Janis Martin who passed away on Sep 3 at age 67 was known as "The Female Elvis". It was a hard-earned title and most aficionados of the genre consider her the first female rock 'n' roller. Back in 1955, just after Elvis signed on with them she recorded on RCA "Will You Willyum" b/w the self-penned B-side "Drugstore Rock ‘n’ Roll" that became her signature song. . It sold 750,000 copies and charted both Pop & Country.
Only 15 at the time, Janis considered Ruth Brown her primary R&B influence. RCA was so impressed with her they (and Elvis) gave her permission to bill herself as "The Female Elvis Presley".
A dynamic stage performer, Janis went on to appear on the Tonight Show, Today Show, American Bandstand, and Ozark Jubilee, among others. Her precociousness was evident at age 11 performing on the WDVA Barndance out of Virginia , a show which also launched the career of the Louvin Brothers. She maintained one foot firmly in the country market, often alternating between country weepers like "Cry Guitar" and rockabilly rave-ups like "My Boy Elvis" which capitalized on the publicity over Presley’s departure for army service.
Some of the artists she toured with included Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Carl Perkins, Faron Young, and Porter Wagoner, but RCA encouraged her to become a regular member of the Jim Reeves touring cast as he was their top country artist. It was always difficult for a female to sustain a music career, however, especially in Rock & Roll where trends ebbed and flowed almost on a daily basis, and particularly for someone who had a child at age 17.
Aside from a couple of 1960 sides on Dot and Decca she really wasn’t heard from until the late 70’s when she put together a band, Janis Martin & The Variations and began touring Europe where they greeted her like it was 1955 all over again.
Janis continued to perform until recently when cancer sidelined her. Six months before her passing, she did an album with Rosie Flores, something rockabilly fans undoubtedly will be looking forward to.