100 Greatest Women, #31: Rose Maddox

100 Greatest Women


Rose Maddox

She was only ten years old when her big brothers pulled her into their band, needing a female singer on the spot to land a regular performing gig on the radio in Modesta, California. She quickly learned as many songs as she could, and joined her brothers to form The Maddox Brothers & Rose, one of the most influential hillbilly bands of all-time.

Her family had moved to California during the Dust Bowl, and her brothers loathed the idea of manual labor for a pittance of pay. They found a dedicated audience willing to pay their bills for a few songs in return, and they toured the west coast, hopping from rodeo to rodeo and club to club, playing for nominal fees plus tips. Another act playing the same circuit was Woody Guthrie, and Rose caught his show when she was only twelve. She heard him perform “Philadelphia Lawyer,” and she helped make the song a country classic through her performances of it.

The Maddox Brothers & Rose won a California State Centennial contest in 1939 that landed them their own syndicated radio show. The act’s popularity spread beyond their California home base, and their career seemed unstoppable until national events intervened.

Rose married on the eve of World War II, which would effect her life in two major ways. Her husband was sent off to war while she was pregnant with his child, and her brothers went overseas as well. She was suddenly a single mom and solo act, and she was exposed to the sexism that was prevalent in the music business as she tried to book dates on her own.

When the war was over, her brothers returned home and the band started up again. Her husband returned safely toom but didn’t go home to his wife. Now that their appearances had to help her support a child, she was determined to kick things into a higher gear. In the 1940’s, The Maddox Brothers & Rose transformed into the ultimate in Western swing bands, wearing elaborate costumes by Hollywood designer N. Turk that later inspired the legendary Nudie suits. Their performances became increasingly spirited and flamboyant, putting inspired country spins on contemporary hits and singing risky material like “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down.”

Rose in particular was a fiesty female singer the likes of which had never been seen before. Her songs were a far cry from the demure cowgirl songs favored by Patsy Montana and Dale Evans. She growled to the judge to make her ex-husband “(Pay Me) Alimony” and resurrected the classic “I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again,” infusing it with grit.

When her brothers started losing interest in the act, wanting to spend more time with their families, Rose went solo in 1956 and never looked back. By this time, her sound had already inspired followers like Wanda Jackson, and she would later be cited by Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris as a major influence on their respective sounds. Her rough sound was a counterpoint to the sweet sounds coming out of Nashville. She would later reflect that her music “was more fun and raunchy, not quite so professional and after perfection as Nashville. A little more kickin’ ass, let’s put it that way.”

Maddox had some of her biggest hits in the early sixties, recording for Capitol. She was something of a mentor to Buck Owens; the sound of Maddox Brothers & Rose were a clear influence on him. They teamed up for hit duets like “Mental Cruelty” and “Loose Talk,” while Maddox scored her biggest solo hit with “Sing a Little Song of Heartache.”

There’s been a trend of successful country women exploring bluegrass, with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Lynn Anderson and Jeannie Kendall being among those to do so. Again, Maddox was a pioneer, recording her first bluegrass album in 1962 and continuing to explore the genre in subsequent years, including her final release, The Moon is Rising, in 1996.

Maddox performed and recorded for more than sixty years, both as a member of her family band and as a solo artist. The importance of her contributions to country music cannot be overstated, and it is something of a travesty that Maddox Brothers & Rose are not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Perhaps if West Coast country music had remained vital and significant independently of Nashville, their contributions would be more widely noted. As for Rose Maddox, she may not be the household name that some of her female contemporaries are, but in terms of influence, she’s above them all.

Rose Maddox

Essential Singles & Songs

  • “Philadelphia Lawyer,” c. 1937
  • “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down,” c. 1946
  • “(Pay Me) Alimony,” c. 1947
  • “Mental Cruelty/Loose Talk” (with Buck Owens), 1961
  • “Sing a Little Song of Heartache,” 1962

Essential Albums

  • Glorybound Train, 1960
  • Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass, 1962
  • A Beautiful Bouquet, 1983
  • The Moon is Rising (with John Jorgenson), 1996

==> #30. Lorrie Morgan

<== #32. Lynn Anderson

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List


  1. I’d be interested to see what the Real Country Radio version of such a list would be. I think it would be an important perspective. A lot of research went into this list and I’m comfortable with where every woman is placed, but at the end of the day it’s my perspective. I think the greater purpose of this feature is exposing all of these artists to potentially appreciative listeners who aren’t aware of them, more than the actual ranking.

  2. I’m sure you did research it allot. Didn’t mean to imply you didn’t. I know for myself I would start with the legends and trailblazer at the top and go from there.

  3. I took no offense at all to your comment. I actually welcome it. What I’d welcome even more is expansion of why an artist like Maddox is important in the comment thread. All the readers would benefit from it. One of the reasons I did this list in the first place is so trailblazers like her could get some acknowledgment for their contributions.

    Like I wrote in the post, it’s a travesty that Maddox Brothers & Rose aren’t in the Hall of Fame. I’ve done some research into the act, and have all of their recordings available digitally, but my knowledge is still limited. I would love to hear your thoughts on why Maddox (and others) are so significant. I’m sure I missed some key information and recordings in my post.

  4. Rose Maddox was truly one of the greats. I’m not old enough to have caught the Maddox Brothers and Rose act, but I did see her a few times as a solo act .
    There isn’t a lot of her material around especially of her solo work, but the British PROPER label has available a good introductory set of rhe Maddox Brothers and Rose. If you look around (and you definitely should) you can find some of her solo work

  5. yea sites were everyone agree is BORING :D
    I guess I feel any artist who was successful back before the power of TV and the power of a great lable promotion was around made it on their own had it tougher than the artists of today.

    Like Patsy Montana selling a million copies when money was so tight and hard to come by.

    I agree it’s a travesty that they aren’t in the hall of fame. as it is that Jean Shepard isn’t I guess she is to vocal :D

  6. It’s just hard for women to get in the Hall of Fame to begin with. There are only eight female recording artists in there, despite the Hall being around for forty years: Patsy C. , Kitty, Loretta, Brenda, Patsy M., Tammy, Dolly, Emmylou. That’s it.

    Mark my words, the only woman who will go in in the next few years will be Reba McEntire. Maybe the Judds, too, but that’s it. Forget Rose Maddox, Connie Smith, Jean Shepard and the like. We’ve got to get the male stars from the eighties in instead.

  7. I should add that I agree with you that being popular before TV is a big deal. When CMT did this list in 2002, the newer stars were way too high, in my opinion. Rose wasn’t even on their list. Patsy Montana was. But I see Rose Maddox as more groundbreaking and influential than Patsy Montana, even though Montana had the bigger hit(s). Maddox created a defiant female country persona that still meets resistance today. That she pulled it off in the forties and fifties is nothing short of astounding.

  8. Finally Rose appears on this list! Its about time. (lol) I think the author meant to say “The importance of her contributions to country music cannot be “overstated”, and it is something of a travesty that Maddox Brothers & Rose are not in the Country Music Hall of Fame.” Without Rose and her brothers there is a good chance that what came to be known as the “Bakersfield Sound” may never have materialized in the form it did. The initial seed had to be planted for that music style and scene to grow, and I say The Maddox Brothers and Rose were that seed and Rose is the one that nutured it to fruition. Thank you so much for giving Rose the recognition she deserves by including her in this list.

  9. Their placement of Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell on the men’s list were in the 30. If not for them Merle Haggard would have not been and all the ones that Hag influenced.

  10. Rick,

    The author is embarrassed that he wrote understated instead of overstated, especially since he is an English teacher. The error has been fixed. Thanks!

    I think that since it’s a countdown, you can at least be happy that you had to wait so long! Though I suspect you were concerned she wouldn’t be on the list at all, given that Patsy Montana, Jean Shepard and Dale Evans already appeared!


    The CMT lists were by ballot, resulting in some odd placements. I remember watching the women’s list and going, “Seriously?” But hey, a lot of readers are saying the same thing reading my list, so I shouldn’t throw stones!

  11. I do think that Barbara Mandrell will get into the CMHOF shortly, perhaps even before Reba. I also think one of the pre-80s stars will also get elected and I would suspect that Jean Shepard would be the one from this grouping.

    The genre was so thoroughly dominated by male singers for so long that the imbalance won’t be corrected soon, and actually it shouldn’t be, at least for the pre-1980 period. Since then yes but there simply weren’t that many women in the 40s, 50s and 60s having hits compared to their male counterparts, and even the 70s are transitional.

    There was also a bias against the west coast – while Buck, Sonny, Merle, Merle, Ernie and Cliffie all made the CMHOF, in most cases it was on a somewhat delayed basis. Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins aren’t there yet, and I can make a really good case for the Maddox Brothers and Rose and for Cousin Herb Henson

  12. Thanks for this write-up. As someone who is very “into” country music (for all of my life), I’m embarrassed that I’ve never even heard of Rose.

    I’m loving this list

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