Photo by Didier Chevalier
“Make me sound like I’m a big, fat,
sweaty guitar-player guy,” rockabilly
filly Rosie Flores says at the beginning
of our interview at her filled-to-capacity
show at New York City’s famed Mercury
Lounge. “Don’t think about my gender. I’ve
said from the beginning, whatever you do,
don’t think, ‘This is Rosie, I have to make
her guitar sound sweet.’”
And she’s right—there’s no need to be
gentle. Flores, 62, kicks major ass whenever
she takes the stage, as she proved on that
chilly November evening. Halfway through
the show, tequila in hand, she brought up
special guests Earl Slick and mega-producer
Mark Hudson (Clapton, Aerosmith, Ozzy
Osbourne) and held the pompadoured
and tattooed crowd captive with a take-no-
prisoners onslaught of rabble-rousing
guitar work: Slick’s low E minor pentatonic
triplets were answered in a blink of an eye
by doppelgänger lines an octave higher, and
Hudson’s vocal flourishes were matched
by Flores’s kinetic double-stop bends and
Bigsby-bent trills. And three weeks before
that, she was throwing down equally greasy
mayhem with Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister
and blues sensation Joe Bonamassa, as she
duck-walked across the stage at the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame tribute to Chuck Berry.
Flores got hooked on guitar at age 6
when her brother taught her standard E, A,
and D chords. At 16, she started her first
band, and a big flashpoint occurred around
1979, when she discovered Janis Martin—one of the few women who’d worked
in country and rockabilly in the 1950s.
(Martin’s onstage dance moves even earned
her the “Female Elvis” nickname.)
“I’d been doing country and rock, and
to me rockabilly had kind of married the
two genres. I was excited by the energy and
the look of rockabilly, so I switched over,”
says Flores. In 1995, Flores reached out to
Martin, who had long since retired from
music, to appear on her album Rockabilly
Filly. In 2007, Flores coproduced The
Blanco Sessions with Martin, recording 11
tracks in two days. Tragically, Martin died
four months after the album was completed.
Her passing made it virtually impossible
to find an interested label for the
record, so after exhausting all the possibilities,
Flores set up an extensive Kickstarter
campaign. Five years and $16,571 later,
The Blanco Sessions was finally released in
But Flores didn’t just spend the past
five years Kickstarting. Her 11th album,
Working Girl’s Guitar, was released the
same month, and it showcases her talents
in the guitar, vocals, and production
departments—a first for Flores. We caught
up with the tireless Texan to get the scoop
on the album, her gear, and the trials and
tribulations of her life as a road warrior.
What inspired your move to take on so
many duties with your latest album?
I’ve coproduced all my records through the
years. I’m in the studio for every second of it,
all the way down to the mastering process, so
I’ve learned how to make records and I know
what needs to be done from the production
end of things. I felt like I didn’t really need anybody’s
help on this one. I knew exactly what to
do—especially after I produced Janis’ record.
I’ve also learned how it is that I like to be
spoken to as an artist—what somebody might
say that might set me off and what somebody
might say that makes me feel more relaxed.
What kinds of things has a producer said
that set you off?
One thing I got early on was, “You need to
go listen to Barbra Streisand.” I was like,
“What?” That was when I was 21, at my
first recording session in Los Angeles. Also,
something like, “Gosh, maybe you better go
home and learn that part. I’m used to working
with really good guitar players.”
Someone actually said that to you?
Yeah, somebody actually said that to me once
and it’s, like, “Thanks a lot.” Everything that
happens to you in life, you take it and you
account it. You go, “Note to self: Never say
that to anybody when you’re producing” or,
“Note to self: Never take shit from anyone.”
Rosie Flores goes for a huge bend at the 13th fret of her James Trussart SteeltopCaster, which is
equipped with a TV Jones neck pickup and a Bigsby vibrato. Photo by James Via Photography
And what might someone say to
If someone wants to say something to
encourage the way I’m sounding or playing,
they’re, like, “Whoa, that was amaaazzing.”
When somebody compliments you, you’re,
like, “Really? Cool!” And it makes you want
to go back and do more. As a producer, it’s
your role to get the artist to produce something
great. It’s, like, “What can you tell
somebody to get them to shine?” It’s about
showing people how to believe in themselves.
Y’know, I started teaching guitar when I
was younger, and I learned how to encourage
young players. I would make a really
big deal out of just anything that they
would start to get. Like, when my brother
said to me, “Whoa—you got that really
fast,” that egged me on when I first learned
how to play.
“Surf Demon #5” is a catchy and fun
instrumental. Have you done much
instrumental work in the past?
No, it’s always been tied in with songs.
There was a guy in Germany who asked
me to play on his record, and I only played
guitar on the record. In fact, I was the
only guitarist on the record. A band called
Norrin Radd, which is an alter ego of the
At the end of that tune, you have the
guitar feeding back and hovering near the
major 3rd of the final minor chord. Was
that done to evoke a particular vibe?
I just wanted to create tension. It was built
off an A minor chord, and I bent the note
with the Bigsby. I also used some overdrive
and a lot of tremolo from the amp. I
wanted to make it kind of scary sounding
and wicked. I told [the engineer], “Make
me sound like you would make Brian Setzer
sound—don’t think of me as being any
different.” We had a fun time talking about
guitar tones before we started. I’m a guitar
geek. I love the Hellecasters, old Chet
Akins, Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds.
Do you feel your lead playing is sometimes
Yeah, kind of, which is one of the reasons
why I wanted to make sure I was the only
guitar player on this new record. A lot of
times people hear my songs on Sirius radio
and they’re, like, “That’s a really cool song.
I really like the voice,” but they don’t put
it together that I’m playing guitar on it as
well. And, actually, throughout the years I
have hired a lot of other great guitar players—like Albert Lee, Duane Jarvis, and
Pete Anderson. I’ve had great guitar players
working with me because I’m a fan of great
While your lead playing is flashy at times,
you always balance things so that it never
takes over the song.
Thanks. I take pride in trying to treat
each song like what it’s uniquely calling
for. I’m also a vocalist, so I try not to
overplay—I try to make room for the
vocals. A lot of guitar players don’t really
think about that. They just want to play
every note they know and be flashy. I
think it’s important to hold back. I’ve
been taught to play that way by people
like Greg Leisz, who has backed me for
years. I learned things like how to do
fills when someone is singing, and when
it’s time to kick butt, then you go for it.
How did you first get into Janis
I was really getting into rockabilly, and
I was at a show in San Francisco watching
a band called Levi and the Rockats.
I was talking to a girl standing next to
me, and she asked, “What songs do
you do—do you cover any old classics?”
I said, “Yeah, I do some Eddie
Cochran, Wanda Jackson, and some
Annette Brothers.” She said, “That’s
cool. Do you do any Janis Martin?” I
said, “Who?” And she said, “If you don’t
know Janis Martin, you don’t know anything
about rockabilly,” then she walked
away. So I went and bought her record
and became a fan from that day on.
Did the inspiration for covering Janis’
hit “Drugstore Rock ’n Roll” on
Working Girl’s Guitar come about
after working on The Blanco Sessions?
Yeah, because this album is about showing
every era of music that I’ve been involved
with. I’ve got stuff that sounds like Tom
Petty all the way back to Elvis, surf music,
and everything in between.
Flores onstage with Earl Slick at the Mercury
Lounge. Photo by Michael Polito
A good number of your song choices—like “Love Must Have Passed Me By” and
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—have
a feeling of longing and sadness.
Well, first of all, there’s a lot of truth in
the lyrics of that song for me, because I’ve
never been married and I’ve had a hard time
keeping relationships because I’ve been basically
a road doggie since I was 18 years old.
I have been in love, but it never seems to
work out for me, and the lyrics of that song
really spoke to me. There was also a double
reason to do it, because I was a Bobby Vee
fan when I was young—I loved his records.
And I was working with his son [bassist,
Bobby Vee]—he’s the bass player that’s on
the [new] record—and he said, “In case
you’re looking for material, I’m going to
send you some of my dad’s songs.” That was
the one that stood out to me. It was nice to
play those pretty guitar lines with really clear
and bell-like tones. As a player, it spoke to
me—the melancholy part and the sadness. It
actually brought the engineer to tears.
What made you decide to do an acoustic
arrangement of ““While My Guitar
I didn’t plan on a totally acoustic treatment
of it, but I was sitting in my car—I keep
an acoustic in there so I can jam along with
my recordings or whatever I’m doing—and
that’s how I came up with the idea. I took
it into the studio that day, and the engineer
was like, “Wow, that’s really working.” I
listened back and said, “That sounds good.
Let’s go with that.” I’m playing two different
acoustic guitars—an old Martin [for
rhythm], and I did the lead tracks on an
Art & Lutherie acoustic.
So your car is sort of a makeshift
It’s like my little studio sometimes. I’m in
there and I’m working—nobody’s going to
bother me, and the phone’s not going to
ring. Sometimes I like to go and listen to
mixes in my car, because I like the way it
sounds in there. I can hear really well inside
my car, because the speakers are great and
I’m in a nice, confined area. I do a lot of
my song learning in the car in my driveway.
Do you keep a recorder there to capture
ideas you might have, too?
No, I don’t need to record there. That’s
just where I practice—singing and playing
guitar parts. If I want to work on vocal
harmonies, I can do so as I’m driving. If
I want to record something, I’ll go into
my office and use GarageBand.
How do you get such a strong attack
without sounding heavy handed?
I’m not heavy handed, and I don’t break
strings unless I leave them on there for a
month—and it’s usually a high .008 that
I break. I think part of that is because I
have four acrylic nails on my right hand
and I use them right at the end of my fingers,
as picks. I also use a medium pick.
So when you play the faster rockabilly
stuff, do you use a pick or your nails?
I’m grabbing the strings with my right-hand
nails. I stroke down with the pick
and then I flip up with the middle and
index fingers [sings rhythm-guitar figure].
And sometimes I’ll use my index finger
to pluck up on the string and get it to
go boing. I use that finger a lot. You can
tell because the fingernail polish is all
worn out on that finger.
How do you get such a thick tone
I try not to play really hard. I use .008s
on top and .038s on the bottom. One
of my biggest influences is this guy
Jimmy Wilsey, who used to play with
Chris Isaak. I love the way he bent his
notes. Of course, I also listened to Jeff
Beck, Albert Lee, and Billy Gibbons, and I
know that those guys used light strings—Billy Gibbons uses a .007 on top and his
tone is so fat. It’s all in the way that you
set your overdrive and your amp tones.
You really don’t need to play that hard to
get that tone. If you play with grace and
finesse, you don’t have to dig in there to
get a hard rock sound. A lot of guys are
like, “Oh, I gotta use .012s on top. I don’t
know how you play this.” I’m like, “Don’t
play my guitar, please—you’re going to
break my strings!” [Laughs.]
Rosie Flores' Gear
2011 James Trussart SteeltopCaster,
2011 Gretsch Tennessee Rose,
Gretsch G5135 Electromatic Corvette reissue,
Gibson ’60s reissue Les Paul,
Gretsch White Penguin with gold Bigsby,
1984 Fender ’60s Tele reissue,
2009 Gibson 1960 Les Paul reissue,
Art & Lutherie parlor acoustic,
Taylor 612 acoustic
Fender 1965 Deluxe Reverb reissue,
Fender Blues Junior,
’50s Fender Princeton
Durham Electronics Sex Drive,
Cris Burns Audio Overdrive,
Boss DM-2 delay
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky .008–.038 strings,
Fender medium picks,
Elixir Nanoweb acoustic strings
(“As light as I can find”),
Tell us about your guitars.
I’m now using a Trussart SteeltopCaster—the back is wooden. I was playing a regular
’60s reissue Tele that I had gotten from
when Los Lobos went over to the Fender
factory in the ’80s.
How did you get the bright-yet-warm
clean sound on “Yeah Yeah”?
I used an old ’50s Fender Princeton on
that. It’s got its own tremolo in it. I also
used an old Boss delay from the ’80s.
When you started out, there were almost
no guitar-playing women on the scene.
How did that strike you?
It was 1966 and I was really excited, because
I had never heard of any other female playing
lead-guitar rock music in a band. I didn’t
know what the future held, I just knew that
I loved doing it. My father took us down
to the music store and said, “If you guys
really want to do this, I’ll help you.” And he
signed for, like, $5,000 worth of gear.
Wow—that’s a lot of money even now.
That was a lot of money back then, and my
dad was a postal clerk. He said, “You better
start working, because your payment is $80
a month.” We became professionals because
we had to pay the bill off.