We’re really excited about Rosie Flores’ and Marti Brom’s Tribute to Janis Martin Sun. Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Smith’s Olde Bar in celebration of the release of the female rockabilly legend’s long-awaited new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS. Torchy Taboo shares a sweet memory about how she discovered Janis and why you should be excited, too.
By Torchy Taboo
One beautiful spring afternoon in the early ‘90s, I went to visit my friend “Rockabilly Kim” on her horse farm in East Atlanta. Entering her home was like stepping back in time, and she always had a wonderful new find to show me or a great piece of vintage clothing she’d picked up to add to her vast collection. This afternoon the find was a clutch of 45 records which she immediately began playing for me. When she played a song called “My Boy Elvis” for me, I jumped up and chirped, “Who is this Kim?!” She quickly gave me one of her patented “don’t you know anything” glances and replied, “Janis Martin! You know, the female Elvis!” Embarrassed at my ignorance, I feigned in-the-know, “Oh yeah, right.”
“Hmm,” I thought, “a FEMALE Elvis? How’d I miss this fascinating bit of historical feminism?” Hold on, rewind. At the tender age of 9, I saw my first Elvis movie, KING CREOLE (1958) with Carolyn Jones and Walter Matthau. Of course, I was an instant fanatic. But at 9 years old, not yet sure why girls like boys, what really hooked me was Elvis’s character’s swagger – how he did as pleased and sang about it, how he waltzed into the five-and-dime, picked up a cheap guitar and got everybody’s attention. He was cool and fearless, and I wanted to be like that – to walk into the drug store on Main Street in Tucker, GA and sing my heart out!
Back to the horse farm. A few years after I’d first heard Janis Martin, I had started performing in a retro style and had an occasion to dance in a show built around celebrating Elvis’s birthday. I knew I needed a great rockabilly song but something different from the Elvis standards the rest of the show would be filled with, so I called Kim. “I’ve got the perfect thing for you!” She loaned me a mixed tape of the vintage female greats. I immediately zeroed in on Janis Martin’s song called “Drugstore Rock ‘n Roll.”
The Female Elvis singing “it’s real gone man!” about the Drugstore?! I flashed on the five-and-dime scene in KING CREOLE where he sang “Lover Doll” so sweet. But I wanted something revved-up, and the Janis Martin song had that in spades – released on the B-side of “Will You Willyum” in 1956 when Janis was a mere 15 years old. She had been billed as the female Elvis because of her onstage hip-shakin’. If that’s not fearless, I don’t know what is.
Janis’ career lost momentum in 1958 when her label, RCA dropped her because she’d gotten pregnant when her GI husband she’d eloped with was on leave. Pretty wild stuff in the ‘50s. Like ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, she lived by her own rules.
Since my introduction to her music in the ‘90s, Janis has come to be one my favorites. I was lucky enough to see Rosie Flores in the mid ‘90s as well as a rare Atlanta show with Marti Brom. I’ve added both to my list of female rockabilly greats. This pair performing a show to celebrate the new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS, that Rosie recorded with Janis Martin in 2007, should prove quite memorable.
Find out more about Janis Martin in her own words in THE JANIS MARTIN STORY, in full on Youtube here