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Passings: Roland Janes, Sun Records Guitarist, Memphis Legend (1933 - 2013)

Janes with Jerry Lee Lewis
Roland Janes may not be a name that most have heard, but they have certainly listened to his music and, to those in Memphis, he was a legend.  Janes died on Friday afternoon at Methodist University Hospital where he was being treated in the aftermath of a heart attack.  He was 80.

Janes was the second youngest in a family of seven from Brookings, AK and, although his father played guitar and his brother numerous different instruments, he didn't get interested in music until his early teens. He first started playing mandolin but eventually moved to guitar where he learned to move easily between musical genres.

After a stint in the Marines during the Korean War, Janes settled in Memphis where he started playing for artists at a small recording studio. It was there that he met Jack Clement who brought him to Sam Phillips at Sun Records.  Janes became the house guitarist at Sun in 1956, a position he would hold for seven years.  His guitar can be heard on the majority of tracks cut by Jerry Lee Lewis, including Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On and High School Confidential, along with other Sun artists like Charlie Rich and Sonny Burgess. He also was a member of Billy Lee Riley's Little Green Men.

While still at Sun, Janes and Riley founded their own label, Rita Records, where they had a hit with Harold Dorman's original version of his song Mountain of Love.  Janes also opened his own Sonic Studios where he would specialize in recording artists for small, independent labels.  The studio stayed open until 1974 when Janes went into a semi-retirement only to reemerge in 1977 as a producer and engineer at The Sounds of Memphis Recording Studio. On the side, he taught recording technique classes at a local vocational school.

In 1982, he left teaching and returned to Sun with Sam Phillips. While most of his work was now behind the scenes, he did pull out the guitar on occasion for sessions, including one for Mudhoney's 1998 album Tomorrow Hit Today.

Janes was recently elected to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and was scheduled to receive a Brass Note on Beale Street.

Janes is survived by his wife of 54 years, Betty, two sons, a daughter, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.


matt lucas said…
We are so sad about Roland's passing. I played in a band with him over 50 years ago and he played on my first R&R Record at Fernwood studios in Memphis. It was on his GOOD Records label and was called Tradin Kisses. That was 54 years ago. I also cut my biggest R&R hit at his Sonic Studio in Memphis (Im Movin On) and many others...We were shocked by his passing as we were just in Memphis yesterday doing the alex ward Radio Memphis show and found out about it checking our email nin Tupelo Mississippi...We are now back in Memphis for his Memorial service. He was a wonderful friend. Matt Lucas
Unknown said…
larry roser
Anonymous said…
Sad to hear this. I was doing my newspaper column about Jack Clement Hall of Fame induction and saw where he produced Jerry Lee's, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On".
For years I had wondered who did play lead guitar on that recording and didn't find out until 2 years ago when I asked Knox Phillips at a Howlin' Wolf symposium at UNC and he told me it was Roland.
What a great player and that driving lead is classic...RIP
Anonymous said…
"No Chance" on Fernwood is a great track - not to be missed by any fan of the Sun sound. Jerry Lee can be heard telling Roland to take a guitar break on some of those great Sun tracks. Posted by Hugh T. Guillaume
Unknown said…
I loved Roland's guitar breaks on Jerry Lee's recordings for Sun. I believe he also played lead
guitar on Billy Lee Riley's great cut of 'Flying Saucers Rock'nRoll'. A real legend. Thanks Roland for many hours of pleasure listening to your contributions - RIP from JOHN HAWKINS, UK Sun Records fan since 1956.