February 19, 1994


I left to see rockabilly pioneer Janis Martin at the Palomino. There was a $12.50 cover charge. Before the show I chatted with Ray Campi, Tony Conn, Melba Toast, and Johnny Legend.

Ray Campi told me about his early days. I asked about his hit "Caterpillar," which Ronnie Mack always mentions whenever he introduces him. Ray said he never actually had any hits, but did have some records released in the Fifties, one of them being "Caterpillar." He subsequently worked "every time-punch job there is" before Ronnie Weiser tracked him down and got him to record some tracks for his Rollin' Rock record label during the Seventies.

I asked Ray about his early performances, figuring that even if he didn't have any hits he must have surely had a wild stage act. But he said that at that time he didn't even play bass like he does now. He told me flat out, "Ronnie Weiser made me what I am today."

I told Ray I had been trying to write a song for him, but only had lyrics so far because I was having trouble coming up with the music. He said that writing a good rockabilly song is the hardest thing because it's usually those same three or four chords. He said the trick is to write an interesting middle section, and he hummed a few examples for me.

We talked about the Palomino. Ray said that the owner had tried to convert it into a pool hall but could not get approval for a license. So it's back to what they've been doing for over 40 years - live music. Ray said he used to make several hundred dollars whenever he played here. But as the music scene changed, the club put tables all the way up to the stage and drove away the dancing crowd, which they've never been able to win back.

Ray also noted how the lights over the photos on the walls were all burned out, and that the far wall always used to be lined with signs advertising future shows. Also, the bar used to sell lots of t-shirts and things, but tonight there was but a single shirt on display. Ray pointed to a display case by the pool table where there were dozens of awards the club had won in decades past. Not much chance of any awards this year.

Ronnie Mack "and Friends" opened the show. The usual Barn Dance set was spiced up by special guests Ray Campi and Leslee Anderson. Campi played a borrowed upright bass and sang two songs. Anderson sang two numbers in rockabilly style not unlike tonight's headliner. Her high, clear voice impressed me. During the set, Ronnie joked that on guitar he only knew three rockabilly solos and three country solos. It's true. But they're great solos!

Next was a set by the Dave and Deke Combo, who then took a break before returning to back up Janis Martin.

Instead of making an entrance from the dressing room, Janis Martin appeared from the side (stage right), as if she had just come in the front door. She had short grey hair and wore white slacks, white sweater, white shoes and carried a white purse. She looked like somebody you might see at a bingo game. Indeed, she told the crowd she is a 53-year-old grandmother.

But this granny has a history that drew a rabid (though small) crowd to the Palomino. In the Fifties, she recorded for RCA Records at the same time Elvis was on the label. RCA even promoted her as "the female Elvis." Today Rosie Flores plays her songs "My Boy Elvis" and "Barefoot Baby" on a regular basis.

Ms. Martin took the microphone off the stand and roamed the stage, acknowledging every part of the audience. A real crowd pleaser, she ran through all her hits, and sprinkled her set with some obscurities that the musicians in the backup band had asked for.

Here are my videos of Janis Martin and Rosie Flores performing "Barefoot Baby" . . .

JANIS MARTIN - "Barefoot Baby" at The Palomino 1994
  ROSIE FLORES - "Barefoot Baby" at Sunset Junction 1991

A few people at the front of the crowd appeared to be singing along with every song...

Janis Martin may not be a "household name," but in some quarters she is more revered than Whitney or Madonna or any other contemporary artist.

The final song of the set was "My Boy Elvis." The two encores included an Elvis medley and "Johnny B. Goode" - with Janis on guitar!

After the show, Janis made her way over to a table near the front door, where she held court with her fans.

Before leaving, I spotted Lux and Ivy, the singer and guitarist (respectively) for the Cramps. I asked Ivy how she compared Janis Martin with the recent Collins Kids show, which they had also attended. She said that she thought that the Collins Kids were a little slick and that Janis seemed more natural.

Text and Photos © 1994 Earl P. Reinhalter. All Rights Reserved.


On September 5, 2007, The Washington Post reported:   "Janis Martin, 67, a teenage rockabilly sensation of the 1950s who was billed as 'the female Elvis,' died Sept. 3 of cancer at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C."


Rock historian Jim Dawson (left) and rockabilly stars Janis Martin and
Eddie Fontaine take a breather near Lime Regis in southern England.
(Photo courtesy Jim Dawson.)


This 1987 Bear Family release (BCD 15406 AH) contains 30 songs
on a single CD, and includes a nice 16-page booklet.




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