I was born Rosalie Hamlin on July 21st, 1945 in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I attended Denali Elementary School in Anchorage, Alaska and Ira Harlison Elementary in National City, California. I then attended Granger Jr. High and O’Farrell Jr. High, SweetWater High in National City, and Mission Bay High in San Diego. Because I was always traveling, I had a tutor and didn’t graduate in regular fashion. My home life growing up in Alaska was a lot of fun. We always seemed to be swimming or doing something water related. I always enjoyed horseback riding, ice skating, skiing, mountain climbing, fishing and target practicing.
I came from a musical background. My father played guitar, wrote music and sang. My grandfather played banjo, harmonica and sang. They had a Vaudeville type background. I absorbed a lot of that influence. I can remember being 4 or 5 years old, standing on an old box in the yard pretending it was a stage.
We came to California from Alaska quite often to visit my Grandmother. I had lots of Aunts and Uncles living there and we’d make many trips along the Alaskan Highway to visit them. Finally, my father decided we would move to California. We bought a house in National City, California. I didn’t want to leave Alaska, having relatives and friends there. I also had very fond memories of my time in Alaska.
When I was thirteen years old, I pretended to have a baby-sitting job, but instead i I found an older folks band looking for a singer. I auditioned over the phone and I told them that I was sixteen years old. They were a country and western group. I borrowed my mother’s makeup to try to look older, but they probably knew I wasn’t sixteen. They paid me in tips. It wasn’t much money, I didn’t care. I was just happy to sing. I was also performing with a group comprised of my cousins. We played primarily for family functions in the San Diego area.
In 1960 my mother bought me a piano. It was an old upright. My Aunt Socorro began teaching me four chord progressions, Honky Tonk, Boogie and Blues. My Uncle Albert’s girlfriend Gloria Moore used to come over quite often and listen to me play. She knew a few musicians from the San Diego area. She arranged for them to come over so that we could have a jam session. (I had already written Angel Baby). The musicians were: David Ponci and Noah Tafolla on Guitar and Tony Gomez on Bass. Carl Von Goodat later joined on Drums and and Alfred Barrett on Sax.
When I was fourteen, I wrote a poem about a teenage love entitled Angel Baby. We decided to record the song. One hot summer day in 1961 we piled into a car and headed out to San Marcos, CA. In those days San Marcos was out in the middle of no-where. Los Angeles was too far for us. I remember seeing cows and farms as far as the eye could see. We finally arrived at this place that looked to us like an old barn. It was actually an old airplane hanger. The owner had airplane parts all over the place. He was retired and had always wanted to record so he had a corner set up with recording equipment. He also had a piano and drums. Our sax player, Alfred Barrett, was not with us when we arrived at the studio. He said he’d be joining us later. As it got later we started to worry. Noah called Alfred at home. We all became worried when we heard Noah asking; “Can’t you mow the yard tomorrow?” Alfred’s mother was very strict and he couldn’t go anywhere until he mowed and raked the yard. We realized then that he wasn’t going to make it. So there we sat all bummed out until Noah got this great idea. He’d played a little sax and decided to teach our bass player, Tony Gomez, the sax part. I guess the rest is history. Not the best rendition of a sax solo, but one that anyone to this day can hum.
The equipment was an old two-track machine. We had to record it over and over. Probably thirty times or more. Each time someone made a mistake, we’d have to stop and start all over again. When we finally had the take that everyone liked, we thought we were done. Then the guy says, “What do you want on the other side?” We had completely forgotten about the flip side of the 45. Lucky for us, we had our old friend Blueford Wade along. He was a vocalist who sat in on gigs with us when he wasn’t fronting his own band. Noah said, “Hey Blueford, why don’t you just ad-lib something.” That’s how Give Me Love made it on the B side
. We had trouble landing a record deal. We couldn’t even get an appointment with any of the labels. So we took one of our 45’s to Kresge’s Department Store in San Diego. They had listening booths in their music section where you could preview records before you bought them. We asked the manager to play our record and see if he could sell it in his store. He liked it because the kids listening to it liked it. They wanted to know where they could buy it. A guy form West Pico Merchandising, the distributor for Highland Records was in the store checking out all of the commotion. He gave us his card and said to meet him and his partner that night at Del Web’s Highway House. He also said to bring our Master. “Be ready to make a deal. We’re going to make you stars.” When we met them that night we were surprised at how grungy and scary they looked. Not like record people at all. But we were young and we ended up giving them our master with no contract. Three weeks went by and we heard Angel Baby on K-Day Radio with Allen Freed. He said, “This is by a fifteen year old girl from National City, California named Rosie. This is going to be a hit Guys and Gals.” After that he was playing it six to ten times a day. We called and called until we finally got one of the people from Highland to meet us with a contract. I had to bring my mother in with me to sign because I was too young. They listed David Ponci’s name as the writer and my name as the singer on the record. It would take years to straighten that out. We were musicians and not business people. We got burned like so many of our peers in those days. Listing David as writer kept me away from any royalties until I was able to prove that I had written Angel Baby.
After recording for Highland Records, Jackie Wilson and his manager suggested that I come to New York along with guitarist Noah Tafolla and record for the Brunswick label. We had the honor of opening for Jackie Wilson at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater for six shows daily. Also on the bill were Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Marcells, Benny King, Maxine Brown, Carla Thomas , The Isley Brothers, Del Shannon, Bobby Vee and Bobby Rydel.
I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Johnny Otis, Big Joe Turner, Big Momma Thorton, Thurston Harris, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. I’ve worked with Freddy Fender and all of the East Los Angeles Groups. Malo, Tierra, and El Chicano to name a few. When the Rolling Stones came to America, I opened for them in San Diego. John Lennon recorded Angel Baby saying little Rosie was one of his favorite American Artists.
I thank God for giving me the ability to sing and write music, and I hope to perform for many years to come.
God Bless, Rosie.