“Speaking Freely” show recorded April 2, 2003, in Nashville.
Ken Paulson: Welcome to “Speaking Freely.” I’m Ken Paulson, and this is Rosie Flores.
Rosie Flores: [Plays and sings] “We’re gonna rock and roll and bebop,/ boogie woogie on the dancin’ floor./ I get dizzy when he spins me round./ I run my fingers through his pompadour./ When the band starts jumpin’/ Hoo!/ We ‘bout to lose control,/ ‘cause when his heart starts pumpin’,/ he says I rock him down inside his soul./ ‘Cause I’m his rockin’ little angel,/ little angel, rockin’ little angel, little angel./ Rockin’ little angel, gonna rock him up to heaven tonight./ Rockin’ little angel, thank the Lord above,/ rockin’ little angel for a thing called love./ Rockin’ little angel, gonna rock him up to heaven tonight./ Hooo!/ He loves it when I’m playin’ my guitar./ He gets excited when I start to sing./ I really do drive my cool cat crazy/ when I do my little rockabilly thing./ Like this./ Well, I’m his rockin’ little angel,/ little angel, rockin’ little angel/ Hoo!/ Little angel. Rockin’ little angel, gonna rock him up to heaven tonight./ Rockin’ little angel, thank the Lord above./ And rockin’ little angel for a thing called love./ Rockin’ little angel, gonna rock him up to heaven tonight./ Oh, I’m his rockin’ little angel,/ little angel, rockin’ little angel/ Hoo!/ Little angel./ Rockin’ little angel, gonna rock him up to heaven tonight./ I’m his rockabilly angel./ Gonna rock him like the devil tonight.”
Paulson: Oh, yeah. That was rockabilly, and we have one of the best with us today, Rosie Flores.
Flores: Thank you.
Paulson: Great to have you here.
Flores: Good to be here, Ken.
Paulson: For those who, who don’t know rockabilly —
Paulson: — how would you describe it?
Flores: Well, it’s a blend that came from early rhythm and blues. You know people like Elvis and Wanda. And all the people that I’ve met that grew up around that time used to listen to a lot of radio, and there were the black music — they called it “race records” back then. And the rhythm and blues stuff that was comin’ out, and, you know, Sun Records was the kind of the bone — the backbone behind rockabilly out of Memphis, Tenn. They used to have the early black musicians. I mean, that’s really all they recorded was the black musicians in those days and people like Howlin’ Wolf and Hardrock Gunter, and, so, Sam Phillips was looking for a white man that could sing like that, ‘cause he thought, “Hey, this would really be cool.” So, when Elvis came along, this hillbilly from Tupelo, Miss., he kind of joined this thing together, and, you know, started doing the [Plays and imitates Elvis] “Well…” You know, doin’ that kind of thing. And he really put his black influence and soul behind this hillbilly music. And, you know, at the time, they actually weren’t really labeling it rockabilly. They were calling it just rock ’n’ roll, and the term kind of came into existence a little bit later on after it, you know, had kind of gone on. And England really got behind it almost before the Americans did. They used to idolize people like Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran and the Barnett Brothers Trio. And there was this whole craze goin’ on over there that I heard about in my young years when I was in high school, when I first discovered Wanda Jackson. And they were really kind of hip to it before — you know, ‘cause we sort of — we moved on. The Americans moved on. We went into the Beatles and the Beach Boys and into, you know, that whole other music. And oddly enough, the Beatles were huge fans — a lot of people don’t know this, but they were so into rockabilly. They used to have black leather jackets and cowboy boots, you know. And I have this great picture of ‘em with their jeans tucked into their cowboy boots. So, yeah.
Paulson: So, when did the bug hit you? How old where you when you first heard rockabilly and fell in love?
Flores: Well, I was about six-and-a-half, seven years old. My big brother took me by the hand, and we heard some music going on down the street where my grandmother lived in San Antonio. And, so, we went, “Let’s go hear that. It sounds like a band.” And, so, we went and, and I was just like, “Ah,” you know, looking up at these guys that were playing guitar and drums. And they were so cute with their hair slicked back. And, we stayed in there for an hour. My mother had to come find us. And I think that that was where I really started getting a fever for live bands, you know, and I never thought I’d be in one at the time. You know, I never thought about playing guitar until, you know, I was 15. And it hit me after the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, folk music. I wanted to play and sing those songs. So, I really just started on acoustic and joined a band later.
Paulson: Well, you’ve got a song about the Sun Records days. I wonder if you could share that today.
Flores: Oh, sure that’d be “It Came From Memphis,” a song I wrote with my good friend Julian Dawson who is out of England. And he was telling me about the day that he was born was the day they cut “That’s Alright Mama.” So, this is how the song starts out. “Well, Independence Day 1954./ There’s nothin’ goin’ on behind the green door./ The whole town’s quiet,/ nobody on the street./ The sidewalk’s so hot that it’ll burn your feet./ A revelation’s comin’./ We didn’t have a clue./ Between Marshall and Manassas down on Union Avenue,/ a sound so alarming it’ll stop the clock./ It knocked us sideways like an electric shock./ It came from Memphis/ wearin’ rock ’n’ roll shoes,/ the wayward son of the hillbilly blues./ Faster than a heartache,/ hotter than sin,/ louder than a blast of nitroglycerine/ he came from Memphis./ Yeah, they all came from Memphis./ Came from Memphis, Tenn., yeah.” That’s my jam without the drums. “Oh, it’s all right, mama./ It don’t mean a thing./ Turn the radio up,/ and let that sweet boy sing./ Gonna roll out of town like a runaway train./ This whole world ain’t never gonna be the same./ It came from Memphis/ wearin’ rock ’n’ roll shoes,/ wayward son of the hillbilly blues,/ faster than a heartbeat,/ hotter than sin,/ louder than a blast of nitroglycerine./ He came from Memphis,/ wearin’ rock ’n’ roll shoes,/ the wayward son of the hillbilly blues./ Faster than a heartbeat,/ hotter than sin,/ louder than a blast of nitroglycerine./ It came from Memphis./ It came from Memphis./ On a sunny afternoon./ Just don’t forget about Carl Perkins and old Johnny Cash,/ Roy Orbison./ Ooh, yeah, those sweet boys/ came from Me-Me-Memphis, Tenn.” Sho’ nuff.
Paulson: Yes, well, in addition to being a rockabilly performer, you’re also a scholar. You’ve studied the music, and I’m curious. You know, back in 1954, that was the first time Elvis was actually censored. The Juvenile Delinquency Commission in Houston —
Flores: Oh, wow.
Paulson: — banned “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
Paulson: A classic rockabilly song.
Flores: Great song.
Paulson: And, of course, throughout the ‘50s, there were controversies about rock ’n’ roll. Bill Haley and the Comets were banned from Newark at one point, not exactly a rockabilly band —
Paulson: — but some of the same roots.
Paulson: What do you think it is that caused parents and government authorities to be afraid of early rock ’n’ roll, to try to censor and suppress it?
Flores: Well, it was all about, you know, wild sex, I think.
Paulson: Is that what it —
Flores: Well, I think that it drove the girls — I think it made — you know, like, when Elvis came out and did the way he swung his hips, it was just so sexual, and it just would turn any girl on. And I think it, in some ways, even turned the guys on. You know, and they wanted to be him, you know. And I think that that was really threatening to the “Ozzie and Harriet” type of families that were around in those days, and — unlike my parents, who thought it was cool. So, that — I never had that. You know, my parents were very — they gave me a lot of freedom. They kept a tight leash on me at the same time, but I was able to express myself, dress any way I wanted to, and, you know, practice in the garage with my band or whatever, but I was one of the lucky ones, I have to say. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Paulson: When you began performing, you had kind of a rockabilly bent even then, early on.
Flores: Well, it was rockabilly leaning more toward the Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson, in those days. ‘Cause I was kind of all about trying to do songs that were real melodic, and I hadn’t found my footing as a guitarist yet. So, I was kind of — I started there, which was kind of a — my influences were the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, like, country rock kind of bands. And I kind of blended that together with the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan’s stuff. And so, I kind of thought of my first band, when I was 16, as a folk rock, country rock band. You know, and I used to wear, like, the cowboy boots and the fringe and all that. And, so, I had — I was really strongly influenced by the Buffalo Springfield, I think. That was our kind of look. But it was an all-girl band, actually. We were called Penelope’s Children, out of San Diego, and we used to win all kinds of — back then, they had battles of the bands. Do you remember that?
Flores: That was a good thing that happened in those days, and we won a couple times, so, it gave us a lot of encouragement, and my father signed for a bunch of gear for us. And we worked hard to pay it off, but he put his signature down so we could get some gear and be a band, you know?
Paulson: You were heard first as a solo artist in the mid-‘80s, right? You signed with Warner Brothers?
Flores: Yeah, and that was ‘86, I had my first record. And I had been playin’ little honky-tonks in San Diego and L.A. since about, oh, around 1976. I guess, I started fronting bands and just doin’ every country song I could ever — the most essential country songs, you know, that were popular to me, and it was — those were the good old days when you could actually play those songs, and they weren’t requesting something off of urban cowboy or something. You know, it wasn’t that — it was like country before country was cool, in some ways, you know?
Paulson: That first album was very well received. You took a little bit of a risk on that record recording a Harlan Howard song that others didn’t dare touch.
Flores: This was, like, the coolest thing. I don’t know if anybody — well, I’m sure other people have gotten to do this, but I don’t know anybody else besides me and my manager at the time, Tracy Gershon, were invited over to Harlan’s house for sandwiches. So, he was so cute. He had his little sandwich board out there, and he made us our sandwiches. “Would you like turkey or beef?” And, so, he put our sandwiches together, and we sat in his living room, and he had this reel-to-reel. That was back when they had reel-to-reel tape recorders. It was 1985, and he said — no, no, excuse me, ‘86. And he said, “I would like to play you some songs.” And he — that was the first one he played, “God May Forgive You, but I Won’t.” And it was recorded beautifully by a singer that was — I think she was known for doing demo singing, and I really don’t know her name, but that song just hit me and grabbed me. And I said, “I want that one. Does anybody else have that one?” He said, “No, everybody’s turned it down.” He said, “Even Reba McEntire turned it down,” because they thought it was a little too risky to sing. And I said, “Well, I don’t have any problem singin’ ‘God May Forgive You, but I Won’t.’ ” So, it should have been a single. It really should have, ‘cause it ended up being everybody’s favorite song on the record. So, shall I play it for ya?
Flores: All right. Co-written with Bobby Braddock. [Plays and sings] “You say that you’re born again,/ cleansed of your former sins./ You want me/ to say I’ll forgive and forget,/ but you’ve done too much to me./ Don’t you be touchin’ me./ Go back and touch all those women you’ve met./ God may forgive you, but I won’t./ And, yes, Jesus loves you, but I don’t./ They don’t have to live with you./ Neither do I./ You say that you’re born again./ Well, so am I./ God may forgive you, but I won’t./ I won’t even try./ Ho, ho, ho, yeah.” Want the second verse? Well, all right. “The kids used to cry for you,/ and I had to try and do/ things that a dad should do/ since you were gone./ Now, you really let us down./ You may be heaven-bound,/ oh, but you’ve made one hell of a mess/ here at home./ And God may forgive you, but I won’t./ And, yes, Jesus loves you, but I don’t./ They don’t have to live with you./ Neither do I./ You say that you’re born again./ Well, so am I./ God may forgive you, but I won’t./ I won’t even try./ Oh, woh-oh, oh-oh, oh, yeah.”
Paulson: Great stuff.
Flores: Thanks, I wish I wrote it.
Paulson: Well, that — you had this opportunity, really, to work with people you’ve loved all your life, and Harlan Howard would be an example of that, somebody who was the legendary Nashville songwriter, but you had this CD called Rockabilly Filly, on which you appeared with Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin. These are two young women who, in the late — well, mid- to late-‘50s, just exploded on the scene and —
Paulson: — and recorded this kind of music, music that young women didn’t record.
Flores: Right, talkin’ about, you know, feelin’, feelin’ your sexual side and talkin’ about heartbreak and — but Wanda Jackson, in particular, seemed to be so tantalizing with the stuff she was recording, you know. “You’re a mean, mean man,” you know, and stuff like that.
Paulson: And so, on this CD, you brought them back to record with you and —
Flores: I did. It was really fun.
Paulson: — and talk about that. What was that experience like?
Flores: Janis, when I took her into the studio, she hadn’t recorded in 30 years, she told me. And it’d been a long time, and she had never done the overdub thing. Like, all her stuff was completely recorded live and sang live like they did it in the ‘50s, so, it took her a while to warm up, but she totally delivered after she got warmed up. And Wanda’s been recording, you know, all the way through, and I, of course, was just thrilled that they both agreed to be on this record, ‘cause I’d been such a huge fan. I’d been doing all of their sets, lots of their songs off their sets for the last ten years, you know, before I met them. And, so, just great. I got to get on a plane, rent a car, and drive right to their houses, sleep at their houses for three nights, hang out with ‘em, get to know ‘em, rehearse these songs so that at the end of the three-day stay, we could go in the studio and record, so.
Paulson: Well, I’ve had the opportunity to see you play a number of times, always great shows, always energetic shows. “God May Forgive You, but I Won’t” is always a crowd pleaser, but the show — the song that, to me, always — it’s interesting to look around at the audience and see their reaction is “Who’s Gonna Fix It Now?” Um —
Paulson: — heartwarming song, touching song.
Flores: Thank you.
Paulson: And the audience reaction is sometimes palpable.
Flores: Yeah, there’s a few dewy eyes at the end of that song. It’s a song that I wrote for my father with Don Henry, and it was really a beautiful experience writing that kind of song, because it really made me cry. When I, I couldn’t stop crying when I was working on the chorus.
Paulson: I wonder if we could hear that.
Flores: You bet. I’ve had some people leave the room, so, get your tissues out, everybody, in front of your living room. We’ll send this out to my dad, Oscar Flores, and everybody else’s dad up in heaven. [Plays and sings] “I was barely ten years old/ when a bike ride turned into/ black and blue./ He would hold me close and then/ try and make me laugh again/ till a smile came shining through./ But who’s gonna fix it now,/ put it all back together?/ It’s all up in the air./ It’s takin’ me forever./ World keeps spinning round,/ and I just keep on yearning/ for all the years he showed me how./ Who’s gonna fix it now?/ King of the remote control,/ giver of the Oreos,/ keeper of the Oldsmobile./ Creaky stairs and leaky pipes,/ injured dolls/ and tattered kites,/ all of these were no big deal./ But who’s gonna fix it now,/ put it all back together?/ It’s all up in the air./ It’s takin’ me forever./ World keeps spinning round,/ and I just keep on yearning/ for all the years he showed me how./ Who’s gonna fix it now?/ Someone broke my heart last year./ Daddy held me oh, so near,/ sayin’, ‘That’s the way love goes.’/ Never said, ‘I told you so.’/ But who’s gonna fix it now,/ put it all back together?/ It’s all up in the air./ It’s takin’ me forever./ The world keeps spinning round,/ and I just keep on yearning for/ all the years he showed me how./ Who’s gonna fix it now?/ Guess I’ll have to fix it now.”
Paulson: Powerful. I understand you have a new and exciting project.
Flores: I do. I’m startin’ my own label and puttin’ out my first record.
Paulson: And that, and that —
Paulson: That’s good. You’ve declared your independence.
Flores: I did.
Paulson: And, and this new CD is recorded live.
Flores: It is. It’s called Single Rose, and it’s on Durango Rose Records.
Flores: By Rosie Flores, lots of roses in there.
Paulson: It has been a joy to have you with us. I wonder if you could take us out with a song from the new CD.
Flores: It’d be my pleasure. I thought I’d do this one. It’s kind of an upbeat song which we could always use after a, a tearjerker. This is a song that’s dedicated to all the gals out there that, that are similar to me, that like to burn incense and have aromatherapy stuff around and get your cards read and all that stuff. So, for the new age cowgirl like myself. It’s called the “Aromatherapy Cowgirl.” [Plays and sings] “She’s had broken conversations on moonlit nights,/ tequila-stained carpets and barroom fights./ She shuffles her feet across the desert sand/ with a Carlos Castaneda novel in her hand./ She dances to Buck, Elvis, and Merle./ She’s an aromatherapy cowgirl./ It’s another spiritual revelation./ She’s dreamin’ again about savin’ the nation./ Incense candles, herbs off the vine,/ some old George Jones, and some homemade wine./ You can’t tell her anything she don’t already know./ She’s Las Vegas lucky./ Man, she’s on a roll./ She’s got a — uh, California bungalow she calls home/ next to a little honky-tonk where she uses the phone./ She’s one-step, two-step, twelve-step girl./ She’s an aromatherapy cowgirl./ She’s indescribable,/ so incredible,/ meditational,/ ommmmm,/ aromatherapy cowgirl. Yeah.”
Paulson: The Rosie Flores.
Flores: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Paulson: This was fun.
Paulson: Always a pleasure.
Tags: Speaking Freely