By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Nashville's reign of musical terror made--and continues to make--talented acts with an iota of the offbeat flee for their lives, as San Antonio-born Rosie discovered firsthand.
"It was difficult getting to do what I needed to do creatively," Flores says of her big-label busts during a telephone conversation from her Los Angeles home. She found that the epidemic had spread beyond the visionless corridors of Music Row, as well.
"Although Nashville is guilty of letting good acts get away, don't think it ends there. I've learned that there are a lot of narrow-minded people out there who don't live anywhere near Tennessee."
Despite scoring a critical knockout with her 1987 self-titled album for Warner Bros./Reprise--one produced by Dwight Yoakam-shaper Pete Anderson and featuring the likes of Los Lobos' accordionist David Hidalgo--Flores was off the label a year later. Too quirky for Reprise's major-market, country-radio bottom line, an excellent album just wasn't enough.
"The irony was, of course, that's [Rosie Flores] the most country work I'd done in years," Flores notes with a small laugh.
In fact, although she was certainly influenced by the Tex-Mex tunes of her Lone Star State heritage, a move at age 12 to San Diego introduced her to a mālange of music--gritty punk, surf pop and Buck Owens' Bakersfield sounds among them. By the late Seventies, Flores had gained impressive prowess with both guitar and pen. She helped form Rosie and the Screamers, whose raucous, rock-country delivery sent the crowds a-stompin' in San Diego. Not only did the band's reputation prosper, but area musicphiles took a liking to Flores' songs and her high but steel-tempered voice. Ultimately, however, even this unique blend of country and rock couldn't drown out the Barbara Mandrells and disco ducks of the day.
"After a while, I just wanted to play the guitar and sing," says Flores. "I needed to find some individuality--something the big labels seem to find hard to understand." That early-Eighties period found Flores alone onstage with an acoustic six-string, often opening for veteran tourers such as Bo Diddley and Joe Ely.
"I can't tell you how much that experience taught me," Flores relates softly. "There's no place to hide."
When the inner call for a more energetic band life returned, Flores joined up with L.A.'s all-gal punkabilly troupe, the Screaming Sirens. With Rosie helming the vocals and guitar, the group's 1984 Enigma Records' release ≠Fiesta! fared well critically, and the band continued to claim a strong following in Southern California. By 1986, however, the Screaming Sirens lost a lot of their voice and drive, and the band dissolved. Still, Flores' reputation as a performer and songwriter continued to bloom. That's when a four-song Flores demo tape aroused the attentions of Warner Bros./Reprise power people and began the three-year struggle that produced the almost pure-country Rosie Flores and heartaches by the number.
"I had to get out of there," Flores says.
A bring-the-house-down showcase at 1989's South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin not only proved to be a rousing home-state return, but garnered Flores fresh recognition. A bit later, she toured Europe as part of the International Festival of Country Music, where she was billed alongside such sterling Nashville stars as Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette and early Flores influence Buck Owens.
Back stateside again, a revamped set of Screaming Sirens--including original Siren and songwriter Pleasant Gehman--backed Flores for 1990's Voodoo for Restless Records. While the album's eclectic array of countrified-funk love songs met with some success, it seemed the fat lady had at last sung for the Screaming Sirens.
Later that year, Flores, Gehman and Bangles/Blood on the Saddle vet Annette Zilinskas helped create the Ringling Sisters. The band's album 60 Watt Reality waxed widely on topical subjects and weaved jazz, blues, country, rock and even the spoken word in its clever, borderline-bizarre musicial epiphanies. Yet despite an enthusiastic response by media and mavens alike, the urge to go front-chair again led Flores to strike out on her own primrose path.
The good news is that the rich pastiche of styles found on 60 Watt Reality is evident on Flores' most recent effort, After the Farm. A strange, tie-dyed collection of psychobilly blues and rock, After the Farm tells the tale of a Magic Bus-type Left Coast road rally with its own brand of merry pranksters making pit stops in Hollywood and Bakersfield while en route to Venice Beach. Originally released on Switzerland's Red Moon Records, the recording, Flores found, was to be a tough sell in the colonies.
"I got turned down by every major label," Flores recalls. "It [After the Farm] was just too difficult for them--not easy enough to categorize, you know." Yet not only has the album gained a spot on a slew of year-end Top 10 lists throughout the country, but willing-to-take-a-chance HighTone Records has found it a profitable undertaking, as well.