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
Track 1 – Pretty Little Girl Next DoorTrack 2 – Buzz Buzz Buzz
Okay, first thing’s first…Robert Byrd, alias Bobby Day, of the Hollywood Flames, who were formerly The Flames, is not to be confused with Bobby Byrd of the Famous Flames, who were formerly…The Flames…got that? Good!
Robert James Byrd was born July 1, 1928, in Fort Worth Texas, and moved to Los Angeles in 1947. His first vocal group, The Flames, originated in 1949, when all members were in there teens. They all met at the Largo Theater in Watts at a talent show given by the theater’s owner, which brought together many singers from various high schools in Los Angeles.
Bobby strung together tenor David Ford, second tenor Willie Ray Rockwell and eventually Curlee Dinkins, who sang baritone and bass (Byrd would sing bass, baritone, tenor). They quickly learned how to sound pretty darn good together, and as they all needed to earn some dosh, they decided to brave up to an audition they had heard about at the Johnny Otis owned Barrelhouse. They started winning a few prizes here and there and were offered a few little jobs, sometimes making five dollars each.
The Flames existed from 1949 to 1966. In that time, they recorded under a bewildering variety of names (Four Flames, Hollywood Four Flames, the Jets, the Ebbtides and the Satellites), for a bewildering number of labels, with a bewildering cast of personnel.
In ’57, Byrd penned and recorded the great, Buzz Buzz Buzz, (Earl Nelson on lead) as The Hollywood Flames on Ebb. When the song became a hit, Bobby found out that he didn’t have any publishing rights and only half the writer credit…and never received any money owed to him. That same year with his back up group the Satellites, he also wrote and recorded (as Bobby Day) the fab foot tapping hand clapping Little Bitty Pretty One, released by Class in August. Popularized with success for Thurston Harris, whose release beat Bobby’s out the gate, it reached No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart…but I much prefer Bobby’s!
But the next year Day was the first to record Leon Rene’s (under the pseudonym of Jimmie Thomas) Rock-in’ Robin…the perfect counter attack, and Day’s most recognize and successful recording, which became Number 2 hit on the Billboard charts! Its flip, “Over and Over,” was a hit in its own right, and a cover by Dave Clark Five in ’65, brought a much more hip, modern youthful version back to the dance floors!
Bobby Day went on to partner with Earl Nelson and recorded as Bob & Earl from 1957 to 1959 on Class.
Moving on to 1963, and Bobby releases the incredibly uplifting Pretty Little Girl Next Door on RCA. I’m sure everyone reading this, has one song that they can rely on, that will always bring themselves a big damn smile, no matter what life is throwing at you! This is mine! From beginning to end, it’s a quite the pleasant build up. With it’s sweet caterpillar like beginnings, it quickly sprouts it’s wings and soars! The slinky groove grows, and it soon smothers you. And I’ve proved that this song can and will draw everyone within a kilometer radius of your turntable, onto your dance floor. Day gives it his all…he really shines in this one, and of course those gorgeous female backing vocals brings it all into perfect harmony! Imagine seeing this performed live by Mr.Day in ’63!
And on the flip, what a delight to have a revisit of his early Buzz Buzz Buzz! Just as great as the original, however this version may have a slower tempo, but certainly holds a stronger groove…and much more developed for the early sixties hipster dancers. Both tracks produced by genius Jack Nitzsche!
Bobby Day died from cancer on July 27, 1990, in Los Angeles and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. He was survived by his wife, Jackie, and four children. He may not have had the successive chart success he very well deserved (he never achieved another Top 40 Hit apart from Rock-in’ Robin), but in my book, he was just as important as the best of them, especially with his major part in the early days of doo wop! He always lifts me, and Pretty Little Girl just makes me drunk with happiness!
Essential reading for a very in-depth and thorough journey with Bobby Day and his Hollywood Flames, by Marv Goldberg…The Hollywood Flames.
Track 1 – Star Wars Title Theme
Track 2 – Funk
Okay, so I may need to explain something here. I’ve just had a very significant birthday (a number which really relates to this blog content) and thought I really should post something that is quite special to me, for this momentous occasion. Star Wars was one of the biggest and influential things to happen to me as a young kid. It inspired me, it strengthened my imagination, and it let me dream…and it also introduced me to the 7″ record.
Meco’s take on the Star Wars Theme was the first 45 I ever owned! I remember vividly when my papa wanted to reward me for scoring a rare soccer goal…I asked if we to go to that little record shop in Beverly Hills to see if they had the music to that science fiction movie which all us young boys were going space nuts over! At the time I didn’t realise (or care) that the version I had in my hands, wasn’t actually the original John Williams score, but in fact a “dance” take by an Italian named Domenico Monardo.
Meco was born on November 29th, 1939 in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, and had a passion for building model ships and science fiction movies. He got his first musical education from his father who played the Valve trombone in a small Italian band. Although at 9, Meco wanted to play the drums, his father convinced him that the trombone was the right instrument, which he stayed with (he did however opt for the Slide Trombone, troublesome as it was for the small-statured boy to extend the slide fully at first). He joined the high school band while still attending grammar school and at 17, won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York which provided him with some solid classical & jazz skills. There, together with his two friends Chuck Mangione and Ron Carter, he started the Eastman School of Music Jazz Band. He attended West Point, where he played in the Cadet Band, and learned about arranging from an Army sergeant.
Meco worked from 1965 to 1974 as a studio player and arranger, and also earned a nice living arranging commercials, however his breakthrough arrived in 1974 when he co-produced the Gloria Gaynor’s smash Never Can Say Goodbye, followed by the Carol Douglas’ Doctor’s Orders. Having aligned himself with Broadway arranger Harold Wheeler and producer Tony Bongiovi, Meco was now on his way to producing several early disco hits.
On May 25th, 1977, Meco, along with many hundred others, lined up at the New York City theatre for the the opening day screening of this new science fiction film starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. He was amazed by the film and loved the score (he went back to see it eleven times in all), but he couldn’t help but feel there was an opportunity for a commercial hit combining Williams’ dramatic score along with the other big phenomenon of the time, disco!
He conceived of a 15-minute disco treatment of several themes in the movie, including the music played by the Cantina Band in the bar on Tatooine, and also really wanted to include R2-D2 sound effects. He called Jimmy Ienner at Millennium Records and Neil Bogart at Casablanca Records and explained his idea. Based on the tremendous success of Star Wars, Bogart and Ienner agreed to Meco’s idea without hearing any of the music. Meco was thinking grand and hired 75 musicians to play on the track, which was just unheard of for a pop production, (all credited on the lp sleeve) and played trombone and keyboards himself. The complete composition was released as part of an album, Star Wars And Other Galactic Funk, and on a 12″ single. The original main title theme by The London Symphony Orchestra was released by 20th Century Records and entered the Hot 100 on July 9th, 1977, less than two months after the film opened. It raced up to #10 on the charts, however Meco’s electro-disco medley, which debuted on the chart on August 6th, 1977, raced past it to go to #1 the week of October 1st, 1977 where it stayed for two weeks and received endless airplay.
So on the flip of this 7″ we have the percussive track simply titled Funk. It actually holds up okay, Mandingo-esque, some nice horns and rhythms, and quite odd to find it here on this B side. Obviously this 7″ got released in every corner of the globe, but I have to say it’s the Italians that scored the best cover artwork, which is a simpler stylised version of that fab album cover art.
A few years later the Italian was eager to do it all again with the release of the SW sequel, however Meco Plays Music From The Empire Strikes Back was a different sounding album. Disco was out and the new sound was rock-oriented instead. First Harold Wheeler was replaced by Lance Quinn, who was a guitarist on the previous Meco releases, giving the arrangements a totally different sound. And this time it was going to be released on RSO Records instead of Millennium/Casablanca Records and importantly, it was endorsed by George Lucas which meant he could finally use the very real sound effects.
And then things started to get even weirder! With the success of the album, Lucas gave the green light for Christmas In The Stars (The Star Wars Christmas Album). Once again on RSO Records, this time Harold Wheeler was back with his arrangements. Lucas not only allowed the use of special effects of R2D2, but also the voice of Anthony Daniels as leading vocals for C-3PO. There was also a vocalist that appeared on a track by the name of John Bongiovi, who had not yet achieved fame as Jon Bon Jovi. The great album cover is by Ralph McQuarrie, the designer who made most of the artwork for the “Star Wars” trilogy.
And then in 83, we got the Ewok Celebration, which was to be Meco’s last movie-based album. The album features other film and television themes as well as sax and lyricon solos by, dare I say, Kenny G! The Ewok Celebration Theme includes a rap by C-3PO (performed by Duke Bootee).
So yes, in hindsight, Meco’ Star Wars Title Theme is simply disco with lasers and beep boops, not a genre I really go crazy over these days, but I have to remind you, the impact this movie and it’s soundtrack had on me, would shape the person I was growing into (I even joined the school band after see Star Wars just to learn the cornet, hoping I could play the main theme). And to play so many memorable soundtrack moments including the Cantina “movement” all within 3.28 seconds was just fantastic. As a kid with a Star Wars obsession, it was pefect! I would play it over and over again, reliving the exciting space adventures Lucas had implanted into me, which will last a life time.
Prolific French ye ye singer Sylvie Vartan, who is actually Bulgarian, really does a nice swinging beat cover of the classic Comin’ Home Baby. Although it was originally recorded by the Bob Dorough Quartet in 1961 on Two Feet in the Gutter (Epic BA 17021) and composed by Ben Tucker (Bailey’s Pianist), it’s the ultra cool and hip Mel Torme version that most people know and love. Bob Dorough of School House Rock Fame added lyrics to the song and the vocal version became a Top 40 hit for the American jazz man, but I find Vartan’s more obscure version which was released in ’63, even more exciting!
Sylvie started her professional singing career while still at school, in her late teens, firstly with the hit song “Panne d’essence” (1961) alongside French rocker Frankie Jordan. Dubbed by journalists as “la collégienne du twist” (the twisting schoolgirl) she quickly started attracting a lot of attention, and it was only a matter of time that this young self confessed jazz/rock n’ roll fanatic, got signed up and began her illustrious recording career. In 1963, Paul Anka offered her “I’m watching”, her first international hit (Japan, Korea) which is the opening B side track of this EP. It’s adorably sweet and quirky with her broken English vocals, and holds a pretty respectful beat! That same year her dreams of being an aspiring actress came true, starring in the movie D’où viens-tu, Johnny? alongside french rock legend Johnny Hallyday, who she toured with in France and ended up marrying in 1965. Six of her thirty-one songs released in 1962/1963 became top 20 European hits and she became the darling of teen magazines and TV, so suffice to say this was an exciting and pivotal moment in her early career!
So back to Ne T’en Vas Pas! The back beat is strong and mean, as it should be, although I do wish it was pushed up in the mix a bit more as with the driving bass (you dj’s will be doing just that on your mixer) and I love the high energy modish Hammond solo. I have to say I always find French female vocal translations of standards or other, so much more attractive and desirable (this is not open for debate!) and Vartan’s approach on this makes it so ultra sexy and worthy! As far as I can tell, it doesn’t look like this recording was ever released on any other 7″ format other than the picture RCA EP. Maybe some foreign presses were released? Not too difficult to find and highly recommended!