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Rosie Flores becomes "Girl of the Century"

By Dan MacIntosh, October 2009

If they were asked to list iconic rockabilly artists, whether pioneering originals or revivalists, it would be easy for serious fans of roots rock to name off the great men of rockabilly. But the job of compiling a similar collection of special women rockers would not be quite so easy and obvious.

For instance, if you look up Rosie Flores' name on allmusic.com under the 'influenced by' section, you'll only find one name, Wanda Jackson. Where are Brenda Lee and Lorrie Collins?

And yet, you can make the case that Flores is the Wanda Jackson of her generation, as this talented singer and guitarist has been rocking since the late '70s and has recorded solo albums under her name since 1987.

Maybe it's tough to list Flores' influences because she covers so much stylistic ground. She played in Screaming Sirens, back when cow-punk wasn't (yet) cool. She also helped turn Los Angeles, that underground roots rock town south of Bakersfield, into a flourishing alternative country music scene in the '80s. Her self-titled debut album was produced by Peter Anderson, who played guitar and produced some guy named Dwight Yoakam, and she even handled lead guitar work for Butch Hancock's band in 1994.

But as impressive as her resume is, she's nowhere close to finished adding career accomplishments yet. As proof of this continuing vitality, Flores has just released "Girl of the Century" on Bloodshot Records, which touches upon many of the artist's expansive musical skills. Produced by Jon Langford of The Mekons fame and featuring Pine Valley Cosmonauts as her backing band, this latest recording plays out like a brief overview of American music.

There's a cover of Johnny Cash's Get Rhythm, as well as Flores' feminization of the blues nugget, I Ain't Got You. She gets into it – in a distinctly him vs. her style – along with Langford on Who's Gonna Take Your Garbage Out, which asks a series of funny, post-breakup questions.

If all that's not enough, this woman has a Rosie Flores Day on Aug. 31 in Austin, her current hometown. How did she spend her honorary day this year?

"Well, if I'm not in Austin, and I'm not looking at the proclamation on my wall, and I'm in the middle of working or something, I'll just skate right over it," admits Flores. "I was in San Diego having dinner with my sisters, and I didn't even think about it until around Sept. 4 and went, 'Oh darn! I let another year go by!' But usually, if there's a reason to celebrate, I'm there! It was also my birthday on Sept. 10 (she's 59), so that's kind of a little bit more to think about."

Our recent birthday girl is full of gift-like surprises on her latest full-length. One song, Halfway Home actually has a bit of a reggae feel to it. And while Flores doesn't consider this her inaugural entry into the island, world music realm, it is without a doubt a bit of a world music nod.

"I guess, at the third verse, it does do a little bit of a Jimmy Cliff thing on the rhythm with the mandolin," she says. "It's got kind of an up-chuck thing. But it's really just kind of a rollicking kind of pop thing, which, to me...well, Jon Langford wrote it, for one thing, and he's a Welshman. So, to me, it has like a real kind of Welsh feel to it. It just sounds like a happy pop-folk song, and then it's got the little touch of the Jimmy Cliff rhythm in the third verse. I think it's pretty catchy. A lot of people have been commenting on that one."

The CD's title was inspired by a painting, which shouldn't come as any great surprise, as Langford is also an esteemed artist. The surprising part, however, is that it wasn't one of Langford's works that ended up being the original inspiration.

"Tony Fitzpatrick, who is a visual artist, had a painting and collage that he did," Flores explains. "He's done most all of Steve Earle's CD covers. He was going to do our cover, but ended up getting real busy. We put that song together for Tony. His art piece was called 'Girl of the Century.' If you look at his [Fitzpatrick's] work online, every one of his pieces has poetry on it. He was, like, 'Boy, it sure would be great if somebody would put music to my poetry, and maybe you guys could do that.' And I was, like, 'I'd love to!' We ended up putting that song together, me and Jon, and John Rice. When we were writing it, Jon said, 'Hey, that'd be a great title for this album'...for this CD, I guess...I always call them albums. I said, 'I like it!' So that's how we came up with the title for the album."

With Flores' recent cover of Get Rhythm, she was finally able to - at last - record her three favorite Johnny Cash songs.

"I've done my two favorite ones now, Big River, and now Get Rhythm. Those were always my two favorites. Oh, and Country Boy, that was another one of my favorites. That's not to say I'll never record another Johnny Cash song; but those are my top three. I love his [Cash's] phrasing, and I like the way that he writes real rhythmically with a lot of words. It almost feels like a skiffle rockabilly thing when I do those kinds of songs. It's a lot of words to memorize, but once you get 'em right, it's really fun to sing and it really makes people move. People love those things."

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