The Female Elvis: The Complete Recordings 1956-1960
Bear Family, 1996
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/28/2009
Janis Martin passed away over two years ago to little fanfare and reaction by the American music-buying public. However, fifty years ago, she was publicized and recognized as the female Elvis Presley.
The RCA label signed her to a recording contract a couple of months after Elvis was. She was just shy of her sixteenth birthday. She came out of the country rockabilly tradition, similar to Elvis’s early career. It was her stage act, however, that inspired RCA to crown her as the female king of rock ‘n’ roll. This would prove an impossible moniker for her to live up to, though. Later in life, she would always say that Carl Perkins was her favorite artist.
She issued the single “Will You Willyum” in 1956 and it was a hit, reaching the American Top 40 charts and ultimately selling close to a million copies. The flipside, “Drugstore Rock ‘N’ Roll,” written by Janis, proved that she could produce a well-constructed song. Her second single, “My Boy Elvis,” was an attempt to cash in on the Presley legacy, but it did not sell well. Her first full-length album featured many of the musicians that were playing with Elvis at the time: guitar players Chet Atkins and Grady Martin, pianist Floyd Cramer, and bassist Bob Moore all provided instrumental support. Her first album was produced by Steve Sholes, who would go on to produce many of Elvis’s releases.
But Janis Martin’s success would be short-lived. Musically, she was a rockabilly artist and was never able to move over to true rock ‘n’ roll, nor was she able to produce a classic country sound. She remained stuck in the middle. Personally, I like rockabilly, but it has always been a niche sound. Elvis quickly moved over to rock and then to pop, but she did not have that same flexibility. Secondly, Janis got married at sixteen and had a child, which soured the RCA label on her commercial possibilities, and as a result, she was dropped from their roster by the end of the decade. She recorded for a couple of minor labels for a few years and then disappeared from the music scene until 1975. She spent the last thirty years of her life performing in small clubs and overseas.
The best CD retrospective of her music is The Female Elvis: Complete Recordings 1956-1960. This disc combines her RCA tracks with some from a few small labels. If you are a rockabilly aficionado, a student of the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, or just like good music, this album and Janis Martin are a must. She had a powerful, classic voice with no twang, and she produced slick music that was approachable and exciting. Her three single releases are included, as are such rockabilly gems as “Ooby Dooby,” “Love and Kisses,” and the classic “Let’s Elope Baby.” Thirty tracks are presented here, which just about covers her entire output during this period of her life.
Janis Martin died of breast cancer on September 3, 2007. She really never received her due as a pioneer in American music at the time. And so, let’s give one last hurrah for the female Elvis Presley. Give her music a listen; you won’t be disappointed.