By Laura B. Whitmore
Rosie Flores has been touring and performing for decades. Literally. And yet this veteran of rockabilly guitar has a seemingly endless supply of musical energy.
Case in point: Not only has she just released her 11th album, Working Girl’s Guitar, she’s also touring in support of The Blanco Sessions, a posthumous Janis Martin album she produced and helped fund.
Flores was inducted into the Austin, Texas, Music Hall of Fame in 2007, and she has appeared on TV shows like Austin City Limits, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Late Show with David Letterman. Her duets with longtime idols Janis Martin and Wanda Jackson on her 1995 album Rockabilly Filly helped re-launch both of these female legends’ careers.
Flores’ Working Girl’s Guitar on Bloodshot Records covers the gamut of this guitarist’s musical range. From rollicking down and dirty fun to touching, heartfelt song, Working Girl’s Guitar is Rosie to the core. Sassy, classy and ready to kick ass-y (Did I really say that!?). It’s Rosie’s fault. She’s got me all riled up.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: Congratulations on the release of Working Girl’s Guitar. I heard there’s an interesting story to the title song.
Yes, there is! There’s a friend of mine who does, well, everything. He does bodywork, he’s written books on rolfing [body adjustments that help align your body so you have good energy flow and less pain], how to play the banjo and how to play the upright bass. His name is Ritchie Mintz. I went to him a couple years ago and said, “You know, I’ve got too many guitars, and I need to come up with some money. Are you interested in maybe getting one of my Taylors?” I brought it over, he looked at it, turned it over and said, “Man, this is a working girl’s guitar! Look at all the scars on it. This has been on some airplanes and trucks and cars, hasn’t it?” “Yep, it’s been around!” I said.
And so that night he bought the guitar. He called me up the next day and said, “Rosie, you’re not going to believe this, but your guitar wrote a song for you.” I said, “For me? My guitar wrote a song for me?” And he went, “Yep!” So I came over and listened to it, and was just blown away. I said, “That is such a cool song, Ritchie! That sounds like a Tom Petty song.” So I just turned up the distortion and the overdrive pedal and went to town on that riff and just had a great time with that.
So you play guitar on every song of this album, right?
Yes! The thing that’s so fun about this release is that it’s the first CD I’ve ever done where I’m the only guitar player. So many records I’ve done in my life have had another awesome guitar player, or two even sometimes. From the beginning in 1988 when I started working with Billy Bremner from Rockpile and Greg Leisz, who plays with everybody, on steel guitar and guitar. I always felt like it’s such an honor to have somebody that is awesome and amazing on your recordings.
But I’ve been touring so much as a trio for the last 10 years and handling everything by myself, and it’s just gotten really fun. It was just time for me to make a record where I’m the only guitar player. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to talk to you. I’m trying to get the word out to people that I DO play guitar on my own records and have for years.
People come up to me at the shows and say, “Dang, girl! I didn’t know you played guitar!” I’m like, “Haven’t you been reading the CD credits!?” I’ve always been really explicit about putting, you know, this song — second guitar solo by Rosie Flores. A lot of people are not looking and figuring that stuff out. They like the song, they like the voice or they hear you on the radio and that’s the last they think of. That I’d be playing guitar on my own records. Who’d ever heard of that, you know?! Girls don’t do that! Haha.
Yeah, you leave them no doubt this time, right?!
I thought about maybe having David Hidalgo play a really cool part. I’m a producer, so I’m always thinking that way. But then I thought, no Rosie, you’re playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and you’re gonna do it yourself! So I decided if I have anybody on it, it will be on a different instrument. At first I was even thinking of doing a trio the whole way, but I just really felt like it was begging for organ on the third song. It doesn’t take away anything from me, so it worked out.
I like your style of playing, because it’s just fun and gutsy.
I wanted to be a little bit diverse, so it had a little bit of my country pickin’ on “Love Must Have Passed Me By,” and then had a jazzy kind of acoustic guitar playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I wanted to be able to take songs and add a new flavor to treat them like I made them my own. And then I wanted to shred, too. I feel like I gave everybody a little bit of everything. And hopefully they’ll — oh, I don’t know — they probably still won’t know I played it!
Has that changed at all throughout your career? Or is it still that same perspective of people being surprised that a woman’s playing guitar?
I think that they’re just not used to it. You know, you can’t blame people for that. It’s like female drummers. You’re like, “Woah, that’s a girl up there? She rocks!” It’s not common. Female players are not as rare as they used to be when I first started out. I was 16 years old in San Diego and put my first all-girl band together. In fact, we were so excited that our band was all female in 1967-68 that our business cards had our name, which was Penelope’s Children, and then it said, “GIRLS!!!” and then the next line said, “Girls??," and then the next line said, “Yeah Girls!!!!”
Let's talk a little bit more about your album. Who else is playing on it with you?
Noah Levy is on the drums. He tours with Brian Setzer, who does kind of this rockabilly/swing show. My bass player is Tommy Vee, who happens to be Bobby Vee’s son.
I brought Red Young in on the third song on the B3 organ, and then had Greg Leisz, who is also a really good friend of Duane Jarvis (who the song “Yeah Yeah” happens to be about, who died of cancer). I wanted Greg, who is kind of like a brother to DJ. His steel guitar is just so beautiful on that. My piano player that I work with from time to time — I thought he would be great. He was the one that I also used on the Janis Martin CD, T. Jarrod Bonta. And that’s it! That’s all the musicians. Just them on those three songs. The rest is just a whole lotta’ Rosie!
Is there a song or two off the album that you really enjoy playing live?
I really like “Working Girl’s Guitar,” “Yeah, Yeah” and “Little But I’m Loud.” Those three are just really great. I guess the top four would include “Surf Demon.” I like starting the set with that so there’s no question that this girl’s a guitar player. 'Cause there’s no singing. It’s just rocking out. It sets the bar for what’s to come.
So tell me about your gear. What guitars are you playing?
I’ve got Gretsches, I’ve got a Tennessee Rose and I’ve got a White Penguin from Gretsch. I have a Stratocaster, which is probably a ‘70s. I play a ‘60 reissue Les Paul, and I have a Taylor acoustic, which has a wonderful neck.
My favorite guitar has been my newest guitar, which is on the cover of Working Girl’s Guitar, a James Trussart. It’s a Tele body and it’s called a SteeltopCaster. It’s got a metal plate on the top. It’s very rugged. It looks like this guitar is ready for battle.
I was going to ask you what that guitar was.
Yeah, it looks like a tank. I really like the guitar. The first one I had from him was a little bit heavy because it was all metal. But he used some light wood. That’s why it’s a SteeltopCaster. Something about having the nice Gretsch pickup in the front, the Gretsch Davy Jones. I mean TV Jones [laughs] (Yeah, Davy Jones, the guy in The Monkees!). The back pickup is an Arcane, made by a guy out of Los Angeles. I love the way that guy winds his pickups. They’re very biting and loud and have a really nice sharpness to them. I feel like it really cuts through the way I want it when I get up to that high tone. On the front pickup, it’s kind of warm and fat, but it has an edge of brightness at the same time. It has a midrange boost to it almost. I use really light gauge strings. Actually I’m like Billy Gibbons and Albert Lee. I use an 8 on the top!
Oh wow, really?
Yeah, but actually Billy Gibbons uses 7s and I’m not sure if Albert does. I hardly ever break a string, but you know, if I change that 8 at least once a week, I won’t break it. I have some issues with my fingers. I broke my arm and right wrist a couple years ago, and I’m getting older, so I think that it’s less stress on my neck, shoulders and posture if my strings are easy to bend. And I like bending them! So that’s one of the reasons why I play light gauge strings. These big guys don’t really have to work that hard. A lot of guys say, “I gotta have the big strings for the tone,” but I think you can make up for that by how you set your amp and the pedals that you use. I use the Sex Drive. One of the pedals Charlie Sexton had a hand in.
I know! I love the name. Charlie Sexton uses it in Bob Dylan’s band and stuff. I think that the other thing that makes my sound like me is my old Boss delay pedal. I’ve had it since I was in the Screamin’ Sirens back in the ‘80s. And I found a Cry Baby at a garage sale for $2, so I’m gonna start messing around with that.
That’s a deal!
Yeah! And I did use an overdrive pedal as well as an old ‘50s tweed Princeton amp for most of my guitar solos. When I came back to town, I added a few more things with my Fender Deluxe Reverb. So it’s pretty simple, you know. It’s two Fender amps and one guitar. Oh that’s right. I did use one other guitar. There was an acoustic treatment on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," an Art & Lutherie. They’re these little parlor guitars that are kind of small, and the necks are small. They play really easy. They play like electric guitars. It’s a great little guitar.
You’ve been around the block a couple times. Do you have any advice for other female guitarists?
I think if I was going to give somebody advice, it would be to keep practicing as much as you can and try and get confident with your playing. Start sitting in with as many bands as you can and don’t feel like you’re not as good because you’re a woman. Don’t let that stand in your way from getting out there and shredding.
I started with an all girl band. I was 16 years old, it was fun and you didn’t have to worry about somebody judging you. Sometimes that’s a good way to start out. So I would say to just really spend time practicing. A lot of people get really busy in their lives, and they don’t carve out the time to practice. That’s been my biggest thing, carving out time to practice. It’s so enjoyable anyway, I mean why wouldn’t you want to!? It’s fun.
That’s excellent advice. Anything else?
Some other advice I’ve given to women that I’ve taught guitar to (I taught at the Girl’s Rock Camp in Austin) is that I think it’s important and OK to feel your femininity with your instrument. You don’t have to play the guitar between your legs, know what I mean? I think that everybody has a sense of their own sexuality, and it’s really helped me to feel feminine with my guitar. I think it’s important to retain the femininity in however way you want to express it. Be yourself, be unique and find your own voice through your fingers. How’s that?!
Find out more and check out Working Girl’s Guitar at RosieFlores.com.
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the co-producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band, Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.