M3 Month: Remembering Roland Janes
Ed. note: Today's M3 Month Throwback Thursday post takes on a different tone, as we honor the life and career of Roland Janes, who passed away in Memphis last week. John Miller of the Memphis Music Foundation is our guest blogger.
Whether you first heard his guitar accompanying Jerry Lee Lewis, or its mesmerizing tone on Travis Wammack’s “Scratchy”, or came across any of the countless records he produced at Sonic and Sam Phillips, everyone knew Roland Janes as a legendary figure in Memphis music history.
While he almost single-handedly invented many engineering methods that are used in modern recordings today, he is recognized equally for his long and impressive career as a sideman and studio musician.
Roland’s guitar can be heard on many hit records from sessions recorded at Sun Records with the aforementioned Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess and Charlie Rich. Recently elected to the Memphis Music Hall of Frame, Janes’ legend will continue to live on after his passing last week in Memphis.
Janes came from a large family in Brookings, Arkansas, in which he was heavily influenced by music. He first began playing the mandolin because it fit the style of music that he was exposed to as a young boy. As he shared with the Journal of Country Music in 1985:
I was influenced by country and pop. 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.
After serving in the Korean War, Janes settled in Memphis, Tennessee in the early ‘50s. Once in Memphis he began playing for artists at a small recording studio, where he met “Cowboy” Jack Clement who introduced him to Sam Philips at Sun Records. Janes became the in-house guitarist at Sun Records where stayed for seven years.
These seven years at Sun landed him guitar tracks on the majority of Jerry Lee Lewis’ recordings as well as many others including: Charlie Rich, Sonny Burgess, Barbara Pittman, Memphis Bells, Jeanne Newman and Tony Rossini. In 1962 he also played a famous session with Scotty Moore, Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper. He was also a member of Billy Lee Riley’s Little Green Men.
During his time at Sun, Janes and Riley created their own label, Rita Records. Their hits led Jane to open his own studio, Sonic Studios, where he specialized in small, independent artists in Memphis. Sonic Studios closed in 1974, but Janes reemerged in 1977 at The Sounds of Memphis Recording Studio where he worked as a producer and engineer while also working at a vocational school in South Memphis, teaching students about recording techniques.
Retiring from teaching at 1982, he returned to work for Sam Philips. Most of his later work at Sun remained behind the scene yet he did appear on Mudhoney’s 1998 album Tomorrow Hit Today. Recently, Janes recorded John Paul Keith’s latest album, Memphis Circa 3 AM, and was working on a project with Mark Edgar Stuart. Before his passing, he was elected to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and is scheduled to posthumously receive a Brass Note on Beale Street.
Janes will always be remembered for his laid back approach and ability to connect with recording artists. During his time at Sun Records, running his studio and label and his 30-plus year commitment to Philips Recording Service, Jane influenced and inspired magic in the Memphis area for over half a century.
About the author: John Miller was born and raised in Memphis, falling in love with the rhythm of the city. He got his start in music working at Archer Records and currently serves as Music Resource Center Manager at the Memphis Music Foundation where he works with and advocates on behalf of an incredible creative community. Music is his biggest passion, but he’s also known to fervently support the Tigers, Grizzlies, Red Sox, and Manchester United and will have words with anyone who suggests Cozy Corner’s ribs are not the best on the planet. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.