Black Music Matters Festival

Burgess, Flores caught smoking in Bay State

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., June 12, 1996

By Jeffrey B. Remz

SOMERVILLE, MA - Sonny Burgess's heyday may have been four decades ago, and Rosie Flores is still striving for hers, but based on their show together don't ever ever may accuse them of taking the going through the motions.

The night after an apparently revved-ups appearance on the Conan O'Brien show, the rockabilly legend - who just turned 65 - and the long-time Left Coast country performer still trying to reach a wider audience simply tore it up before an appreciative crowd.

Burgess, of course, was a member of the Sun Records backing band, working for the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis. While his career has seen better days, he has a new album being put out by Rounder Records, his first in four years. AVI recently issued a best of collection.

And while Flores has recorded several fine discs for Hightone, Rounder is reissuing several of her discs from her Warner Brothers days with tracks added. Flores, of course, has gone through a number of musical phases including a punk phase with the Screaming Sirens in the '70's. but now, the "Rockabilly Filly" - the title of her most recent disc - seems comfortable with this genre.

But make no mistake about it. Burgess and Flores, who traded lead vocals on songs through the nearly two-hour show, are not mere retreads or has beens.

Burgess, in fact, focused on his new disc, instead of relying on the tried and true. The silver-haired guitar slinger, infused the decades-old "We Wanna Boogie" and the sterling "Red Headed Woman" and showed he still has ample musicianship in him based on the new songs.

What sets Burgess apart is his guitar playing. He could be steely and overpowering ("Big Black Cadillac") and easily play a more subdued role. He did not overplay, merely filling the songs with notes. Instead, the silver-haired Burgess played with much style, spiking the songs with rockabilly and twang.

Flores was no slouch either on guitar. She could let it rip often enough as well and the two sometimes did so within the same song.

The weak point for both were their vocals. Flores' are a bit thin, but she can still put the songs across (Harlan Howard's "God May Forgive You (But I Won't)," Butch Hancock's "Boxcars," Wanda Jackson's "Rock Your Baby" and the very cute "Girl Haggard," which weaves into a bunch of the Hag's song titles).

Burgess' vocals varied throughout the evening. Sometimes he was a bit off, but on other songs, he would be on target, recalling the King (the new song "Hang Up the Moon"). One of the best of the night was Bruce Springsteen's "Tiger Rose," starting off kind of quiet before picking up.

The two were aided by powerhouse drummer Mark Horn, who readily acknowledged with sweat dripping from him long after the show was over that he was into it. Bassist Lorne Rall, ex of The Lonesome Strangers, aided the rhythm section on upright bass.

Rockabilly may have peaked in the '50's and gone through several revivals. With the likes of shows played by Burgess and Flores, the sound well may be ripe for another resurrection.