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.”
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 (allmusic.com), 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