"It was really scary," says Rosie Flores of her new album. "I was sitting here in my little armless rocking chair 15 minutes before I was supposed to set up at the club and record. I had an audience waiting there for me...and I sitting there finishing the writing of the songs saying, 'This line could be better!' I was just so nervous. Then, while I was up there on-stage, I started thinking, 'I can't hide behind anything. They're going to either really love this or really hate it.' It's like standing up there naked. You get so insecure."
Flores needn't have worried. Armed with just her tender, expressive voice and bravura acoustic guitar technique, she has fashioned the finest album of her eclectic career with "Single Rose." Alternately poetic and flat-out fun, the 14-song live show brings a light country and jazz context to the disparate influences of her life: rockabilly, blues, western swing and punk.
"Well, I was part of the rockabilly scene in LA," explains the 54-year-old singer-songwriter. "At one point I started a little rockabilly trio called Tres Flores, which was named after the grease they put in your hair. When I was working in the early days - way before (her 1995 HighTone album) "Rockabilly Filly" - I used to do a lot Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin songs. Then I had a band with James Intveld and Russell Scott called Rosie & The Reverbs. Then there was the Screamin' Sirens, who were sort of punkish rockabilly. But the fact that rockabilly audiences liked my country music side was when I was with Warner Brothers. That started bringing it all together."
That short-lived late-'80s stint with Warner Brothers began a roots label odyssey that continues to this very day. An album of Texas swing recorded with roots veteran Ray Campi for CMH remained unreleased after the label honcho who championed the project died. It was finally issued in 1997 by Watermelon shortly before they went belly up. Flores has recorded well-regarded one-shot albums on Rounder and Eminent, but up until now the bulk of her best work has been on the Oakland-based independent HighTone, who has just issued a compilation of her finest work for them, "Bandera Highway."
Eminent went out of business, and although they are still a respected roots music force, HighTone has been facing troubled times."I think every record label has," opines Flores. "With the internet, MP3, downloading and people sharing music, it's been a little difficult, especially for this kind of music, which I think is already hard to find. Eminent, the last label I was on, they were a great label. Very artist friendly - probably the most artist friendly label I've ever been on. It really broke my heart when the backer pulled out because he was afraid of losing money. I think if he had hung in there it would have been a little better for him. But that's okay. Maybe he was right."
Despite witnessing first-hand the mortality rate among roots labels, Flores decided try her hand at the business side of music.
"I thought, 'This is a good time for me to make that jump and start my own label.' So, that's what I did, I started Durango Rose Records."
Where does the name come from?
"Well, my middle name is Durango. I was just going to call it Durango Records because my management company is called Durango Management. I was talking to (legendary roadie) Phil Kaufman - the Road Mangler Deluxe - and he said, 'That doesn't sound feminine enough for you. What about Durango Rose Records?' I said, 'Okay, you talked me into it.'"
Roots music is not the easiest genre in which to earn a music industry dollar. When asked why Americans don't seem to appreciate the independently produced music of their birthright, Flores offered some hard won insights.
"Americans probably would if these smaller labels would've spent a little bit more money on marketing and publicity. I hate to say it, but that was not one of their biggest thoughts on (Eminent and HighTone). Now that I'm a label, I've learned that if you don't do that, if you don't market and do publicity, you're not going to sell a lot of pieces. But, it costs money, and you're thinking, 'Where am I going to get this money?' You have to decide how many ads you want to take out."
"I think when you have a lot of people on your label, like HighTone had, then you have to have more money to spend on each act to present each act to the American public. You know, they proved they could do that with an early act - Robert Cray. When Jimmie Dale Gilmore left HighTone, he said, 'Rosie, the one big reason why I'm in Rolling Stone is that they spent money on me. They did marketing and publicity, and you've got to go tell HighTone that.'"
"They spent enough money on me that it could have caught on. They gave me a video. I got press in magazine and did some ads. They did spend some money, but not much compared to what major labels spend on their acts. So, it's not that one act is better or worse than some others, it's just how you get them out there.