Singer Rosie Flores said it has taken her more than a decade "to come full circle," from traditional country, to rockabilly, to something called cow-punk, and now back to traditional country.
"Now that I have, though, I'm here to stay," she added. "I've done a lot of different things over the last 10 years, but it always feels good to go back to your roots--especially at a time like this."
Without question, the expatriate San Diegan's timing couldn't have been better. For the past few years, a wave of interest in old-time twang has been carrying such revivalists as Randy Travis, the Judds and Dwight Yoakam to the top of the national country-western charts.
Flores, who honed her singing and songwriting skills on the San Diego nightclub circuit throughout the 1970s and early '80s, may very well be next in line for the ride.
Her debut album, "Rosie Flores," has just come out on Reprise Records. Her first single, "Crying Over You," entered the Billboard country charts at No. 74.
Next month, she begins a six-date tour of the Southwest, opening for George Jones and Dwight Yoakam.
And already, some of the leading voices in Nashville have likened her singing and writing style to those of such established heavyweights as Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris.
"This roots stuff is really big right now because it's the real thing," said Flores, 32. "It's honest, simple music, without all the synthesizers and violins and overproduction that tends to overshadow the basic meaning.
"And just like rock 'n' roll is getting back to the roots, so is country-western. Ask any young people what their favorite country songs are, and they'll list old tunes by Hank Williams Sr. and Tammy Wynette, not the orchestrated country-pop of the 'Urban Cowboy' era."
Indeed, it was the success of the "Urban Cowboy" movie nine years ago that prompted Flores to veer from her country roots in the first place. A San Diego resident since she was 12, Flores spent most of the 1970s singing traditional country with various local bands.
"But when the movie came out in 1978, every crowd in every country bar I was in wanted to hear nothing but Johnny Lee songs and all this other pop stuff that the movie had made famous," she said.
"I thought to myself, 'This isn't what I want to do,' so finally I just dropped out of the country scene altogether."
With her band, Rosie and the Screamers, Flores made an abrupt switch to rockabilly--"the only other roots music I felt comfortable singing"--and began playing local rock clubs like the Spirit.
A few years later, she took her band to Los Angeles "to be closer to the heart of the music industry," she said. There, she soon found steady work around Hollywood.
By 1982, however, Flores had tired of her dual role as singer and bandleader, so she broke up the Screamers and joined an all-female "cow-punk" group, the Screamin' Sirens.
"This took the business pressure off of me," she said, "and let me devote more time to my songwriting--and a chance to finally get back into traditional country."
Between dates with the Screamin' Sirens, Flores wrote songs, recorded demonstration tapes and occasionally performed in tiny Los Angeles country-western taverns with an acoustic trio.
Last summer, her efforts finally paid off: She landed the deal with Reprise, and eight months ago she left the Screamin' Sirens--and their musical hybrid of country-western and punk-rock--for good.
"Straight country is what I started out doing, and it's what I've always enjoyed the most," Flores said. "I guess it just took people a long time to decide it's cool enough to sign."
Cool or not, Flores' new album is about as traditional as traditional country can get. There's no orchestration, no sappy arrangements, no synthesizers or violins--just honest-to-God country-western music, as simple, as stripped-down, as twangy as it sounded in the 1950s and '60s.
Tunes range from mellifluous originals like "Heartbreak Train" and "Midnight to Moonlight," with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on accordion, to cover versions of two old "hurtin' songs": Freddie Hart's "Lovin' in Vain," and Carl Perkins' "Turn Around."
The music is "certainly treating me right," Flores said. "I just hope country music continues on this train of thought, with people once again listening to pure, traditional, rootsy music.
"A lot of us songwriters and performers are merely picking up from where artists like Patsy Cline and Buck Owens left off. But at the same time, I feel we're taking country music back to what it's really supposed to be."