Rosie Flores honors a rockabilly foremother

Rosie Flores is touring behind her new album, “Working Girl’s Guitar,’’ and singing the praises of one of her idols, Janis Martin, an unsung hero of early rock ’n’ roll.
Rodney Bursiel
Rosie Flores is touring behind her new album, “Working Girl’s Guitar,’’ and singing the praises of one of her idols, Janis Martin, an unsung hero of early rock ’n’ roll.

Rosie Flores named her new album after the song that kicks it off. “Working Girl’s Guitar” is told from the perspective of an old guitar she sold, but really it’s a third-person account of Flores’s own 25 years as a road-tested singer-songwriter who has dug deep into country, rockabilly, blues, and R&B.

In need of some extra cash not too long ago, the Texas native decided to sell some guitars. A friend was interested in buying one of her Taylors, and when he saw it, his immediate reaction gave Flores’s new album its compass.

“He said, ‘This looks like a working girl’s guitar,’” Flores says. “This ain’t no wall-hanger. This guitar has been around and has the scars to prove it.”


Her friend bought it, and the next day he called and told Flores her old guitar still loved her. So much so that it had written a song for her, and one of the verses went like this:

I’m a working girl’s guitar

I’ve played in palaces

I’ve played in bars

Sometimes take money from a tip jar

I’m a working girl’s guitar

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“That song is absolutely about me,” says Flores, who comes to T.T. the Bear’s on Saturday after a long absence from the Boston area.

In fact, the whole album is a succinct summation of Flores’s long and winding road as one of Americana’s most underrated artists.

“This is a record that shows the span of my life’s work in music, from every era I’ve been influenced by,” she says. “From being a little kid in love with Bobby Vee’s voice and songs, to discovering surf music, Motown, the Beatles, punk rock. If somebody’s going to buy only one of my albums, I’d say ‘Working Girl’s Guitar’ is the one.”

The new record coincides with another labor of love that finally came to fruition. In 2007, Flores oversaw the final recording sessions of one of her idols, Janis Martin, an unsung hero of early rock ’n’ roll who was dubbed “the Female Elvis.” In the mid-1950s Martin was part of the freshmen class of female rockers that included Wanda Jackson and Brenda Lee.


Time has been kind to those ladies, particularly to Jackson, whose recent album with Jack White introduced her to a new generation of fans. Martin, meanwhile, has been lesser-known. She had a hit with “Will You, Willyum,” but her career stalled when her family life took off at an early age.

“She lost her record deal,” Flores says by way of explanation. “She got pregnant when she was like 15 or 16, and they were trying to put her out there as a young teenybopper like Brenda Lee. She said, ‘I’m not going to give up my baby. You can take your record deal.’ She didn’t even come close to considering it, from what she told me.”

Flores first worked with Martin on Flores’s 1995 album, “Rockabilly Filly,” but it took another decade for Flores to sweet-talk Martin back into the studio. Martin kept declining the offer, explaining that she was busy with her job managing the country club in Danville, Va., where she had grown up.

Recorded in Blanco, Texas, in 2007, just a few months before Martin died of lung cancer, “The Blanco Sessions” languished for five years while Flores struggled to find a label to put it out. A few were interested, but Flores realized a record by a deceased artist, meaning there was no chance to tour behind it, was a tough sell. In September Flores released it through Cow Island Music, a small indie label based in Northampton.

“There was nobody like Janis — she was full-on rock ’n’ roll,” she says. “She’d grab her cigarette and a beer and say, ‘Let’s party.’ She could bring a crowd to a frenzy in her 60s. She used to call herself the Raunchy Grandma.”

James Reed can be reached at