Rosie Flores is the ultimate musical pathfinder.
Wanda Jackson, and, in 2007, she recorded the final album of rock matriarch Janis Martin.
For the past four years, Rosie has also volunteered her time as a coach and teacher at Girls Rock Austin. Now, in honor of Rosie’s 60th birthday, Girls Rock Austin is establishing the first annual Revolutionary Rocker award. We’ll be celebrating with a rock show and award ceremony next Saturday, November 13, from 1-3 pm at Jo’s on South Congress. Rock camp alumni Schmillion and Charlie Belle will play.
In preparation for the birthday celebration, I asked Rosie a few questions about how she got started and what it’s like to rock at age 60.
Paige: I think I’ve told you before that, when I was a teenager, I had a picture of your old punk band, the Screaming Sirens, on my bedroom wall. So I was wondering, what bands did you have on your wall when you were a teenager?
Rosie: Oh, I had the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Before the Beatles, I didn’t pay attention to the instrument, the guitar. I thought that the way George Harrison and John Lennon played the guitar was just so cool. And back then, the idea of a girl doing that was just unheard of.
I remember, when I was in my class, I was fourteen years old, it was 1964, we were doing kind of a show and tell thing, and this young girl in my class had brought in a guitar. She brought a guitar to show the class. And I thought to myself, “wow, she’s a girl. That’s kind of odd. She must be a tomboy.” But what it did for me was that it totally got me used to the idea that girls could play.
And so, by the time my brother started playing and starting a band, I had become so enamored with the instrument—the electric guitar especially. And folk music was starting to come in, and there was Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell and it was like, “oh, folk girls play guitar,” you know. And so my first guitar was a folk acoustic, nylon string guitar. And my brother started showing me how to play, because I was already really into singing, and my brother started showing me how to accompany myself.
By the time I was sixteen, I started borrowing the gear from his band with my girl friends from school that I started hanging out with and singing with and asking them if they would like to be in the school show with my brother’s band’s instruments. They were all really into it. So that’s when I started playing electric guitar—so I could be in the talent show as the Very First All-Girl Rock-n-Roll Band EVER. Like we had never even heard of, this was way before the Go-Gos. And there were no, I didn’t know who Bonnie Raitt was. As far as I was concerned, I was the very first woman ever doing it. This was sixteen years old. And, you know, you come to find out years later that Rosetta Tharpe was playing guitar and Cordell Jackson, and I’m not even sure who else was playing electric lead guitar, but of course there were a lot of acoustic guitar players back in the early blues days. And certainly Mother Maybelle Carter was always on an acoustic guitar and playing some lead things too.
But for me, it was so cool to be at a young age and feeling like I had the whole world in my hands, and I felt like I could just be the innovator of females playing the electric guitar and playing lead. So I jumped on the bandwagon when I was sixteen. My father brought us to the music store. He was blown away by our performance at the school show, and he got us—he signed for—about $5,000 worth of gear—you know, drums, bass, P.A. systems, amplifiers, microphones, music stands. And he set us up in our garage; we had the equipment that we needed to start practicing. And it was like Girls Rock Camp in my garage every day, you know. He gave me that. I’ll never forget my father. When I think of him and talk to him in heaven, I always feel so grateful for him giving me that gift. He didn’t put me in college, my parents didn’t have a lot of money to afford to send us kids to college, but he gave us other tools to work with. My brother was also a guitar player and in a band. So we were able to find a career early on. And it was, gosh, it was invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.
Paige: That’s a good Dad!
Rosie: So that’s how I got started.
Paige: Do you think about that when you’re working with the girls at Girls Rock Austin?
Rosie: Yeah, when I am working with the girls, it’s real easy to visualize me standing in their shoes. It takes me back, and I can totally relate with them. I can feel the excitement mixed with the frustration mixed with the feeling proud, feeling the empowerment, you know, feeling the…sometimes it can be frustrating getting your point across, because you’re not exactly sure that you’re learning how to say what it is that you want with your music. And you’re, like, trying on your creativity shoes for the first time in music. And you’re learning that you can actually create your own sound, and be unique, and have your own voice, and it’s all yours. You can do whatever you want with it. And that’s really exciting, but it’s also very frustrating at first because you’re just learning how to go about it. And so I always feel compelled to be partly a fly on the wall, but also to be there to go, “oh look, it’s just this easy,” and to help them simplify the problems that they run into.
That’s what I try to do, because I had to learn all by myself. Actually, the second time we did the school show, we did have some coaches working with us for a couple of weeks. And I was able to work with a woman who helped me with my singing and with some harmonies. I never, ever forgot her coaching. So, I think back to that woman too, and I think, “I could be that person for this band.” And I hope that someday the girls will remember me, when they’re in their thirties, forties, fifties, and they’ll think, “oh yeah, I had this really great coach. I can’t remember her name…” Or maybe they will.
Paige: I think they’ll remember your name.
Rosie: I don’t remember this woman’s name, but I remember her face and her kindness and her willingness to share with me some shortcuts to what I do now.
Paige: How is turning 60 different than you thought it was going to be when you were younger?
Rosie: Oh, I’m a whole lot younger than I thought I was going to be.
I’m still younger than the Rolling Stones, and they’re still out there rocking. I’ve watched them stay in the music business and keep rocking and keep reinventing themselves. And I kind of feel like, as long as they’re still doing it, and as long as Wanda Jackson is still doing it, then I’m good to go, because I’m younger than them! And as long as I feel healthy and I’m enjoying it and loving it, then I can keep touring.
Certainly there are other things that I’d like to accomplish in the next ten years. I’ve got a children’s book that I’m writing, with a CD, and I’m writing my own memoirs--a book that I’ve been working on for a while about my experiences as a woman in rock-n-roll and on the road. And I’ve also gotten back into painting. So, I’ve got a lot to keep me busy besides my songwriting. I’m going to be pretty busy in the next ten years. And after 70, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what’s down the pike!