Nothing can stop the dynamo known to mere humans as "Rosie Flores" ----"If I had to claim a single thing that defines my life now, I'd have to say I have a tendency to spread myself too thin--right now, I paint, I'm writing a cookbook and I want to write a children's book, I just don't play enough guitar--if I devoted that kind of time to just guitar, I'd be Jeff Beck".
So says the wiry roots dynamo Ms. Rosie Flores of her hectic/lunatic schedule whose obsessive nature has given us over 10 amazing discs worth of pure American soul (not in "The Commitments" sense of the word, of course) in the last 25 years. Twanging out the sweetly familiar strains of 50's rockabilly married to country, Tejano, surf, Buddy Holly and the Beatles, the ferocious Ms F shows no sign of stopping, slowing down, even pacing herself--as is evidenced by her new one, Working Girls Guitar(Bloodshot).
Running the gamut from the funny story song that gives the collection its title all the way to the closing duo of Elvis plus Beatles (with a killer surf thing in the middle as well as gut ripping walls of whammy bar, over-driven intensity elsewhere), the transplanted Texas tornado (not in the Doug/Freddie/Augie/Flaco sense here, ya feeling me?) has once again made a beginning to end disc that feels like a real record, a rarity in the fetid fever swamp of tinny MP3's off of hokey websites. Big, broad and bright, the music sits right in the front of your speakers, not shyly hiding off in a corner, this baby practically screams, 'come dance with me right now'.
Rosie was kind enough to use up a little of her time gabbing with her former homie, yours truly (when I asked why she still kept an LA area code on her cell, she, ever the salt of the earth, responded with "I'll never change my number, man--it's the most important thing that people can always reach me from my favorite city in the world and easily''). She is prepping for yet another go-round of the highways, freeways and back roads that are the lattice work of the American roots circuit. By the matter-of-fact timbre in her voice, you can tell that what would be a major undertaking for most, isn't much more than yet another jaunt.
"I start up in Oregon, down to Oakland, over to Ohio to play the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with Chuck Berry, back to Austin", she says, matter-of-factly. The modesty comes naturally to her, her perspective is refreshing among the egomania generally associated with performing artists in general and lead singers/lead guitarists in particular. "Yeah," she says. "One day you stay at the Ritz and the next on someone's couch. One night the Grand Ole Opry, the next, who knows? I've played the Opry five times and toured with Buck Owens and George Jones and that was an honor I'll always treasure--sometimes I'd sit and think 'dang, if I could have a quarter of these guys' talent--and they were such gentlemen, so generous. Just amazing".
Once again, the bug of modesty has bitten her hard--a cursory listen to Working GirlsGuitar reveals some of the finest picking heard in ages, not the clean, clear and antiseptic runs one associates with Nashville studio wizards, but grit, grime and punch--you can hear lots of Carl Perkins everywhere, Cliff Gallup (Jeff Beck's idol, too, you're getting there, girl!) and even a raunchier take on the style made somewhat famous commercially by Brian Setzer.
Like so many great discs, the back-story is fraught with the ups and downs and the trials and tribs inadvertently add more than they subtract, the indefinable human element that says "this wasn't cut by no machine" is the blood on these tracks. Recorded mostly in Minneapolis, Flores says that she had intended to do all of the work in the North Country only to find, as is usually the case, that some of the songs weren't working--they needed a bit of Texas pedal steel, some Hammond B-3 seasoning, just a little more than what she had.
Unfortunately, in these days of tiny budgets and shoe-string schedules, the cost was also a little more than she had and she resorted to the heartbreak of pawning her Gretsch Penguin to pay the studio bills (note here--loud, audible gasp from me into cell phone which drew total hilarity from the roots chanteuse--the Penguin is the holy grail of guitars--old ones. "Oh hell no, it wasn't a 30,000 dollar guitar, Johnny", she said, chuckling heartily at my amazement.) Her newbie Gretsch was a tenth of that and she bargained with the gent that loaned her the loot for the studio to hang on to it and he did--she repaid him by selling a Flores original (of Elvis, natch) and forking over said cash.
The irony being that her pawn pal, Richie, upon returning the guitar commented on all the mileage on the six string and that it was truly a "working girl's guitar". The title song was born, written from the guitar's point of view itself. And yeah, you can sing and hum and whistle it, it's a hit!
In the ideal world, of course. Flores, a lifer/queen of the honky tonks if there ever was one was but a starry eyed graduate of what used to be called the "Amerindie" scene in Hollywood, plucking away in the now legendary/notorious Screaming Sirens at Raji's, the Lingerie and wherever else they could perform. Signed to Reprise along with Dwight Yoakam in the middle of the 80's, she believed that this music--not yet "roots" or "Americana" was going to take over the world. And why not? At that point, New Wave was old hat, synth-pop exhausted and the main radio fare at the time was movie soundtrack after movie soundtrack, with some of the most antiseptic, robotic pap ever ramrodded down the throats (ears) of the listeners--America was primed for a dose of its own primal scream.
"It seemed so promising", she says of that time. "Like, a brand new genre was gonna be defined and Dwight and I and some of the others would have a home, there'd be new radio formats for it and everything. Why that never really happened, I have no idea. I got the feeling that we weren't seen as hip as "alternative" or whatever filled that gap, but even though we're kind of hanging on via Sirius and college radio, when I play gigs, I see so many kids, 21 year old's, just loving this music--they weren't even born when I started, let alone when this music began--if only the radio was like it was back in the 60's, where you could have the Beatles into a country song, even playing a country song ("Act Naturally") on the air, everyone was so much more open-minded."
When asked why there was a Beatles cover on the new record, a wistful, folksier take on George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", Flores explained that this is part of her ongoing attempt to let the people that listen to her know where she's coming from. "When I did Rockabilly Filly back in 1995 with Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin, I wanted to tell the story of loving Elvis and Buddy, make it a CD of my roots--well, I loved that song since I first heard it. In order, my love is rockabilly and then surf, then country and then the Beatles."
She is ceaselessly baffled by the surprise that greets the notion that she is the sole picker on the new one, not to mention the others(not from me, I've seen her, I bow down to her majesty). "I play all the guitars", she says. "Even now, I do gigs and people come up to me all gape jawed saying, 'wow, you shred', like they thought some session guys played all those licks on the records--I think to myself, 'don't you people even read the liner notes?' I always took pains to make sure people knew which solos I played when there was more than one of us".
That drive again--that restless, relentless path that she's walked on for her (I'm not saying it, I am a gentleman) years. Blessed with a perpetually kid-like enthusiasm and excellent health ("I never got into drugs and alcohol the way so many others have or did"), she shows no sign of letting up, although she did muse aloud about doing that right--"I figure maybe I'll become a heroin addict at 80, you know, just sit and be happy painting...or maybe not (laughs heartily)"
A threat or a promise, maybe? I don't see it--Rosie Flores is one of those natural phenomena, the Energizer Roots Bunny, that goes and goes and keeps going, because that's what she knows. This music isn't just her blood, it's her veins, her spirit and soul, every time that sassy n sultry voice of hers notches the tiny little cracks that are the signposts of true American warriors, you can hear every mile, every truckstop, every beat gig, every triumph, every shoulda/coulda/woulda. Without naming names, she has more of that "it" in her left pinkie than whatever cover girl Central Tennessee deems a "superstar". Get Working Girls Guitar, slap it on, absorb it, ruminate upon it, swim in it. Because you'll probably never get as much out of it as the maestro put into it, but it sure is one hell of a good time trying, isn't it?(JAW) by Johnny Angel Wendell.