Austin, Texas, singer and guitar-slinger Rosie Flores has a few things in her favor. First, there’s the wisdom and experience that come with age (she’s 62). Then there are her musical chops, honed from having started singing when she was 6 and playing the guitar at 14. Finally, Flores doesn’t care about sounding like a dainty young naïf when it’s time to plug into an onstage amplifier. She shreds—loudly—instead.
“I want to sound like a big fat sweaty man onstage,” she says. “I was rehearsing the other day with my band and trying to get my drummer to really rock. I told him, ‘Look, don’t be afraid to hurt me because I’m a girl. Pretend I’m 200 pounds heavier and hairy and greasy.’ It cracked them up.”
No wonder she effortlessly joined Earl Slick (David Bowie’s guitarist) during a tribute performance honoring Chuck Berry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. Indeed, Flores’ gritty yet virtuosic attack is aptly summed up by her 11th disc, Working Girl’s Guitar, released in October via Bloodshot. The album cover, featuring a beat-up vintage ax, symbolizes Flores’ indomitable, travel-hardened spirit.
“I’m a road dog,” she says. “I’m in Austin now, just driving around at SXSW, having just done a show at Yard Dog even though I’ve still got a touch of laryngitis and bronchitis.”
Flores used to think of herself as a singer first, guitar player second. Now she’s a triple threat, having written killer tunes, including the manifesto “Little But I’m Loud.”
“It’s a romantic triangle,” she says. “And seems to go in cycles. Sometimes I focus more on singing than guitar. Then it switches. For a while now, I’ve pushed songwriting to the front of my desk.”
Flores has also toured relentlessly since she was 18 years old. (I’m chatting with her mere minutes after she rocked an audience.) While her work ethic hasn’t ensconced her in a mansion yet—Flores had to sell off guitars last year to make rent—she has steadily released much-praised albums. Her voice is expressive, falling between Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn, perfectly blending the styles of rock and country. Indeed, Flores has been singing professionally for so long that she feels she has reached a point where she’s good at everything. But she’s only now getting noticed for it.
“Slow bloomer, that’s me,” she says. “In some ways, it’s good. I haven’t yet burned myself out. I see myself as a budding rose.”
She still feels like a kid onstage. Not much has changed since she joined her punk band Screamin’ Sirens in the ’80s. She admits, though, that not feeling old is unusual.
“I’ve always been able to keep that little girl thing going,” she says after I hear her successfully flirt with an attendant to secure free parking outside an Austin bar. “Thank God. Otherwise I couldn’t do what I do. I’ve never had any real responsibilities, like kids and marriage. I just show up to my shows on time.”
This week marks Flores’ first Viva Las Vegas appearance away from a group. With Marti Brom, she’ll play material recorded by rockabilly queen Janis Martin, and front the Viva house band, which includes drummer Bobby Trimble, co-producer of The Blanco Sessions, the [Kickstarter-funded] Janis Martin cover record Flores released last year.
“I want to have an opportunity to speak about Janis [who died in 2007] and perform her music,” Flores says. “I just think she was so important to me as an artist, and the only woman other than Wanda Jackson who really rocked—who got onstage and smoked and drank with all the boys.”
Rosie Flores at the Orleans main ballroom, 11 p.m. March 28, $50-$130 for four-day Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender pass, 365-7070, VivaLasVegas.net.