Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Reviewing a Rosie Flores concert, Neil Strauss of the New York Times referred to her as “a spinning wheel of American roots music.” While Flores has amassed her fan base outside of the country music mainstream, she has demonstrated consistent growth and increasing ambition as a guitarist, singer, and writer. After a disappointing experience with a major label, she signed on with the “indie” label Hightone and recorded a series of well-regarded albums that fused the song smarts of the Austin, Texas scene with the rambunctious energy of early rock and roll. In 1995 she wowed critics and fans alike with Rockabilly Filly. an unabashed celebration of her roots and a chance to collaborate with some of her idols.
Flores was born in San Antonio, Texas early rock icon Elvis Presley and pop crooner Brenda Lee fueled her interest in music. Her father was able to record Rosie and her siblings singing together when she was 7, and a snippet of one such session was included on Rockabilly Filly When she was 12 her family moved to San Diego, California, where a variety of burgeoning pop forms influenced her tastes as well as her decision to form Penelope’s Children, an all-female band, at 16. In a Guitar Player profile, Flores recalled a back-handed compliment she received for her fretwork: a male audience member said, “You’re pretty good for a girl.” Far from rearing up in feminist outrage, Flores noted, “I remember thinking, ’Yeah, I am pretty good for a girl, aren‘t I?, ’because back then very few girls were playing lead guitar. I felt like I was breaking new ground. But whenever some guy said that, he’d always follow by saying, ‘No, I mean, you’re pretty good for a guy too—I mean, you’re just pretty good— period.’ ”
It was partly the work of trailblazing singer Wanda Jackson that nudged Flores in this direction. “I had heard Elvis and [1950s hitmaker and rock pioneer] Buddy Holly,” she told the Boston Globe. “But I kinda didn’t think of it as something a woman could perform until I heard her records, and then I went, ’Wow, girls can do it too.”’ Flores later formed the band Rosie and the Re-boppin’ Screamers and in 1984 joined the country-punk outfit Screamin’ Sirens; according to Nashville Scene “she was the only musically adept member” of that group.
She earned a record deal with Warner Bros, as a solo artist in 1986, releasing her debut album the following year. Unfortunately, opined Guitar Player’s Kevin Ransom, “she was pigeonholed as a C&W chick singer by Nashville types who didn’t care much about her genre-bending guitar playing,” which draws on hard blues and
For the Record…
Born c. 1955, in San Antonio, TX; raised in San Diego, CA.
Singer-guitarist-performer, c. late 1960s—; performed with bands Penelope’s Children and Rosie and the Reboppin’ Screamers (some sources say Rosie and the Screamers), c. 1970s-80s; played in band Screamin’ Sirens, 1984-86; signed with Warner Bros, as solo artist and released debut album Rosie Flores, 1987; dropped by Warner Bros., 1988; signed with Hightone Records and released album After the Farm, 1992; performed at Live at the Ryman Auditorium television special for TNN, 1994; contributed to Merle Haggard tribute album Tulare Dust, 1994.
Addresses: Home —Los Angeles, CA. Record company— Hightone Records, 220 4th St. #101, Oakland, CA 94607.
riff rock as well as the twang of country. Musician noted that while her Warner bow “did a nice job of showcasing Flores’ smoky, out-of-breath delivery and her knack for milking the dickens out of a country lyric, she seemed somewhat boxed in by Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson’s heavy-handed direction.”
Flores later acknowledged the contradictions of her major-label experience. “This friend of mine helped me make some demos that we sent to Warners in Nashville,” she told Request writer Susan Hamre. “I was really surprised that the demos we made caught the attention of the A&R [talent scout] people over there. It was an even bigger surprise when they dropped me two years later because I had been told that they didn’t want to change me. But my uniqueness had them a little mind boggled, so they said go find a label that understands you.”
She continued to soldier on, however, moving to Austin, Texas in 1988. That town’s alternative-country scene relied on folk-influenced songcraft and was in general more tolerant of stylistic eccentricity than Nashville. Flores played on the well-regarded television series Austin City Limits and rapidly earned cult status as a performer and songwriter. In 1989 she had a chance to sing backup with Wanda Jackson; the two became fast friends and would later collaborate in the studio. And ultimately Flores found a label that understood her, the California indie company Hightone, which she described to Hamre as “the easiest place to go to be able to do my music creatively the way that I’d like to do it.” Unburdened by the conservative nature of corporate country music, which tends to distrust women who seem unusual or too eclectic, Flores could indulge her wide-ranging musical passions completely. Even if the label wasn’t wild about every song she wrote, “they don’t stop me from putting them on, and that’s the freedom of artistic control.”
In 1992 Flores released After the Farm, which she recorded with her band The Bad Boys. On this album, Musician reviewer Peter Cronin noted, “Flores is playing more guitar and writing better songs” than on her ill-fated Warner Bros, debut. “Most importantly, the singer sounds like she’s having a blast.” Ransom of Guitar Player called the record “a tough-minded three-guitar country-rock showcase that uses [1960s country-influenced rockers] The Byrds and The Buffalo Springfield as musical touchstones.” With the aid of Wayne “DJ” Jarvis on electric and slide guitars and the versatile Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel, dobro, and other guitars—along with a solid rhythm section—Flores finally had a band that could showcase the range of her talents. At the same time, her talented sidemen scarcely overshadowed her own playing. “Rosie’s solos flow instinctively from her melodies and rhythms,” wrote Ransom, “while her lines weave in and out of the tough-but-tasteful textures laid down by Jarvis and Leisz.” The album made the year-end Top 10 lists of several magazines, including Pulse! and Request.
More praise came with her 1993 set Once More With Feeling. In a Musician review, Chris Willman managed to compare Flores to a number of her primary influences in one fell swoop: “Imagine the pre-adolescent Brenda Lee grown up and matured without losing any of her spunk and pluck, and you’ve got a good idea of Flores’ appeal—though her assured songwriting and aggressively rocky lead guitar bring to mind less demure forerunners like Wanda Jackson and Bonnie Raitt.” John Morthland of Country Music, meanwhile, heard “this unique, and endlessly effective, breathy ’pull’ in her voice that is reminiscent of the smoky Mountain sound of earíy Dolly Parton”; while complaining about some aspects of the production, Morthland felt she had great potential. The album’s single “Honky Tonk Moon” received a fair amount of attention, thanks to a frequently played clip on the video stations CMT and VH-1.
During a 1994 world tour, Flores suffered a major setback. Running down a wet London street with her laundry, she slipped and landed on her right hand. She performed that night with her arm in a cast, leaving the guitar playing to others, and the show went well. Back in the states, however, increased pain sent her to a specialist who warned she might need surgery. She cancelled her tour and headed for her parents’ home in San Diego. “I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t hardly do anything,” she recalled to Pulse! Since it was necessary for her arm to heal correctly, she had the surgery, which involved fusing the bones with metal screws. Her arm was also placed in an external device to keep it from moving the wrong way. “For eight weeks, I was Robo Rosie,” she quipped to Nashville Scene. “It was so painful, I kept telling them, ‘If I’m having to put up with this much pain, this is going to have to work.’ But we didn’t know how it was going to affect my guitar playing. The screws were right where I use my wrist the most. The only way I could get through it was to stay positive. I put every bit of mental positive framework into it I could. I thought, ‘This is going to heal. It’s going to.’”
Her positive thinking paid off. After some physical therapy, she was able to perform, and even appeared on a TNN country music special, Live at the Ryman Auditorium, with Jackson, alternative-country singer Iris DeMent, and country superstar Pam Tillis. Performing behind Jackson on the song “Let’s Have a Party” was a particular thrill for Flores. During her guitar solo, she told Nashville Scene, she heard Jackson let out “this wild rockabilly scream. She said, ’Oh yeah! WOOOOOO!’ It was an incredible thing.” The charge of this experience, as well as some gigs on the re-emerging Nashville and Los Angeles rockabilly scenes, influenced her decision to undertake the project that would be Rockabilly Filly.
Released in 1995 and featuring guest vocals by Jackson and veteran wailer Janis Martin, Rockabilly Filly allowed Flores to expand her instrumental range. “My approach was more low-down and dirty,” she explained to the Boston Globe. “Now I’m learning how to play more jazzy and that’s so much a part of rockabilly,” she added, noting that exploring these stylistic tributaries was “what I’m working on now, trying to make myself grow and incorporate that into my playing.” The album earned a number of glowing reviews. According to Eric Levin of People, Flores “reinvigorates rockabilly, mixing in dabs of country steel guitar, doo-wop, boogie-woogie and swinging blues. It’s all breathless fun, and the slow tunes are sexy enough to alarm a chaperone.” New Country critic Geoffrey Himes enthused that after three albums that failed to capture the electricity of her live shows, Flores had at last “figured out how to bottle that lightning on a recording,” adding that she “has come up with a handful of new rockabilly songs as exciting as anything Jackson or Martin ever recorded.”
It seemed that with her travels into pure rockabilly, Flores had found a way to communicate her musical essence. And though it was clear she had always been better than just “pretty good for a girl,” she commented to the Boston Globe about the importance of being an influence herself. “A lot of women have come up to me, and their eyes are on fire and they say ’You’ve really inspired me,’” she noted. “You know there’s not very many of us out there playing lead. Bonnie Raitt’s a role model for me, and if I can be that by playing rockabilly, I think it’s neat. I inspire more girls to get out and play.”
Rosie Flores, Warner Bros., 1987.
After the Farm, Hightone, 1992.
Once More With Feeling (includes “Honky Tonk Moon”), Hightone, 1993.
Rockabilly Filly, Hightone, 1995.
(Dave Alvin) King of California, (appears on “Goodbye Again”), Hightone, 1994.
Tulare Dust, (Merle Haggard tribute album, appears on “My Own Kind of Hat”), Hightone, 1994.
Boston Globe, December 8, 1995.
Color Red, November 1995.
Country Music, November 1993.
Guitar Player, September 1992.
Musician, July 1992; February 1994; February 1996.
Nashville Scene, December 7, 1995.
New Country, December 1995.
New York Times, July 26, 1995.
People, December 11, 1995.
Pulse!, December 1995.
Request, November 1993.
Rolling Stone, October 29, 1992.
Additional information was provided by Hightone Records publicity materials, 1995.
"Flores, Rosie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/flores-rosie-0
"Flores, Rosie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/flores-rosie-0
Whether she sweetly croons western swing, weeps country, wails the blues, or yelps rockabilly, there are few roots music styles that Rosie Flores can't imbue with heartbreaking panache or foot-stomping fire. On stage she can play mellow acoustic or rambunctious lead electric guitars, and sell it with the freewheeling spirit of a rockabilly icon. The expressive Texas-born, California-raised singer-songwriter has refused to be stylistically pigeonholed. Although her eclectic ways have cost Flores a major label career, she has become an independent label icon with an international following.
Flores spent her first years in San Antonio, Texas, where she absorbed all manner of local sounds, including country and Tex-Mex. The early rock 'n' roll sounds of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly particularly captured her youthful imagination. One of four children, Rosie was encouraged by her parents in her musical aspirations, and her father even began recording her at home. When she was 12 years old, the Flores family moved to San Diego, California, where young Rosie began to absorb a whole new set of influences.
"I tried to do like a country rock thing," Flores said in an interview. "I wanted to be like a female Gram Parsons. And, I really loved the Everly Brothers' harmony, which Gram Parsons had as well. Then, there was sort of the Byrds, but I thought the Byrds were too folk. I wanted to rock more."
At age 16, Flores hooked up with an all-girl band called Penelope's Children, which opened shows for several national acts, most notably the Turtles. But without a major record deal or hit record, Penelope's Children never really became a major success. As a result, when the novelty of an all-female psychedelic band wore off, the band quietly disbanded. Determined as ever, Flores moved to Los Angeles, where she began to make considerable headway on her solo career.
Learned Honky Tonk from Gary Stewart
Country music had always been part of Flores's act, but it took a special performer to stoke her passion for the genre. "I moved to LA and started hanging out at the Palomino Club, [and] I discovered the music of Gary Stewart." Stewart made a strong impression on the young singer-guitarist: "He just got my heart with the way he sang with all that emotion."
Embracing her roots, Flores became a mainstay of the Southern California music scene. "I was part of the rockabilly scene in L.A.," she recalled in an interview. "At one point I started a little rockabilly trio called Tres Flores, which was named after the grease they put in your hair…. I used to do a lot of Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin songs. Then I had a band with James Intveld and Russell Scott called Rosie & The Reverbs…. Then there was the Screamin' Sirens, who were sort of punkish rockabilly."
The Screamin' Sirens, featuring Flores on lead guitar, saw a measure of fame. They recorded an album for the Enigma label and scored a cameo role as themselves in the films Vendetta and The Running Kind. However, the band never really made it out of the Los Angeles club scene, and Flores continued to dream of a more eclectic solo career.
Signing with Warner's Reprise subsidiary was a major break. The label hoped to light up the country charts with a female version of Dwight Yokam, and paired Flores with Yokam's producer/guitarist Pete Anderson. The subsequent album redefined Flores as a stylish, occasionally fiery neo-traditional singer with a slightly pop veneer. The self-titled release yielded three chart singles: "Crying Over You," "He Cares," and "Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins." Yet, because nothing had hit the country top 40, Reprise dropped her from their roster.
Queen of the Independent Labels
That short-lived major label stint began a roots label odyssey for Flores that still continues. An album of Texas swing recorded with roots veteran Ray Campi for CMH remained unreleased when the label honcho who championed the project died. It was finally issued in 1997 by Watermelon, shortly before the label went belly-up. The bulk of Flores's best work has been on the Oakland-based independent label Hightone, where she was allowed to write as much of her material as she liked, and control most of the production for her projects.
Such Hightone releases as After the Farm and Once More With Feeling played up her country ballad vocal style and swing-based guitar work. Yet it was 1995's Rockabilly Filly that received the most attention, because it reintroduced rockabilly pioneers Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin to audiences worldwide. Moreover, Flores's self-penned "You Tear Me Up" is arguably the best performance by a contemporary female rockabilly. It led to a successful 1996 tour with Sun Records veteran Sonny Burgess and an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Flores seemed to be on the path to mainstream stardom, but Hightone seemed to lack the necessary clout to make her a radio star. Flores recalled, "They did spend some money. But, compared to what major labels spend on their acts—it's just the big reason why the other ones sell. It's not that one act is better or worse than some others, it's just how you get them out there.
Flores left Hightone and recorded well-received albums for Rounder and Eminent. She recalled of Eminent, "They were a great label…. probably the most artist friendly label I've ever been on. It really broke my heart when the backer pulled out because he was afraid of losing money."
For the Record …
Born Rosie Durango Flores on September 30, 1950, in San Antonio, TX; son of Oscar (a postal worker) and Irene (a secretary) Flores.
Turned professional with all-girl pop-rock ensemble Penelope's Children, 1966; formed honky tonk/rockabilly combo Rosie & the Reverbs, 1978; helped form all-girl punk group Screamin' Sirens, 1980; with Screamin' Sirens, recorded first album, Fiesta, for Enigma, 1984; group appeared briefly in movie Vendetta, 1985; recorded first solo album for Reprise, 1987; made brief appearance in film Runnin' Kind, 1989; signed with independent Hightone label, 1992-95; had small role in River Phoenix's final film, The Thing Called Love, 1993; western swing recordings made in 1990 with rockabilly veteran Ray Campi released by Watermelon label, 1997; signed with Rounder, released one LP of new material and re-release of Reprise material, 1996-97; appeared with veteran rockabilly Sonny Burgess on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, 1999; recorded single album for Eminent label, 2001; formed Durango Rose label, issued live set Single Rose, 2004.
Awards: Rock City News Award, Best Solo Artist, 1997; Rock City News Award, Best Swing/Rockabilly Band, 1998; LA Weekly Music Award, Best Country Artist, 1999.
Addresses: Record company—Hightone, 220 4th St. #101, Oakland, CA 94607, website: http://www. hightone.com. Booking—Marc Mencher, Action Packed Events, e-mail: MaineMench@aol.com, phone: (207) 865-0250, website: http://www.actionpackedevents.com. Management—Jake Rosswog, Durango Management, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: (615) 403-5253.
Started Own Label in 2004
Despite witnessing first-hand the mortality rate among roots labels, Flores decided to try her hand at the business side of music, and formed Durango Rose Records. According to Flores, the company name came from organic sources. "Well, my middle name is Durango. I was just going to call it Durango Records…. [but] I was talking to [legendary roadie] Phil Kaufman—the Road Mangler Deluxe—and he said, 'That doesn't sound feminine enough for you. What about Durango Rose Records?' I said, 'OK, you talked me into it.'"
Flores is acutely aware that roots music is not the easiest genre in which to earn a music industry dollar. "So, for me and my label, I'm not ready to sign a lot of people yet. I would like to in the future, but I want to figure out how to make [Single Rose] sell first so I can have enough money to do it right."
For Flores, part of doing it right has meant stopping her ceaseless shuttling between Austin and Los Angeles. She moved to Nashville in late 1999. "The best thing I can say that happened to me from moving here is that I was able to find really good traveling bands and a really great tour manager," she reported. "You get a chance to work with all these guys who really care about your music, and I was able to lock in with a band."
According to Flores, the latter point was the key difference between her respective experiences in Los Angeles and Nashville. "Everybody in L.A. works for like six different bands," she explained with a laugh. "That's how they make a living as a musician and that's cool. But if you're a solo artist, that makes it a little bit harder to keep a band together."
On her new label debut, Flores chose to largely go it alone. Armed with just her tender, expressive voice and bravura acoustic guitar technique, she fashioned one of the finest albums of her career, Single Rose. Alternately poetic and flat-out fun, the 14-song live show brought together the disparate influences of her life: rockabilly, blues, western swing, Spanish ballads, and even jazz.
Despite the consistently high quality of her work, Flores has found that she is not considered rockabilly enough by some genre purists. However, rather than hem her into one specific cult scene, Flores' eclectic nature and showstopping guitar skills have allowed her to have the last laugh and stay constantly booked regardless of musical trends.
"I branch out so much," she explained. "I play blues clubs, folk festivals, country festivals and nightclubs, rock 'n' roll bars. The other night I was in Florida and I played with a punk band, the other band was kind of like Motley Crue, and then there was a rockabilly band. And, people stayed to listen to my show."
"Crying Over You," Reprise, 1987.
"He Cares," Reprise, 1988; reissued, 2003.
"Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins," Reprise, 1988; reissued, 2003.
(With the Screamin' Sirens) Fiesta!, Enigma, 1984.
Rosie Flores, Reprise, 1987.
After The Farm, Hightone, 1992.
Once More With Feeling, Hightone, 1993.
Rockabilly Filly, Hightone, 1995.
Honky Tonk Reprise, Rounder, 1996.
(With Ray Campi) A Little Bit of Heartache, Watermelon, 1997.
Dance Hall Dreams, Rounder, 1999.
Speed of Sound, Eminent, 2001.
Single Rose, Durango Rose, 2004.
Bandera Highway, Hightone, 2004.
Goodman, David, Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide & Directory, Dowling, 1999.
Blue Suede News #67, Summer 2004.
Country Standard Time, June 2004.
"Flores, Rosie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/flores-rosie
"Flores, Rosie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/flores-rosie