August 26th, 2009 | Interviews

alessa kreger

Download: Rosie Flores “In The Middle Of A Heartache” (Wanda Jackson)


(from Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson available from Bloodshot)

We caught Rosie Flores playing an air show. With planes whizzing overhead, the guitarista has her two feet on the ground, strumming the strings in the inimitably passionate style that got a day dedicated to her in Austin. Everyday can’t be ‘Rosie Flores Day,’ but if you have a few thousand dollars to spare, she can put out Janis Martin’s last album! This interview by Daiana Feuer.

Are there planes flying right now?
It’s very interesting because when we’re performing we get to see these incredible air shows. Dive bombers. Formation flying. Aircraft that you wouldn’t normally see—from vintage to the latest modern thing. Right in front of us while we’re singing. It’s really not about the music here—we’re kind of second fiddle to the airplanes. That’s ok—we’re making good money and connecting with some new fans.
It beats jamming in a garage.
It is interesting scenery. And we’re getting to perform together a lot. Are you familiar with Patricia Vonne? We’re learning each other’s songs and singing in harmony together. We’ve got a new song on my album Girl Of The Century called ‘This Cat’s In The Doghouse.’ It seems to be the biggest hit out here at the airport in Osh Kosh. All the guys love it. I guess they can relate. I’ll be playing with the Honky Tonk Angels in Los Angeles, though. With Jenne Brown who also came out of L.A. at the same time I did. And another gal named Patty Booker. The three of us formed this band and we’ve got some really cool pickers playing with us. The crack L.A. band backing us. We’re playing guitars and mandolins and pianos and basses ourselves, with a three-part harmony. It’s a pretty magical trio, and I only play with them in California. We play one long set. In some places it will be like four long sets. At Pappy and Harriet’s, we’ll play four hours straight!
So you’re turning 59?
I am! It’s my last year I get to be in the ‘50s. Starting next year I can’ t play any more rockabilly music.
Will you start a go-go band?
Actually, I’ve kind of started doing that. I’ve been recording some really rocking stuff and gearing away from pure rockabilly. My new record on Bloodshot’s got some of that. I covered a Yardbirds song, and ‘This Cat’s In The Doghouse’ I told you about… We put a little rockabilly-country in there to keep it going but I want to stretch out and rock ‘n’ roll a little bit.
While your guitar solos always show your ability, you’re not super-indulgent. Are you going to rock out now?
I am tending to indulge myself a little more. Particularly lately. I don’t know if I’ve just become more confident. But I tend to keep hiring musicians that don’t play guitar so I can do all the guitar work now. It’s coming. The live show will show more of it.
You’ve been playing forever yet you’re not going cold.
I think I have the spirit of a teenager and that keeps me young. People can’t believe my age. People are all high-fiving me because for somebody who hasn’t had a face lift, I’m doing pretty good. I feel so young. I like growing older gracefully. As long as I can keep myself eating and drinking the right amount of stuff, I’m keeping my energy like a teenager. And the biggest thing I loved then was playing guitar and writing songs. That’s where it all started. I really feel like the same. In my head and my heart, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 16, 17 and 18 years old. I’ve thought about it—that must be the reason. It’s also impossible for me to feel jaded. I don’t have that jaded gene in me. There’s been a couple of times when this career of mine has been difficult and I’ve struggled big-time financially. Even this year! Even if I feel like creating and on stage I feel like a teenager, when I’m at home trying to pay the bills, that’s when I feel like an adult. I try to reason with it—’Maybe it’s time for another kind of job.’ Before my father died he said, ‘If you don’t start making money from this, do something else.’ He was worried about me and he knew he wasn’t going to be there to hold me up. Sometimes his words ring in my head and I say, ‘Well, let’s see—I can sell my car?’ I try to figure out a way to do it and then I say, ‘Oh, maybe I should quit.’ And then all of a sudden something happens—a record comes out or I get this cool tour or all of a sudden I’m making money to pay my bills and everything’s normal again. Those are rough times and I still have them and I expect to still have them. It would be miraculous and wonderful if one of my new songs made a hit and there would be enough money coming in so I wouldn’t have to worry about paying food and doctor bills. Or perhaps I’ll meet a fantastic man who happens to be my soulmate—who happens to not be struggling for once! Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has been a struggling artist of some kind! I just need to meet some successful ones.
If you’re hanging at a rock show, you’re probably going to meet a beautiful soulful broke artist.
Yeah, hanging out with the bad boys. You know, I have always been attracted to younger men, but I lately I have found myself attracted to guys my age or age-appropriate at least. They all have a similar thing in common. They’re free-wheeling, high spirited and young at heart through some muse they have—whether it be hiking or piano or they fly airplanes. I just like being with passionate men that don’t have that jaded gene. Particularly ones that joke around and are smart and witty. Those keep me on my toes. They seem like younger men so I become attracted to them. I’ve been single my whole life, as far as I’ve never been married. Maybe that keeps me coming up with new songs and new guitar licks, and finding new ways to reinvent myself.
You must have a very solid sense of self.
It could be. I try to look at the osmosis of the whole thing. I think of myself as a survivor. I’ve watched a lot of my friends pass away through disease, drugs, accidents—but how come I’ve remained healthy? What have I done different? The one thing that has really kept me doing good—feeling healthy psychologically and physically—has really been the dear friends I’ve made. I feel so lucky that I’ve had those kind of guys around me. They’re the guys you call up and try to complain about something and they’re like, ‘No, no, you’re doing everything right.’ My bass player bought me groceries when I didn’t have enough to eat. ‘No, no, you’re not paying me back—you’ll get me back.’ Had I had a husband, maybe he would have been the one paying my bills and holding me up. But it’s more interesting—I don’t have to feel guilty that I haven’t been able to pull my weight with one person. I’ve had a lot of different people who I consider close friends who have been there for me emotionally and work-wise and all that. I’ve had to deal with some very bad deals with people in the music business. That’s been a tough road for me. The ones that were most challenging—those are the ones that made me fight harder. You can’t mess with me. I’ll show you! I really wasn’t always confident but I am now. I guess I started recording with the Screaming Sirens when I was 32. I started playing in bars when I was 21. That’s been a long road. I wasn’t always confident. I got my heart broken many times. But now I’m happy and confident as a single woman. As long as I can make enough money, there’s no reason not to play.
What has experience taught you?
My experience has taught me that for today I need not make the same mistakes. It showed me how to interact with people on a business level, on a friendship level and on a love level. I know what makes me happy. I didn’t know what it was that was going to make me happy before. Had I chosen the route to have children, I’m sure that would have made me happy. I would have needed to share my music with the children and worked them into the deal and put them on the record. I sort of feel like if I hadn’t lived this particular experience then I wouldn’t just be who I am today and that’s really all I know. I can look at other people’s lives and see what I could have been and how I could have turned out. But probably because I have a good spirit and I love people and laughing and entertainment, I would have probably been the host of the PTA.
Having worked with both Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin, can you just say out loud how cool that was?
Oh yeah! I’ve always loved rockabilly so much, but even back in the Warner Bros. days, they wouldn’t let me cut any of it. I was forced to just do country music. When I was on High Top, I finally had the chance to do what I wanted. I thought, ‘What a great thing to bring Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin out.’ They hadn’t recorded in 30 years. I called them up and they both said yes. Both of them to me were a dream come true. I could never get them together and sadly by the time Wanda called Janis and got her number, Janis had passed away. They never even got the chance to talk. Janis would always say, ‘I’d love to sit down with that girl and have a drink, you know, with nobody in the room but me and her.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah! I’ll make that happen.’ I actually produced Janis Martin’s last record. It hasn’t been released yet. I haven’t been able to find a label. I may end up putting it out myself—I’m just looking for funding. It’s an amazing record. I got her to do it four months before she knew she was sick. And she did a phenomenal job singing. I’ve gotten to work with such amazing artists in my life. I haven’t gotten to meet Keith Richards yet. That’s one guy I’d like to record with. And Jeff Beck is number one on guitar. And I’d like to sing a duet with Willie Nelson. Then you can kill me.