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Maverick Women Come Out Kickin' : Rosie Flores : Pure and Simple--but Colorful--Country

December 20, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

Ten years ago, at a time when "Women in Rock" stories were still trumpeting the likes of Grace Slick, Heart and Linda McCartney, a revolution was getting under way in Los Angeles.

On the then-growing L.A. club scene, it was hard not to notice that--especially compared to certain Eastern burgs--a disproportionate number of those at the forefront of this city's scene were charismatic, gutsy, mercurial women: X's Exene Cervenka, the Motels' Martha Davis, the Go-Go's. . . .

Come late 1987, and the scene is far more scattered and factional, the pickings more diverse. Country and folk bills peacefully co-exist in the same clubs as rock shows, with a greatly overlapping audience.

Out of all that it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the year's three most accomplished vinyl debuts in those respective fields have all come from maverick L.A. women: ex-Texan Rosie Flores, ex-Louisianian Victoria Williams and home girl Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. None of them is the girl next door. None of them is Nancy Wilson, either. Calling Robert Altman: Do we have a trio for you. . . .

Can a former cow-punk-ette find fame, fortune and happiness as a gen-yoo-ine cattle queen of the country music set?

That's the challenge faced by sweet-faced, sweet-voiced Rosie Flores, who's being tagged by some as "the female Dwight Yoakam."

Formerly the flamboyant guitarist for prototypal L.A. country-punk band the Screamin' Sirens, Flores has transformed herself into a somewhat more staid and sedate solo singer/songwriter.

She's no longer country-punk, but just plain country--and her solo debut on Reprise Records, "Rosie Flores," is as strong an album as a female singer has yet produced in the "new traditionalist" mode.

Yet it's hard to believe that anyone who used to be a member of the Screamin' Sirens could be a "traditionalist" in any sense of the word. Nonetheless, don't cry sell-out. Flores insists this new, more conservative guise is closer to the real Rosie.

"I just want to be thought of as clean and pure and stuff like that," she said over coffee at a Howard Johnson's in the Valley where visiting country stars sometimes stay.

"I don't want to have an image of being a wild person. I think that's the image I had when I was in the Sirens, and I'm not really that. . . . I don't drink and I don't smoke and I am not into that whole scene like I was before."

Not that Flores is a candidate for an honorary position as the third Judd or likely to be sipping coffee with Reba McEntire.

"I wish I could have pink hair again!" she said. "But I just feel it makes me look a little less serious than how I want to be taken. So as soon as I can get (the country Establishment) to take me seriously, then I can do whatever I want to do just for fun.

"I don't think I could go in there with bright pink hair and dressed up really wild and expect to be accepted by all the people in the Bible Belt and down through the South in all those little towns. . . . I think it's better to go in there and take 'em little by little instead of trying to shock them right off the bat."

And how has Nashville been able to handle the only-semi-radical Rosie so far?

"When I get dressed up and go out, I have kind of a strong look when I compare myself to the average all-American everyday girl. . . . I sort of feel like I do stick out when I'm in Nashville, but not in an offensive way--maybe just like a brighter color."

Flores moved to San Diego from San Antonio with her family as a child, and launched her country/rockabilly band Rosie & the Screamers before packing for Los Angeles.

For a while she stuck to rock 'n' roll and avoided country. Then she started thinking that she might want to turn her act back into a country-rock hybrid, but it wasn't until recently that she truly determined to emphasize country over rock. At a concert by her friend Dwight Yoakam, she ran into his producer Pete Anderson, who had played pedal steel in her band for a few weeks years ago.

"He kept saying, 'You're right in the middle, Rosie--you've gotta decide what it is!' " The fact that Yoakam soon went on to great success helped her decision, and Anderson ended up producing her first album.

"Now it's totally changed. I really am proud of being a country singer. And as long as I can stick the rock 'n' roll or rockabilly stuff in there, it'll still give it that edge I want."

For Flores, this meant accepting the stylistic territory she inwardly suspected her warm, inviting but slightly rough voice was destined to cover.

"There's some kind of edge in my voice, the way it breaks up, and a little bit of the hoarse tone. Not as hoarse as Kim Carnes, but more along the lines of maybe Brenda Lee. Emmylou Harris says I have a voice like a ravaged Brenda Lee."

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