Rosie Flores' Kickstarter campaign for new album from '50s rockabilly heroine Janis Martin* [Updated]
Last year I wrote a story about the myriad bootstrap methods musicians have discovered or created to help them finance the recording process as so many of the music industry’s traditional avenues have turned into dead ends.
One such tool that’s become increasingly attractive to many musicians established and fledgling musicians is Kickstarter, a website where anyone can pitch their latest project, set a financial goal and then watch and wait to see if enough fans are willing to chip in to get it off the ground.
It’s the route that veteran roots rocker Rosie Flores has turned to as she works to finish an album she started four years ago that she calls “the best work I’ve ever done” — and Flores barely sings or plays on it.
It’s an album she has produced with '50s rocker Janis Martin, who was labeled “the female Elvis” for her energetically physical performance and vocal style. She and Wanda Jackson were among the very few women who delved headlong into the exuberant rockabilly music that Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, the Burnette Trio and others created such a stir with at the birth of what soon became known as rock 'n' roll.
Flores had long been a fan of Martin’s and typically included one of her signature songs, “My Boy Elvis,” in her own sets. Martin’s biggest hit was a song she wrote, “Drugstore Rock 'N' Roll.” When Flores made her “Rockabilly Filly” album in 1995 saluting those rowdy and raucous rock pioneers, she invited Martin, who hadn’t been inside a recording studio in nearly 30 years, to sing with her on two songs.
“She was really nervous, but she sang great,” said Flores, in L.A. to take part in a benefit show Tuesday night for Danny Amos of Los Straitjackets, who is battling cancer. “I told her then, ‘Look, you really need to get a new record out. You have so many fans. If you ever want to go into the studio, I’d be glad to work with you and glad to be your producer.' "
It took a dozen years, but Flores and Martin, then 67, spent two days recording outside Austin, Texas, with a band of rockabilly and roots country aficionados including drummer Bobby Trimble of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. They assembled a batch of songs for Martin, including Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac,” Johnny O'Keefe's “Real Wild Child (I’m a Wild One)” and Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams.”
For the Record: An earlier version of this post identified one song Martin recorded with Flores as Buddy Holly's "Real Wild Child (I'm a Wild One)". Holly's group, the Crickets, released a version featuring drummer Jerry Allison singing the lead vocal. It was originally recorded and co-written by Australian rocker Johnny O'Keefe. It also listed Martin's age as 77 during the recording session. She was 67.
“We recorded for two days and we got the most amazing results out of her,” Flores said. “That cute, little-girl voice on early records with Chet Atkins became very sexy, almost sounding like a black lady. Her idol was Ruth Brown. It’s a very R&B kind of rock 'n' roll record — it’s not country.
"But she said she wasn’t feeling well, and she had some headaches while we were recording," Flores said. "She pulled me aside and told me she was afraid she might be sick. She got home and a couple of weeks later called and told me she had cancer. They put her on chemo, but she was already Stage 4 and within four months she was gone.”
Flores said she shopped the album to a variety of roots music-centric labels, but in the dour economic climate couldn’t find a taker. Ironically, after numerous no-gos for a new album from one of the few bona fide 1950s female rockers, Flores watched with a combination of exhilaration and frustration at the attention and acclaim heaped on this year’s career-reviving album Wanda Jackson made with producer Jack White, "The Party Ain't Over."
“That was the thing that kind of lit my fire again,” Flores said. “There’s not a better time for female legends of rockabilly. [Martin was] one of the pioneers of rock 'n' roll and she should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like Wanda was.”
Flores is about two-thirds of the way toward her Kickstarter goal of $15,000 to finish mixing and the manufacturing the album, and said she’s been gratified to see the number of people who have kicked in $20, $50 or a $100 to help. Once it’s done she plans to go on the road to promote it since Martin isn’t here to do it herself.
“I’m all into empowering young women to rock, to show how it can empower a person to be a strong woman and be a rocker,” Flores said. “I like to show people there’s good influences, too, we’re not just the ones out there taking drugs.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Janis Martin, left, and Rosie Flores during recording sessions in Texas in 2007. Credit: Courtesy of Rosie Flores