Rockabilly queen gets fitting epitaph

By Hector Saldaña, Featured Writer, My San Antonio

’50s sensation Janis Martin and longtime fan record one last  album before her death.

Musician Rosie  Flores‘ obsession is the rockabilly world’s gain.

Her campaign to release the final album by the late rockabilly queen Janis  Martin nearly required the patience of Job, Flores says.

She hadn’t anticipated that reintroducing RCA’s “Female Elvis,” a forgotten  artist who scored hits as a teenager in the 1950s, to the iTunes generation  would take 10 years to accomplish.

“Janis Martin: The Blanco Sessions” (Cow Island Music) will finally be  available Tuesday.

The album – produced by Flores and Bobby Trimble and recorded over two days  in April 2007 with top Austin musicians at Bad Dog Studio in Blanco – is a  fitting 11-song epitaph.

Flores says the disc is testament to Martin’s talent with songs such as “Wham  Bam Jam,” “Long White Cadillac” and “Wild One (Real Wild Child).” The triumph  is bittersweet.

Except for some quick mixes, Martin never heard the final product.

“But she was so proud,” Flores said. “She was just so happy.”

Martin, a longtime smoker, died within weeks of the sessions from Stage 4  lung cancer. She was 67. Until then, there were plans to tour behind the  comeback record.

No one knew she was sick, Flores says. But there were clues.

During the recordings, Martin revealed that she’d discovered a lump in her  back and had been suffering from headaches. Later, medical tests confirmed  the worst.

Flores recounted a phone conversation with Martin that began cryptically:  “Rosie, my suspicions were correct.”

She is convinced that Martin knew this would be her last recording.

“She rose to the occasion,” Flores says. “But I think she knew. She told me  when we were recording, ‘We’re gonna make this as good as we can because this is  the last record I’m ever going to make.’ She said that. I said, ‘Really? I think  we should do another record.’

“She kind of looked at me, like, ‘I’m not sure.’ ”

“The Blanco Sessions” reveals Martin to be a natural singer with instinctive  phrasing. Flores, a singer and guitarist whose own music ranges from country to  rockabilly and surf music, kept the arrangements uncluttered.

“She had such great timing and great pitch,” Flores says. “She always kept  her chops up.”

Recording engineer Cris  Burns, who worked on “The Blanco Sessions,” had never heard of Martin but  prepped by listening to old RCA recordings.

“We factored that old sound in, but we weren’t trying to duplicate it,” Burns  says. “We wanted more of a modern hi-fi sound.”

Burns, whose clients have included Pam  Tillis, Jerry  Jeff Walker and Asleep at the Wheel, says he was instantly impressed with  the singer’s ability “to nail it quick, essentially live.”

But that’s not what made the weekend experience so memorable.

“She’s probably one of the nicest clients I’ve ever had,” he says. “She  mailed me a special thank-you card after the session was over. It was really  nice. No other client has ever sent me a thank-you card after a session, and  I’ve worked with hundreds of people. She was just a class act all  the way.”

Flores first fell under Martin’s spell in the late ’70s, when the rockabilly  singer played a rare gig in San Diego. At the time, Flores was fronting Rosie & amp; the Reboppin’ Screamers and singing songs by Gene  Vincent, Lorrie  Collins and Wanda  Jackson.

She was curious.

Hardcore rockabilly fans and collectors knew Martin songs such as “Will You,  Willyum,” “Drugstore Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “My Boy Elvis,” “Cracker Jack,” “Bang Bang”  and “Let’s Elope, Baby.”

Her growl, albeit “like a little girl,” snapped like Presley, Flores says.  Drenched in slap-back echo, reverb and usually with a piano tinkling beneath the  beat, they were – in the ’50s vernacular – real gone, man.

“She didn’t really like being called the female Elvis. She told me that. But  it was marketing,” Flores says. “It was kind of a one-hit-wonder kind  of thing.”

In 1956, according to All  Music Guide (, the teenage singer from Virginia appeared on  NBC’s “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and the Grand  Ole Opry, and she was named Billboard’s most promising  female artist.

Her career came to a stop when RCA dropped her in 1958. Label execs weren’t  thrilled that the teenager had been secretly married for more than a year and  was pregnant. Martin also was a victim of changing tastes and the end of the  rockabilly craze.

She occasionally surfaced after that.

“I couldn’t believe that she really was still alive and working at a country  club. I really loved her personality,” Flores says. “She had this really thick  southern Virginia accent, and I loved the way she used to cuss. She was  so good.”

They stayed in touch, and years later Flores invited Martin to sing on  “Rockabilly Filly.” That was 1995.

“The friendship just grew,” Flores says.

It wasn’t just a one-way street. Martin offered advice, too.

“She goes, ‘You need to rock. There are enough girls out there doing that  pretty stuff,’ ” Flores says.

Flores isn’t sure whether she’ll ever recoup her investment in “The Blanco  Sessions.” But that’s not her motivation – it’s “the hairs crawlin’ up the back  of my neck” when she listens to the tracks.

She’s keeping her fingers crossed that the labor of love can find an audience  and enjoy a healthy shelf life.

“It matters to me that people hear her, more than anything,” Flores says.  “There’s so much interest. I’ve always been confident that when the record came  out, everybody was going to want it.”

Is Martin an essential artist?

“A lot of people don’t know that yet. But she was an essential artist for  me,” Flores says. “She’s a role model for the rockabilly people.”

Source: My San Antonio

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