Rosie Flores' foray into the Nineties has been paved with petals. This former head hollerer for Los Angeles' Screaming Sirens had taken her brand of electric cow-punk through the Reagan years with some success, but there was a bit of blood on the tracks, too.
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 mlange 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.
Among After the Farm's best musical implements (all written or co-written by Flores) are rhythmic rockers "Blue Highway" and "More to Offer," the latter written with the godfather of Austin songwriters, Guy Clark. "That's Me" is a funk-fueled beat grabber, while "Dent in My Heart" is a prime cut of soon-to-be-classic country co-penned by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, another big-time Texas troubadour.
Finally, after a full decade of label-hopping, Rosie Flores seems to have found a permanent home. Her next, as-yet-untitled project for HighTone is slated for a June 1 release.
"We'll be cutting em throughout April," Flores discloses enthusiastically. "It'll be great not having to worry about how management will think this is too risky or how that isn't country enough. HighTone is ready to gamble. They like my old traditional music as much as the blues and rock or whatever else I might come up with. They see that it can work." A new distribution deal that will get Flores' new post-Farm product into the big city with even greater efficiency is but a signature or two away.
In the interim, however, Flores has kept herself in musical form in California through a variety of "side projects." Among these was an extended stint with L.A. girl group the Bluebonnets, where Flores provided the lead guitar until Bluebonnet Kathy Valentine, ex-bassist for the Go-Go's, decided that she wanted to move upstage. Flores moved on.
"Hey, that's all right," she says quickly. "But I'm a guitar player. Anytime I can get a job playing the guitar, I'm gonna do it. I just like playing and working with other songwriters. But when that job is over, I'll leave. Not a problem."
It would be fair to assume that Flores most likely had been keeping an eye peeled for new band people, too, while she strummed around the San Fernando Valley. With After the Farm's success, a couple of key members succumbed to heavy recruitment, most notably guitarist Duane "D.J." Jarvis--who left to join up with John Prine's band--and longtime pedal/lap steel pal Greg Leisz, who is hitching his wagon to k.d. lang's star.
Flores' new group will make its Arizona debut on February 28 at the Rockin' Horse in Scottsdale with Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Flores also will appear at the same locale on March 14 as a back-up singer for the Pleasure Barons, a touring, 11-piece ensemble that includes the offbeat ilks of Dave Alvin, Country Dick Montana and Mojo Nixon.
"There'll be plenty of horns and plenty of noise," Flores laughs. "We'll drown out any electric margarita machines that try to compete. Usually, my parents go to all my shows in the [Southern California] area, but with the racket--not to mention what Mojo and Country Dick might do--I suggested that they sit this one out."
While Flores looks forward to her Valley visit, her last stop in these here parts was a disaster. She was one of a handful of headliners recruited to join local songsters in 1991's ill-fated Arizona Music Conference.
"They [the conference's organizers] still owe me about seven or eight hundred dollars," Flores alleges, her voice sounding more resigned than ired. "And my band never did get paid. Sure, they did put us up at a beautiful hotel [The Buttes], but on the second night, the manager called and told me either to bring down a credit card or be out in an hour." Eventually, Flores sighs, that was settled, but the whole affair was generally torturous.
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Yet Flores is naturally inclined to look forward, and it took considerable prodding to have her comment on that past comedy of errors. Her present concerns center on the upcoming gigs with Gilmore and the tour with the Pleasure Barons--after which she'll repair into the recording studios. Flores says that she's in a country frame of mind these days, and the upcoming HighTone collection will reflect such.
"I've been hangin' out in the honky-tonks again," she says happily, "places like the Agoura Valley Inn in Agoura Hills. This new album will have a lot more country on it than After the Farm."
Not that Nashville will be calling anytime soon to try to smother her with a big contract and a blanket of blandness, since this new work will still contain heaps of noncountry tones and textures, too. But any doubts about Rosie Flores' main musical bent should be forever dispelled by the next recording.
"I am a country artist and will always be a country artist," Flores says. "They [Nashville] never could get that."
Alas, it appears that some creative catastrophe will have to occur before the powers along Music Row deign to widen their scopes some. By that time, it may be too late. When the supernova that is current country explodes--and it will, as the past has proven--there may be nothing left but a big black hole and Billy Ray Cyrus.
In other words, nothing.