Roland Janes (1933–2013)

Roland Janes was a well-known session guitar player who worked with Sam Phillips at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. He was elected to the Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. His guitar is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Roland Janes was born on August 20 ,1933, in Brookings (Clay County) to R. D. Janes and Mary Pearl Janes; he had three brothers and three sisters. Janes learned to play guitar and performed in country bands with his cousins while living in Arkansas. His parents divorced when he was about ten, and his mother moved to St. Louis, Missouri; he shuttled back and forth from St. Louis to Arkansas throughout the rest of his childhood. In 1953, Janes moved to Memphis and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, achieving the rank of corporal and working as a telephone lineman from July 1953 until July 1955. Upon his discharge, he returned to Memphis and began to play with bands in clubs. Through this, he met Jack Clement, who was from Arkansas. Clement introduced him to Sam Phillips.

From 1956 to 1963, Janes was a regular session guitarist at Sun Studios, recording with famous musicians such as Charlie Rich, Billy Riley, and Sonny Burgess. He played on most of Jerry Lee Lewis’s recordings at Sun, including “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” He played in Lewis’s band for a while but did not like the travel and being away from his wife, Betty, and family. He soon formed a band with Billy Lee Riley and played with him for a few years while still at Sun Records. In 1960, he and Riley produced a hit record with Harold Dorman titled Mountain of Love on their own label, Rita Records. In 1962, Janes opened his own studio, Sonic, where he recorded many small labels, in addition to playing on many of the sessions.

One of the labels was Razorback Records of Arkansas, which frequently recorded at his studio in the 1960s and 1970s. He recorded a Travis Wammack hit there titled “Scratchy.” In 1964, Janes closed Sonic and got out of the business for a few years. In 1977, he took a job as an instructor for a vocational school. In 1982, he went back to work for Sam Phillips at Phillips’s new studio and was the main engineer and manager there. He remained such until his death on October 18, 2013, of a heart attack. He is buried in New Hope Cemetery in Pollard (Clay County).

Janes was a musician’s musician; people from all over the world would stop to see him and record with him. For instance, he played guitar on Mudhoney’s 1998 album Tomorrow Hit Today. After his death, a tribute was held at Levitt Shell in Memphis on June 30, 2014, and many of the artists who knew him performed, including Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers, J. M. Van Eaton, Hayden Thompson, Travis Wammack, Smoochy Smith, John Paul Keith, Jason D. Williams, Studding Culling Band, Interstate 55, and Iron Horse. It was hosted by George Kline, who had been a friend of Elvis Presley.

For additional information:
706 Union Avenue Sessions. (accessed October 6, 2020).

Guralnick, Peter. Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

“Roland Janes.” (accessed October 6, 2020).

Bobby Crafford
Maumelle, Arkansas


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