Later they found work in the orchards and fields and it was in the migrant workers' camps that Rose learned to sing, picking up the grassroots music from every region of America. All the Maddoxes sang and played instruments, and after four years of following the crops brother Fred began to wonder if music might not offer an easier way of making a living. He persuaded a Modesto furniture store to sponsor the family band on a daily radio show on KTRB. The sponsors had one condition: there had to be a girl singer. Fred assured them they had the best girl singer in the world, without mentioning that she was only 11 years old. That was the end of Rose' childhood and the beginning of The Maddox Brothers and Rose, "The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in the Land," one of the hottest groups in country music in the 30's, 40's (with time out for World War II) and up through the late 50's.
The radio show paid the Maddoxes nothing, but it gave them a base and led to club and dance engagements and eventually to recording contracts. At first they were glad to follow the rodeo circuit, playing for tips in saloons crowded with cowboys. Lacking sophisticated management, struggling for survival, they were willing to try anything, from outrageous comic routines and wild costumes to the development of a new kind of music. It was a blending and update of traditional American styles that was variously called Hillbilly, Okie Boogie and California Country. It became immensely influential and it lies in a direct line from Jimmy Rodgers to Kenny Rogers.
At the center, the heart-beat of this rambunctious new music was Rose Maddox and her big, warm, fullthroated, wholly uninhibited voice. Hank Williams told her a few months before he died that she was as important to country music as Roy Acuff had been in his prime. She sang with, influenced and was admired by many of the biggest country stars. Her fans include Buck Owens, who cut two hits with her, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, and, surprisingly, Janis Joplin, who followed her all over Texas. It is not surprising that Rose was the first woman elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, not surprising that Merle Haggard and his band, the Strangers, and Emmylou Harris were all eager to join Rose in her new album, the aptly titled "Queen of the West", just released on Rounder's Varrick label.
Since the break-up of the family group Rose has continued as a solo performer, keeping up a hectic schedule of club, college, festival and recording dates. She has appeared on national radio ("A Prairie Home Companion") and television ("Over Easy") in recent months and is the subject of a documentary being prepared for PBS.