Roland Janes, Rockabilly Guitarman
Roland and Delmar Janes

Roland Janes is not exactly a household name. In fact, only those who are deeply involved with rockabilly music will know who he is. To the latter, though, his is a name revered. It was Janes, along with Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins, who developed the rockabilly guitar style at Sun Records. Janes was born the second youngest in a family of seven in 1933 in a river town in North-East Arkansas called Brookings. It had once been an important lumber community and Roland's father, besides playing guitar, had earned a living as a lumberjack. By the time Janes was born, though, the lumber industry had died and his father had quit playing music. He did have an older brother who apparently played piano, organ and guitar and several of his cousins played fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, etc.. In fact, of the extended family, Janes was the last one to really start playing.

Before Roland was ten, his parents had divorced. His mother moved to St. Louis and slowly collected each of her children. Roland moved in with her in 1942. For a while, he shuttled hack and forth between his two parents, and it was in 1945 or '46, during one of the times that he had moved back to Arkansas to live with his father, that he first started playing. His first instrument was a mandolin. The music that he and his cousins made was stone country. On the radio, at that time he says, there was nothing available but big band or country music.

"So I was not influenced at all by black music because I wasn't exposed to it. I came in contact with black music only when I came to Memphis and I'd already developed my style. I picked up on their style when the need arose. I could play blues. In other words, I m very perceptive, not bragging, but I'm very perceptive in that I can pick up on different styles very easily. But, I wasn't infuenced by it, I was influenced by country and pop. In St. Louis I listened to people like Patty Page, Joni James and Les Paul. My father, he was a Pentecostal minister, so they had music in the church at that time. That was probably the basis, That's the basis of most country and rockabilly; the church."

Janes eventually moved to Memphis in 1953. Once there, he went directly into the Marine Corps. "When I came here, it was during the Korean conflict and I enlisted in the seryice because I was unemployed. I woould probably have been drafted anyway because they were drafting at that time. So, I enlisted."

During his hitch, Janes was able to play in a couple of country bands at various service clubs on the side. Upon his discharge, Janes settled back in Memphis. There, he chanced upon a want add placed by one Doc McQueen, who was looking for a guitarist. McQueen was a pianist who had equipped his house with a couple of tape recorders which he used to cut demos with. A lot of musicians naturally gathered there and, through McQueen, Janes met a pedal steel player by the name of Kenneth Herman. Herman, in turn, introduced Janes to Jack Clement, who was involved with Slim Wallace in trying to launch a local record label. Wallace had built a studio in his garage on Fernwood Street and their company was to be called Fernwood Records.

Between 1956 and 1963, Janes was one of the anchors of the 'house band' at Sun Records. In those seven years, he played on the majority of Jerry Lee Lewis' one hundred and fifty plus Sun recordings, was a founding member of Billy Lee Riley's Little Green Men, and backed up a plethora of lesser Sun artists from Charlie Rich, Sonny Burgess and Barbara Pittman to such unknowns as the Memphis Bells, Jeanne Newman and Tony Rossini (he played a session behind the latter in June of 1962 which included Scotty Moore, Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper on bass).

In 1962. Janes opened his own Sonic Studios. As well, he was the sole owner, part owner and or session player for a host of small independent Memphis labels throughout the 1960's and early 1970's. After the closing of Sonic in 1974, Janes, for the most part, got out of the record business for a couple of years. He was to return in 1977 as a producer and engineer at the Sounds of Memphis Recording Studio and as an instructor of recording techniques at a black vocational school in South Memphis. In 1982, he retired from teaching and went back to work for Sam Phillips.

Source; Journal of Country Music 1985.
Story by Rob Bowman and Ross Johnson.

Janes also a recorded a few songs at Sun with Eddie Cash. These songs are listed in the Sun archives under his own name. Originally these five songs were left on the shelf at Sun. Eventually three of them were issued on the Charly/Sun co-production "Sun Records, The Rocking Years" in 1987.

Songs recorded by the Roland Janes Band, February 11, 1959.
Roland Janes, guitar - Eddie Cash, vocal - Billy Lee Riley, guitar -  Pat O'Neill, bass - Jimmy van Eaton, drums - Martin Willis, sax.

  • Hey good lookin' (vocal Eddie Cash)
  • Little bitty pretty girl (vocal Eddie Cash)
  • Rolando (instrumental)
  • Roland's blues (unissued)
  • Uncle Sam rock (unissued)