Born Rosie Durango Flores on September 30, 1950, in San Antonio, TX; son of Oscar (a postal worker) and Irene (a secretary) Flores. 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.
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."
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."
by Ken Burke
Rosie Flores's Career
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.
Rosie Flores's 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.
- Selected discography
- "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.