Artist Spotlight

Rockabilly Royalty: An Interview with Rosie Flores

Rosie Flores, a lifetime musician, deserves way more attention than she’s getting. In fact, Rosie has put in so much work, not only for herself, that she’s created important spaces in history time and time again.

Rosie started playing in her first band (an all girl band) in San Diego when she was 16 called Penelope’s Children. The band started touring when they were 18. After that, Rosie went on to start Rosie and the Screamers. “That band was phenomenal, they were amazing musicians. The excitement of playing with the other two guitar players really set me off on wanting to play, they encouraged me to keep playing lead.” Rosie also developed an acoustic set and opened for acts like Jerry Garcia and Jerry Lee Lewis. But Rosie wasn’t limited to just one genre. She played in LA’s all female cowpunk band, Screamin’ Sirens. “Country and rockabilly really revved up with the fashion of punk rock. We opened for Ramones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, some of the earlier shows with The Blasters, X and Lone Justice. There were all of these punk rock clubs (Club 88, Cathay de Grande, Club Lingerie, the China Club) that were more prone to punk rock and rock n’ roll… dirty clubs too, just like filthy rock n’ roll bars.”

Rosie refocused her attention on her solo work. She started another rockabilly band called Rosie and the Reverbs and ended up getting signed to Warner Bros. when “Cryin’ Over You” came out. “They told me Rockabilly was the kiss of death and it wouldn’t get any radio airplay. I got away with recording a Carl Perkins’ song because it sounded like a country waltz. I recorded a Wanda Jackson song called “I Gotta Know,” I got away with that. A lot of my rockabilly followers really liked my record and it got some airplay. The Warner Bros. record deal really put me on the map. I met Wanda Jackson after that record came out, she sent me a note and I got to sing back ups for her and it was so cool, a dream come true. She’s been such an inspiration to so many women.” After Rosie released Rockabilly Philly, Wanda Jackson and Rosie went on tour together in 1995. “I kinda boosted her career back up and she and her husband kept going with it to the point where they ended up getting her inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.” Wanda Jackson thanks Rosie in her Rock Hall induction for her musical help and encouragement.

Wanda Jackson was all set in her music career so Rosie’s attention moved elsewhere. This leads us to Janis Martin, the 1950s rockabilly goddess. Rosie tells me the endearing story; “I was at a rockabilly show. I was just rediscovering rockabilly and there was this band called Levi and the Rockats. I was following him wherever they would play. I was watching them and it wasn’t that big of a scene yet. There were 40 or 50 people in this little bar and there was this girl next to me so I started talking to her.” The two began chatting about rockabilly and the girl at the bar asked Rosie if she knew of Janis Martin? Rosie had never heard of her. The girl told her, “If you don’t know who Janis Martin is you don’t know anything about rockabilly.” Rosie says, “The next day I drove back to LA and there was a vintage record store down the street [and went to look for Janis Martin.] I put it on my record player and went ape shit.”

Rosie found out from friends that Janis Martin was still alive and performed every once in awhile. “I became the number one Janis Martin fan,” she laughs. Rosie found out where Janis worked; “I called information and got the number for the Danville Country Club and called and asked if I could speak to Janis Martin. The women laughs and says you mean Janis Witt, she’s been married for years. She got on the phone and she couldn’t have been nicer. She was so honored that somebody had chased her down. I got her address and I sent her a CD and she wrote me back and was so nice.” To Rosie’s joy, Janis Martin had a show booked at the Palomino Club in San Diego. “I went down there and met her and she brought me on stage with her to sing.”

When Rosie started recording Rockabilly Philly, she asked both Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin to sing a few duets with her. Both legends agreed and she flew into Oklahoma City to work with Wanda Jackson and from there to Raleigh to work with Janis Martin. Rosie laughs, “They both had me meet them at somewhere like a grocery store and then they would lead me to their houses. They both had cadillacs and I thought, that is so rockabilly. Janis’s said Janis M on the license plate. I got to hang out with them and stay at their houses for three nights while we practiced the songs. It was like a dream come true. I knew that since I had my record deal and since I had my name in the music business I felt like if anyone can bring these girls out its me and I’m gonna do it. There were no other girls singing that kind of stuff at the time. Now all these rockabilly girls, they couldn’t care less about me, they don’t put me on their festivals.” But Rosie Flores has put in more than enough time and quality music to be recognized as one of the most influential rockabilly musicians.

But perhaps one of the reasons this happens is because of Rosie’s versatility. Five years ago, she started a jazz group and even more recently, she recorded a blues album. Rosie continues to challenge herself as a musician. “I’m trying to learn jazz chords now. In my jazz band, I’m only a singer right now because I don’t want to be distracted by jazz chords. I don’t want to play guitar in that but I want to write. That’s the cool thing about guitar or any instrument, you’re always learning. To me, it’s like I’m a kid still. Whenever I get back up onstage, I’m like 18 or 19. I don’t really think of myself as an adult version.”

While Rosie Flores deserves a crown for all of her musical contributions she at least has some notoriety. In her adopted hometown of Austin, TX they had their first Rosie Flores day in 2006. She also won a Peabody Award in 2007 for her narration on Whole Lotta Shakin’, a 10 hour radio documentary on the history of rockabilly (which can be heard at www.rockabillyradio.org).

Rosie Flores is a really big gift to music. Not only is she an inspiration as a rockin’ guitarist and singer but the fact that she can look outside her career to lift others up is extremely noteworthy. It shows how much music means to her and she continues to create history.

Check out her new single, “Drive, Drive, Drive” off of her upcoming album, Simple Case of the Blues.

An avid rock musician and enthusiast as well as a rock history buff.

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