to polish Charlie’s sound, by adding a vocal group fronted by Johnny Bragg. This cleaner “country pop” result I think it’s fair to say, didn’t really complement Feather’s style nor did it improve Charlie’s rockabilly reputation. In an attempt to expose Charlie to a wider audience and possibly sell more records, he was booked to play gigs with Sun label luminaries such as Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Record sales were a defining factor to a performers success, so when Feather’s King records were still selling poorly, he was dropped from the company’s roster later that year.
Feathers had signed a one-off deal with Charlie Kahn’s Kay label in Memphis late in ’58, and traveled to the WHBQ radio studio in Memphis to lay down four sides in December. After eighteen months away from a recording studio, Charlie’s originality had not worn away, and his fire was still well and alive, as the wild and glorious Jungle Fever proves (Kay 1001). But this searing rocker, along with the other 3 tracks recorded (4*) would not see the light the of day until June 1960. Kahn did not seem to appreciate the originality of the recordings, deciding to leave them in the can for almost two years.
Maybe it was an itch, or maybe built from frustration, but Feathers took a sharp turn off the rockabilly highway in ’59, when he teamed up with former Sun session men Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, to record two folk inspired numbers Dinky John and South Of Chicago. These refreshing songs harked back to Feathers’ Bill Monroe influence and out shone the bland, typecast folk material of the day, yet Hi label boss Joe Cuoghi declined to push the recordings. Not to be easily thwarted, Charlie hawked the songs to Walter Maynard, who eventually put the record out in July 1960 on his Wal-May label under the pseudonym of Charlie Morgan.
Feather’s would continue to release a handful more 7’s, with various willing labels. Some notables are Wild Wild Party, released in December 1961, Johnny Burnette’s Tear It Up flipped with the fab Stutterin’ Cindy, was released in ’71, and Uh Huh Honey in 1973. But by this stage of his career he was performing to ever dwindling crowds, and his priorities shifted elsewhere, like car racing and softball. As Billy Millar illustrated, “…Charlie gained such a rep around town as a top fast pitch hurler that many of his teammates were unaware of his musical exploits”. But Charlie was never far from his guitar and tape recorder. He would continue to record and perform throughout the 70’s and 80’s and even release a bunch of 7’s on his own private Feathers label, which were sold at his concerts. And in ’91 he released a self titled album, his final recording.
On August 25, 1998 Feathers suffered a stroke and was admitted to the St. Francis I.C.U in Memphis. Falling into a coma a day later, his condition deteriorated and he passed away on August 29. His passing was of course a sad loss to his family and friends, but also to his many admirers worldwide.While he may never have achieved the chart success that he well deserved, his legacy is concrete and will continue to spread tomorrow and the days after.
“Rockabilly is different. Nothin’ can touch it, man; and it don’t take a big band to do it…a lead man and a good acoustic rhythm and a big slap bass. Can’t beat it, man!” Feathers was a true die hard believer of the “religion” til the last day.
1* Shortly after the Flip disc was launched onto the market, Phillips was forced to re-release the record on Sun proper (Sun 503), as he was threatened with legal action from one Ed Wells (owner of the Flip label) over improper use of label name.
2* With steel guitarist Jody Chastain brought into the fold, and very likely Jerry Huffman as the guitarist and one Shorty Torrance as string bassist.
3* Too Much Alike, When You Come Around, When You Decide and Nobody’s Woman.
4* Why Don’t You, and Jody Chastain’s release My My with instrumental flip Jody’s Beat (Kay 1001).
Rockabilly The Twang Heard ‘Round the World – Robert Gordon
Tip Top Daddy – Charlie Feathers, His Life and his Music by Shane Hughes
Jerry Lott a.k.a. Marty Lott, was born 30 January 1938, near Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in rural Leaksville, Mississippi near the Alabama border. As a kid he played country music on the school stage, which progressed to playing at Paynas Furniture Store in Lucedale, Mississippi. Jerry started entering and winning local performing contests, which led to touring, a familiar pattern to so many other artists on this blog.
But in 1956 when Elvis Presley came along, Lott’s eyes were pried opened, and his soul was charged with rock and roll. Country music was now the yesterday sound.
But Lott had written a simple yet sweet country love song, Whisper Your Love, which he says he spent a good 3 months putting it together. In the summer of ’58, Lott’s manager Johnny Blackburn, rented some studio time over at Gulf Coast Studios in Mobile, Alabama. Lott told Derek Glenister of New Commotion magazine in 1980, that someone had asked “What you gonna put on the flipside?”. Such was the naivete and innocence of the times, Lott had honestly never even thought about it. So he and the band shot form the hip on the B side! “Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ’cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit.’ It wasn’t any problem at all, and I wrote Love Me in about ten minutes”.
Lott continues with his story…”Me and Johnny Blackburn worked the controls in the studio, as we didn’t want it to sound like a commercial record, that was for sure. I put all the fire and fury I could utter into. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall. I’m telling ya, it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes, he looked like he was hypnotized”.
The result is a lusty explosion of animalistic energy, and if it had been 20 years later, you’d call hard punk! A monster was born on that day in ’58, and to this day, it still hasn’t lost any of that almighty fury! Clocking in at around 1.30 min., it’s a fast roller coaster ride through to the depths of rock ‘n roll hell, and it feels even with the frantic energy that Lott releases here, he is struggling to keep up with the manic “full steam ahead” drive the rest of the band are pushing out. But back then, wild got you nowhere without a record deal in your hands. Manager Blackburn sat on the tapes for more than a year, unable to clench any label interest.
Lott, known at this time as The Gulf Coast Fireball, left Mobile for Los Angeles to shop his master tape around. Then one day, on a truly bizarre impulse, he trailed pop crooner Pat Boone to church one Sunday morning and convinced him to give the tape a listen. It sounds like Boone had now been converted or had some kind of other spiritual awakening soon after. It was Boone’s idea to rename Lott The Phantom, and even agreeing to issue the record on his own Cooga Mooga label (an euphemism for God, as in Great Cooga Mooga). Eventually Lott signed a contract with Boone’s management but the single Love Me b/w Whisper Your Love was released on the label Boone recorded for, Dot Records in 1960 (apparently Lott never even met anyone at Dot). It was also released with a nifty picture sleeve, which normally was reserved only for the really big stars, and which I still have to get my hands by the way.
The song Love Me was appropriately covered by The Cramps in the late 70’s and released on both the Drug Train 7″ in ’80, and on the Bad Music For Bad People Lp in 84. The raucous romp is so very suited for Lux and Co., as can be seen in early footage from June of 1978, when they played at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa, CA.
But the deserved success story never really amounted for Lott, and in fact life instead, would soon drag him down into a darker chapter. Sadly in 1965, Jerry’s wife took her own life, and shortly thereafter, in 1966, while still attempting to tour, The Phantom was involved in a near fatal auto accident in York, South Carolina. After his car tumbled 600 feet down a mountainside he was left paralyzed below the neck. Lott continued to write songs, but he never recorded again.
But you know what…plenty of “rockers” since, have been signed and have had deals, have hit the big stages and have recorded hundreds of hours of material, yet the majority, if not all of those songs, would crumble in fear if they came up against the wild young reckless animal that is Love Me! Jerry Lott passed away on September 4th, 1983 at the age of 45.
Jerry Lott (The Phantom) – Vocals
Frank Holmes – Electric Guitar
Pete McCord – Bass Guitar
H.H. Brooks – Drums
Bill Yates – Piano
Referencing and interests…
Rockabilly – The Twang Heard ‘Round The World – published 2011, Voyageur Press.
Well for this post it was actually not too difficult to find some strong reference and facts (which is a nice change), for this featured artist who is the dazzling Wanda Jackson. The difficulty this time was instead, trying to chose which 7″ to feature, as she has just so many that thrill me! I’ve decided to go with the glorious Japanese picture covered dancer Fujiyama Mama.
Wanda Lavonne Jackson was born on October 20, 1937, to Tom Robert Jackson and Nellie Vera Jackson, in Maud, a small town on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Her father, who himself was a country singer, moved the family to Bakersfield, California in 1941, in hopes of a better life, by escaping the poverty created by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. He was also a guitar player and a fiddle player, but in a time of deep and sad depressing surrounds, once little baby Wanda came along, he couldn’t continue with his music.
Wanda’s father noticed that his little young Wanda showed an interest in music, so he bought his only child that first musical instrument. Wanda recalls to Craig Morrison in the book Rockabilly The Twang Heard ‘Round The World, “When I was about six, he bought me a little guitar – it had the Uncle Sam hat on it because it was wartime. He put it in my hands and eventually I could reach around and he started teaching me chords”. He gave her lessons, taught her plenty of Jimmie Rodgers songs, and encouraged her to play piano, and in addition, he took her to see such acts as Tex Williams, Spade Cooley, and Bob Wills, which left a lasting impression on her impressionable young mind.
Tom moved the family back to Oklahoma City when his daughter was 12 years old. In 1952, she won a local talent contest and was given the prize of her very own 15 minute daily show on KLPR. The program soon after extended her spot to 30 minutes, which lasted throughout Jackson’s high school years. It was through this radio exposure that Jackson was discovered by country star Hank Thompson, who invited her to sing with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. She began performing with them on weekends.
In 1954, she recorded the single You Can’t Have My Love, a duet with bandleader Billy Gray, which hit No. 8 on the country charts. Thompson tried to get her signed with Capitol Records, but Ken Nelson, a company producer, said “Girls don’t sell records,” so Jackson signed with Decca instead, recording a good batch of singles for the label between 1954 to 1956.
Jackson insisted on finishing high school before hitting the road, and when she did, her father became her road manager and traveled by her side. While her mother stayed back and continued to work, somehow on top of that, she found time to make and help design Wanda’s stage outfits. “I was the first one to put some glamour in the country music…fringe dresses, high heels, long earrings,” Jackson said of these outfits. When she first toured in 1955 and 1956, she was placed on the Ozark Jubilee tour that featured many up and coming acts including Elvis Presley. The two hit it off almost immediately and actually dated for a brief time. Jackson said it was Presley, along with her father, who influenced and encouraged her to sing rockabilly.
In 1956, Jackson finally signed with Capitol, and one of her first 45’s has one of my favourite rockabilly B-sides Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad. It’s a cracker! The next year Jackson cut the rockabilly hit Fujiyama Mama, penned by Earl Burrows. Jackson told country music expert Rich Kienzle that she first became aware of the inflammatory tune when she heard R&B artist Annisteen Allen‘s 1954 version playing on a juke box when she was still in school in 1955. Jackson recalls that she “just flipped over it.” Burrows’ lyrics demonstrate that the bombings in Japan a decade earlier, were still viewed as being an impressive display of American might, without any consideration given to the moral implications of the devastating destruction which was unleashed onto the enemy. It is only now that I’m featuring this song (this Japan pressing comes with the lyrics…if you’re lucky) and as I read the lines, do I wonder how this song could have been taken so lightly, and how would it go down today. Sensitivity versus tongue in cheek. In the end, it’s really just a damn good dance floor country stomper, with some very fiery vocals, sexy attitude and flammable one liners.
I drink a quart of sake, smoke dynamite!
I chase it with tobbacy and then shoot out the lights!
Well you can talk about me, say that I’m mean!
I’ll blow your head off baby with nitroglycerine!
Well you can say I’m crazy, so deaf and dumb!
But I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb!
‘Cause I’m a Fujiyama Mama
And I’m just about to blow my top!
And when I start erupting,
Ain’t nobody gonna make me stop!
Ironically, the song was a major hit in Japan and Jackson was treated like a dignitary when she toured there briefly in 1959. There are a few other versions of Fujiyama Mama that are totally enjoyable, one in particular released just after Allen’s version in 1955, by the very cutesy Eileen Barton, that has absolutely nothing wrong with it at all! For a punkish version, check Pearl Harbour‘s spin from 1981, and for something quite cheeky and off beat, go to Petty Booka‘s take, released in 1996, which sadly isn’t available on a 7″.
Jackson’s relationship with Capitol lasted until the early ’70s and in that time she released some “must have” 7 inches. Hot ones that I would suggest you add to your collection (as if you don’t already have them) are… the 1961 release Funnel of Love, B side to Jackson’s major country-pop single Right Or Wrong, the remarkable and favourite popcorn number Whirlpool from 1962, and the Elvis cover Hard Headed Woman which you can find on a french and Aussie 45 if you dig deep enough (likely pressed 1961). Another popular cut would be Let’s Have a Party, yet another Elvis cut, which was a U.S. Top 40 pop hit for her in 1960, after which she began calling her band the Party Timers. There’s also the fiery, violent My Big Iron Skillet from ’69, which humorously (perhaps) threatened death or assault for cheating on a spouse, made her a top 20 hit!
Jackson’s popularity bounced back and forth between country and rockabilly; she did this by often putting one song in each style on either side of a single. This is certainly the case with the flip of Fujiyama, which has the slow country ditty No Wedding Bells For Joe. As rockabilly declined in popularity in the mid-1960s, she moved to a successful career in mainstream country music with a string of hits between 1966 and 1973, including Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine, A Woman Lives for Love and Fancy Satin Pillows.
Wanda was a big attraction in Las Vegas from the mid ’50’s into the ’70s, and toured regularly, and in fact still does. She married IBM supervisor Wendell Goodman in 1961, and instead of quitting the business, as many women singers had done at the time, Goodman, like a good man, instead gave up his job in order to manage his wife’s career. Jackson followed Kitty Wells‘ lead as only the second country female vocalist to have her own syndicated television show, Music Village, from 1967 to ’68.
Obviously I’ve only touched here, on the talent and the star quality that is Wanda Jackson. Don’t be surprised if she turns up here again with another smokin’ 7″, cause as I said, she was packin’ them!
In 2009, Wanda Lavonne Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
References and interests…
Rockabilly – The Twang Heard ‘Round The World – published 2011, Voyageur Press.
Ambush (Side 2 Track 2)
I only just recently stumbled across this gem in a box of random rough 45’s in my favourite local record store, but somehow, I just knew there was going to be a little “something special” about it, so I grabbed it. When I got home, I polished it up, flicked the switch to 45 and placed the needle down. Yeah, it was alright, straight country beat…but as track 2 on 2 started up, a feeling inside told me to turn up the volume…and that something special was certainly affirmed! I had to find out more about Miss Dallas!
So I start to dig around for some history lessons on who I thought was certainly a Nashville singer, but to my surprise, I find out that she is in fact currently living here in the north of Australia, in Queensland. But that wasn’t the only surprise…she was actually born and breed in New Zealand!
And once again, I find that not a lot of information can be found on her, but I wil try and gather what I can, mash it all together, with hopefully some facts here and there.
Marina Devcich was born to a Croatian family, on April 14th 1946, in the provincial town of Morrinsville (in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island) and was the second youngest of twelve children. She was gifted with a distinctive voice which you seriously could compare to say, Wanda Jackson, with a stir of Brenda Lee.
In 1964, Marina (who was a hairdresser at that time) and Isabel Leigh won a Johnny Cooper talent quest in Morrinsville. Further solo performances with the Lew Manson Band around the Waikato area followed. One night in 1965, she was booked to appear in a Morrinsville hotel with Howard Morrison (who started up the very popular Howard Morrison Quartet with guitarist Gerry Merito) and Auckland bandleader Mike Perjanik (who formed The Mike Perjanik Band after departing The Embers, and would go on produce the “sound” for the NZ beat girls The Chicks, write hits for Dinah Lee and arrange for Ray Colombus).
Perjanik went straight back to Auckland to tell Viking Records’ chief Ron Dalton that he’d found his next star in the Waikato. Dalton decided to rename her Maria Dallas, and almost overnight the girl with the power packed voice found herself in an Auckland professional recording studio.
In ’66, Viking released a bunch of 7’s for Dallas including an EP titled Queen of the House (VE 224), which included a very oddly produced version of How Does That Grab You Darlin’, with very kooky keyboard backing. But it was her recording of Jay Epae’s Tumblin’ Down, that would bring her success! It in fact became a massive hit and it would be Maria’s signature tune. The song made it to number 11 on the national charts and was entered into the Loxene Golden Disc Awards, where it took first place!
Tumblin’ does have a catchy pop quality to it, and it has grown on me. It is also included on this EP, but it certainly isn’t the star on this spinner as far as I’m concerned. That title goes to…well…the infectious title track…Ambush! With it’s big kick start, instantly we have fuzz guitar, searing keyboards, and killer cool backing vocals. And who doesn’t love a song that starts straight into it’s punchy chorus?! This track has got a lot of sass to it…that kinda Ann Margaret sass (well I think it does), and it’s relentlessness makes it a good dance floor shaker! And it looks like it made it to number 12 in Oz, in October of 1967!
Viking churned out six albums during 1966 and 1967, and a similar number of singles. None of the singles fared as well as Tumblin’, and despite it’s success, Maria never felt at home as a pop singer, so she would return to her country music roots. She moved to Australia in late ’67, before venturing off to Nashville where she recorded in the famous RCA Victor Studios with producer Felton Jarvis (who was working with Elvis at this period and almost until his death) and also with Chet Atkins.
Although singles were still released during her absence, New Zealanders had almost forgotten about her until she returned in 1970 with a song called Pinocchio, which went all the way to number 1 on the national charts. Viking capitalised by releasing another album in 1971 and a follow up in 1972, but Maria wasn’t able to reproduce her success after that. She would also release a few more singles on the Kontact label, in ’73, ’75 and even up to ’81.
Maria married an Australian an has lived here for many years. I would love to hear from anyone who knows how she’s doing!
Referencing sites and related links…
Janis Darlene Martin was born in Southerland, Virginia, just east of Danville, on March 27, 1940. With a stage mum on one side and a father and uncle who were musicians on the other, surely it was inevitable that her destiny was laid out as a musical performer.
By the age of six, the little lady had mastered basic chords on the guitar and began singing, and although the young Janis may have been small, she packed a voice that was loud and strong. At eight, she entered her first talent contest and scored a proud second place. For the next two years, she entered eleven contests over a three-state area, winning first place in each one…and one those talent shows had over 200 contestants that took four days of elimination.
By 11, Martin was playing and singing as a member of the WDVA Barndance in Danville, Virginia. From the barndance, she traveled with Glen Thompson’s band for two years and then went on the road with Jim Eanes, a former Starday recording artist.
In 1953, the teenager appeared at a Tobacco Festival with Ernest Tubb and Sunshine Sue. As a result of this appearance, Martin was invited to become a regular member of the Old Dominion Barndance in Richmond, Virginia.
At that time, that stage show was the third largest in the nation, and included such stars as Jean Shepherd, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Sonny James, Martha Carson, and the renowned Carter Sisters who encouraged Martin to try for the “big time”. With two years of travels with the show, Martin would not only gain valuable show business experience, but also the realization that she now only lived for one thing – entertaining people.
Two staff announcers at WRVA (the station that carried the barndance over the CBS network) were successful songwriters and wrote a song called Will You, Willyum (this was just at the birth of the fifties rockabilly music explosion). They asked Janis to sing it on the barndance for audience reaction, and also cut a demo tape of it which they passed on to their publisher in New York. When the demo tape arrived at Tannen Music in New York, the publisher not only accepted the song but rushed over to Steve Sholes of RCA Victor, so he could hear it. Sholes wanted to know who the vocalist was on the tape and called Richmond to find out. Janis was contacted and invited to Nashville to record the song on Victor Records.
So, at the age of fifteen, she became a recording artist, and that release would end up being her biggest career hit, selling a massive 750.000 copies! To add to that, on the flip Drugstore Rock And Roll, a song that Janis wrote herself, which you could easily say is her most well known song and is probably the most played in the current scene.
Now this was must have been all very exciting for Martin, who although was still relatively very young, had already felt really bored with the slow mainstream country songs she had be singing in the past. She’d already had the spell of R&B over whelm her even as a younger girl, but at that time in the fifties, she would found it difficult to follow that path, being a white girl.
In a interview with Bobby Tremble, Martin would remember…”I would go up the road…there was a black church right up above my house…my little cousins wanted to play on Sundays and I would want to go up and lay in the weeds and listen to them sing”. She goes on to say…”It was that soul, it was that rhythm….and when I heard it…I said that is my music”. Martin and accompaniment were determined to find a new sound however, so they combined what you would then call hillbilly music with rhythm and blues…and this was all part of the birth of rockabilly music…which would grow like a beast and change many lives.
But Martin recalls just how tough it was for those first ladies, who were breaking out into this new crossover wave, which would include Wanda, Brenda Lee and of course Charline Arthur (who was the first female singer in country music to perform in pants, and she supposedly used the extra freedom to prowl the stage). There was some nasty slander coming from some of the men at the time, accusing Martin of being spawned from the devil, but the barefooted ponytail teen would not let that get in the way!
This was all happening at the time when Elvis Presley was the biggest rock singer in the country, who also happened to record for RCA Victor. Presley and RCA were so impressed with Janis’ delivery of a song, that Janis was given permission to use the title of “the Female Elvis Presley.”
But some of the publicity rebounded for Janis as fans felt she was hooking her style as a means of exploitation. And although they both used the same session musicians and shared the same country-R&B interests, Martin never saw the Memphis Flash perform until he made it to national television. By that time she had independently developed her own amazingly similar performing style which was well established and locked down. Additionally, she only met Elvis twice, both times very briefly, with hardly a word exchanged. The two found themselves converging on a similar point.
There was a 10″ Ep release titled Janis And Elvis (RCA-T31,077) which included 4 tracks from Martin as well as 4 tracks from the King himself, however it seems it was was pulled only 2 days on the market! And all because Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker didn’t want Janis’ name printed in front of Elvis’ name! Of course this record is worth a heap!
Eventually Martin was not only accepted, but would be in constant demand for TV, radio and stage appearances all over the US, and would appear on the Tonight Show, American Bandstand and Ozark Jubilee. She did her first road tour with Hank Snow and went on other tours with many greats including Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.
Martin was voted the Most Promising Female Artist of 1956 at the annual disc jockey convention and received the Billboard Magazine award on plaque. With much success behind her, she formed her own band called Janis Martin and the Marteens and began her travels in the U.S. and Canada, playing clubs and fairs. Apparently she also did a screen test for MGM, but not sure that pretty face made it on film…which would be a damn pity!
In 1957, she was chosen by RCA to become a regular member of the Jim Reeves show and traveled with him exclusively. The show went overseas to entertain the armed forces in Europe. On returning to the States, Janis appeared on the Today Show with Dave Garroway to tell of their experiences and to sing her latest record, My Boy Elvis. After this show, she was invited to appear at the Grand Old Opry.
The next year Janis and Her Boyfriends released this little beauty, Bang Bang. It’s credited to Clavelle Isnard, someone I can’t seem to find out too much about, other than he co wrote some tracks with Jimmy Holland…but never the less…this has to be my Janis Martin pick! Martin also loved this tune, as noted by Stephanie P. Lewin-Lane on her 2012 Sweet Nothings thesis…”I loved it because it moved. Bang Bang Bangitty Bang Bang…(laughing)…kinda vulgar for the ’50’s, ya know? Hidden messages and all of that, but I mean I liked the song, I didn’t think about the words then, I just liked the tempo, the tune of it, how it moved…” It certainly does move Miss Martin!
Everything seemed to be going well for Martin, well until 1958, when it was discovered that the teen had been secretly married to Tommy Cundiff, since 1956. Martin met the singer who was about six years older, when she was only 11 (they both played on the same show on WBTM), and the two started dating when she was 13. He would soon join the paratroopers but before being shipped out to Germany, he wanted to marry Martin and showed her a diamond ring. The two eloped when Martin was only 15…they married on January the 2nd of 1956. Martin actually didn’t record for RCA until March the 8th of 1956, so she didn’t tell the record company, nor did she mention it to her parents until about 3 months later. Tommy was off overseas only 8 days after their marriage and Martin wouldn’t get to see him for another fourteen months or so.
Martin was on the USO tour in March/ April of 1957 and meet up with her husband in Frankfurt, who was able to get a 30 day leave so they could spend some time together. As a consequence from their a romantic interlude, Martin fell pregnant. The record executives were furious with Martin when they had finally found out about this, saying she had destroyed the innocent teenage image they worked so hard to sell her on…and was dropped by the label in short order. A pregnant teen they believed, would not be to good for marketing, especially upon learning that this innocent cute girl got hitched at 15.
For all of her early success, Martin was never able to sustain a rock & roll career, mostly because of her gender and the changing times. Her stage moves and lusty delivery appeared unseemly (or so people said, especially on the country circuit) in a girl, once the initial furor and enthusiasm for rock & roll quieted down. Her record company and management wanted her to keep pushing rockabilly in her stage act, while promoters doing the bookings preferred that she do straight country, and Martin found herself caught between conflicting currents.
Martin tried to keep a music career going and was courted by both King Records and Decca Records before signing with a Belgian-owned label called Palette, for which she cut four sides in 1960. She was on her second marriage by then, and husband number two (whom she later divorced) didn’t take well to her popular stage career, and persuaded her to leave show businesses.
But by the seventies, Janis had had enough of being the “ordinary” little housewife and cook, and really missed the adoration that she once got from her fans. So she formed a new band…Janis and the Variations, which included her husband on drums. The band did become fairly successful in that they had constant work playing 3 state areas every weekend. However hubby wasn’t liking the journey as much as Martin, claiming it was interfering with their marriage. In 1973, he mistakenly gave her the ultimatum again, their marriage or the band! But this time…about 13 years after that first time he made such a statement, Janis gladly chose her music. Her son, who had been playing drums since the age of 7, gladly took the vacant spot and they would go on to tour Europe, where she encountered strikingly enthusiastic audiences, ready to embrace her as though it were still 1958. The band continued ’til 1982.
Martin passed away on September 3, 2007, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer which had spread all over her body. She had been suffering from severe headaches over the past several months so she found it necessary to cancel her recent booking at the Americana Festival in England. The headaches turned out to be stress related from all the grief she had to endure from losing her son Kevin who passed away in January that year.
She may have had a short career in recording music, but it was so fantastic, and so very important, as without a doubt she paved the way for future women rock singers!
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
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]
1978 – THE FEMALE ELVIS WITH THE JORDANAIRES : THE UNISSUED
William / Love Me Cha Cha / Love Me Love / Blues Keep Calling DOG GONE EP 81677
1959 – Janis And Elvis RCA T 31.077 (South African only)
Referencing and recommendations!
Stephanie P. Lewin-Lane Sweet Nothings
Cat Tales #20
Janis Martin Kickstarter
History of rock
Interview with Bobby Tremble