Forgotten Women of Rock N' Roll
Janis Martin: The Rockabilly Princess
Janice Martin was built for rock n’ roll. She was born in Virginia in 1940, came from a family of musicians, and hit the stage, and radio mic, at the age of 6. She could sing, she could play, and she
could even write her own tunes. She was a great live performer and by the time she was in her mid-teens she was touring and performing on WRVA radio out of Richmond. She grew up performing Hillbilly and Western music, complete with cowboy hat and tassels, and had a couple of big advantages. When rock n’ roll first came along she was already a solid musician and performer and, unlike many of the old timers trying to cash in on the new musical craze, she was an actual teenager.
Janice was signed to RCA records at the age of 15, just 2 weeks after they bought Elvis from Sun records. She cut her first single “Will You Willyum” on March 8, 1956. The B-side was one of her own songs, “Drugstore Rock n’ Roll” (editor’s note: Elvis NEVER recorded a song he actually wrote). The record was a huge hit, eventually selling 750,000 copies. She recorded a couple of other singles for RCA and toured around the country appearing on all of the big TV and radio shows.
Janice was on her way up and people had already begun to call her “the Female Elvis”... but Janice had a little secret.
In January 1956, 15 year old Janice had snuck away with her enlisted paratrooper boyfriend and gotten married without telling her parents.
That sounds kind of crazy today but keep in
mind this is the same era that saw Jerry Lee Lewis marry his 13 year old cousin. Janice kept the nuptials quiet for a few months until her new husband had shipped out to Germany. She finally told her parents but they were less than thrilled about what it might mean for their daughter’s future earning potential and asked her to hide it.
After visiting her husband during a USO tour in 1958, Janice came back with a hard to hide case of pregnancy. The record company found out and Janice’s career was over. They Janice Martin in the studio 1957 didn’t want a scandal and they couldn’t sell records from a pregnant teenager, even a married one.
While the “real” Elvis would go on to grow fat, rich, and stoned,the “Female Elvis” would struggle through the years to be a wife, mother, and musician. In the late
1970s, she was re-discovered by record collectors and had a second career touring Europe as part of the rockabilly revival. Janice Martin passed away in 2007.