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9 Reasons Wanda Jackson Rules Rockabilly and Beyond

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Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 8:30 AM
click to enlarge Wanda Jackson (with heavy friend) last night ath El Rey - TIMOTHY NORRIS
  • Timothy Norris
  • Wanda Jackson (with heavy friend) last night ath El Rey

[For more photos, see Timothy Norris' slideshow Wanda Jackson feat. Jack White @ El Rey.]

What: Wanda Jackson (with Jack White)

Where: El Rey

When: 1/23/2011

With Jack White and a raucous live band backing her up, rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson gave her all to a sold out crowd at the El Rey last night. Tonight Jackson takes the stage for a second night of old-school action. The 73 year-old singer's new album The Party Ain't Over, comes out tomorrow, and features the distinctive production and signature guitar work of Jack White all over it. But Jackson has been rocking it before White's parents were born. Tickets are still floating around on craigslist for tonight's encore El Rey Show and we encourage you to lie, cheat, or steal to check out the wonderful Jackson at work. if you're still not convinced to catch Jackson in the act, here are 9 reasons Wanda Jackson totally rules.

9. She Broke Rockabilly's Gender Divide

In the 1950's, rockabilly was a man's word. Female singers were often relegated to country or pop, where they were expected to be more demure. But Wanda Jackson couldn't be contained in one genre, so she branched off from country, and debuted her characteristic snarl and sass as rockabilly's leading lady.

"Disc jockeys just wouldn't play a girl's rockabilly. I didn't get a hit in America until 1960."

8. She's Big in Japan

Before Jackson could get a hit on the US charts, she broke big in Japan with her song "Fujiyama Mama," which gave a stern warning to guys who wouldn't give her respect.

Well you can say I'm crazy, so deaf and dumb/ But I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb/ 'Cause I'm a Fujiyama Mama and I'm just about to blow my top

7. Part of the U.K's Rockabilly Revival

Lately, the U.k. has been experiencing a bit of a rockabilly revival. But as Imelda May and throwback youngsters Daisy, Lewis, and Kitty make new noise, they look back to Wanda as an innovator. Last year Jackson joined Irish rockabilly sensation May for a duet, bringing together a contemporary flavor with an original.

6. Has Toured for 50 Years

Few artists can stand the harsh life on the road, but for Jackson the road is her home. Even after more than 50 years of touring, she takes to the road to spread her classic rockabilly standards with a new school flair.

"My dad and I drove just about everywhere, and 1955 was when I began working on the road with Elvis. I was only making $50 a night. We had to pay our own expenses, so we had to skimp and save. Nowadays, my husband and I fly just about everywhere, and I have a lot more amenities and my own dressing room. I make a lot more money on the job, and I stay in four star hotels and have a lot of gourmet food and things like that. So I'm making up for those leaner years."

5. She's Got Style

click to enlarge 59228a.jpg

Jackson gave up cowboy boots and Western wear early on in her career. Instead she opted for high heels, shimmery cocktail dresses, and lavish jewelry. She and her mother would design and make the dresses themselves. When other western singers looked down home, Jackson went for the uptown look.

"I was a big fan, of course, of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and I just always kind of wanted to look sexy or glamorous. At the beginning [the outfits] still looked a little western, but they were very feminine."

4. Signed to Decca Records in High School

click to enlarge wanda_jackson_record.jpg

By the age of 17, Jackson had already become notable in her Oklahoma hometown and beyond. She hosted her own radio show, performed alongside Elvis and Johnny Cash, and signed to a major label after finishing up high school.

"When I was about 12 or 13, I played guitar with my friends at parties. I went to a radio station to try out for a show, and they let me go on. Through that, I won a contest I think it was. That and the radio show gave me a lot of very good experience. From the show, Hank Thompson - he had the number one Western swing band in the nation at the time. He was my favourite singer and he heard me. He helped me get my first recording contract with Decca Records. I was junior in high school. Two years later, I moved to Capitol Records and I was recording straight country music. I had some pretty good success with a couple of songs. I graduated high school in the summer of '55, and I was ready to go on tour. And as it's turned out, I've been on tour ever since. Fifty odd years. But it's something I loved then, and I still love it."

3. Worked With Elvis

When Elvis and Jackson went on tour as teenagers in the 1950's, Elvis convinced her that there was room in the rockabilly world for a girl like her. Jackson said he gave her a piece of advice that changed her career: "You can see that it's the young people that have money now and they don't want to buy their parents music, they want their own kind, and they like what I'm doing and that's what you need to get in on."

2.. Dated Elvis (but Made Him Wait)

While on tour Elvis and Jackson began to go on dates. At the time, they were just teenagers, but that short relationship has become fodder for curiosity for Elvis aficionados everywhere. But Jackson wants to set the record straight:

"Yes, I dated Elvis. Keep in mind that the mindset was so much different in those days, and it was more innocent. A girl's reputation was very important and that's why my father traveled with me in the beginning, because he knew without someone being with me, my reputation would be shot."

"We liked each other a lot and he gave me his ring to wear around my neck. When we were alone and driving around the town, that's when he talked to me so much about [my abilities]."

1. She Puts Jack White in his Place

Jack White is known for having an ego the size of Oklahoma City, but when Jackson takes the mic, she puts the noisy guitarist in his place. After a half-century of music-making, Jackson's long career makes White's notoriety seem like just a fly on hot grits.

About working with White: "I was a little leery at first, but now I really love it. Recording with Jack was a very good experience, but he did stretch me a whole lot, and he said I came through like gangbusters."

Quotes from Elvis.com.au, Revue, Interview, Black Book, and Dame.

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