Rosie Flores takes to the road with Janis Martin songs in tow
BY MARY HOULIHAN October 31, 2012 5:38PM
Rosie Flores | PHOTO BY VALERIE FREMIN
Rosie Flores with Marti Brom
♦ 8 p.m. Nov. 3
♦ Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln
♦ Tickets, $18, $20
♦ (773) 728-6000;
Updated: October 31, 2012 5:38PM
Rosie Flores has always been a bit obsessed with the early women of rock ‘n’ roll. Two of these legends — Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin —
were pretty much retired from the music business when she convinced them to sing on her 1995 breakthrough album, “Rockabilly Filly.”
I guess you could say I coaxed them out of retirement,” Flores said.
“I was so influenced by these two women who were early pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll back when females didn’t really rock.”
Flores was instrumental in getting Jackson back on the road and in the spotlight. It took longer for her to convince Martin, who worked as a manger of a golf club until 2004, to return to the studio. But Flores stuck to it and the result is Martin’s recently released “The Blanco Sessions,” on which Martin sings eleven songs that show why she was one of the few female recording artists working in the male-dominated rockabilly scene in the 1950s.
Sadly, Martin died of lung cancer four months after the recording sessions in Blanco, Texas. So instead Flores, with help from rockabilly chanteuse Marti Brom, is hitting the road performing Martin’s songs. “Marti and I made a pledge that we would get out there and promote Janis’ record for her,” Flores said.
They are backed on stage by Russell Patterson on drums and Brendan Ryan on upright bass. Of course, Flores will be adding her usual fiery guitar chops on Martin’s songs as well as tunes from her own new disc, “Working Girl’s Guitar.”
Back in the day, Martin was nicknamed “the female Elvis”; her story is fascinating. She was born in rural Virginia and began playing guitar at the age of four. She performed in talent shows and barn dances but one day on the radio she heard Ruth Brown’s rockin’ version of “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Martin had been performing straight-up country music but Brown’s song rocked with an up-tempo driving beat; she was immediately drawn to it. It wasn’t long before Chet Atkins, who was responsible for recording early rockabilly artists, invited Martin to Nashville. Her first single “Will You, Willyum”/”Drugstore Rock ‘n’ Roll” sold more than 750,000 copies. In 1956, Billboard named her “Most Promising Female Vocalist.”
But Martin’s private life was getting more complicated. She was 15 when she secretly married her boyfriend who was in the Army and soon
transferred to Germany. Martin was able to keep the marriage a secret for a year until she became pregnant after a USO tour in Europe. The thought of promoting a teen star, who was married and pregnant, was too much for RCA; the label dropped her in 1958. Over the years,
Martin performed now and then to adoring crowds of rockabilly fans but it was Flores who recognized this seasoned voice needed to be heard again.
Included on the album are songs by Dave Alvin, Cowboy Jack Clement and Don Gibson. Martin duets with Kelly Willis on Bill Monroe’s “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine.” Picking the right songs for Martin was an important step in getting her into the studio, says Flores: “These are songs that she lived and loved.”
Flores also will dig into the songs on “Working Girl’s Guitar,” an album that marks the first time she has handled all production and guitar duties. Minus the textures offered by other players, this is Flores honed down to a pure rock ‘n’ roll essence. “It’s simply just me, my sound,” she says. “It’s even new to me.”
As for the title song, it was written by Austin, Texas, songwriter Ritchie Mintz. Flores had sold him one of her well-worn but loved guitars. He took one look and said, “This is no wallhanger; this is a working girl’s guitar.” The next day Flores was surprised when he returned with the song in hand.
“He said ‘Your guitar loves you so much, it wrote you a song’,” Flores recalls, with a laugh. “And it was the coolest song anyone had ever written for me. It totally fits who I am.”
Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.