This wild woman of rock ain’t done
with you yet. Jack White’s making sure of that.
secret that despite becoming a Christian in the ‘70s and releasing The Party Ain’t Over this year, Wanda
Jackson’s career didn’t commence with giving praise to Jesus or working with
Jack White. Jackson, now 73, didn’t even start out with rockabilly, the hoot-and-hollering
brand of rock ‘n’ roll of which she’s been the queen of since recording sassy ‘50s
and ‘60s sides “Mean, Mean Man,” “Fujiyama Mama,”
“Let’s Have A Party” and the self-penned “Right Or Wrong.”
started out with a guitar her father bought her, some costumes her mom made her
and the country sounds of the Oklahoma City she came from until she was discovered
by Hank Thompson in 1954 and began dating-albeit briefly-Elvis Presley in 1955
while she was on tour with The King. He encouraged her to go with the wild beat
and naughty lyrics.
not call it the devil’s music that Jackson
did back then and continues to do now, with the newly recorded raunchiness of
“Busted” and “Rip It Up” as two of the revved-up highlights of The Party Ain’t Over.
wasn’t that more in the old days that they used that term?” says Jackson, in a gentle
voice from the town where she grew up in and continues to live with her
husband/manager Wendell Goodman. “I don’t have any devilish spirit in me. This
is just fun music. The lyrics are innocent. I wouldn’t spread any evil message.
I am not divided in my allegiance. I am God’s vehicle. I let Him lead me.”
that devil’s notion plagued Elvis as well as her pal Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis,
she says, was on the verge of becoming a Christian but simply couldn’t
reconnoiter singing about sin while worshipping at Jesus’ altar. “Elvis was
always upset hearing it called the devil’s music. Same with my parents. They
were all for me singing the music of the young people then and saw nothing
wrong with that sound. My parents were contemporary-my mother in particular,
who did happen to be a Christian. They knew that was what the kids wanted.
Still, that charge always hurt Elvis though. The music wasn’t hellish and the
thought of it weighed on him.”
with her choice of Presley’s “Like a Baby” for the new album, Jack White, the producer
(and now former White Stripe), made several fascinating song selections that
ducked back to other parts of past and present. Like the haunting “Dust on the
Bible” during which Jackson’s
swaggering highs sound most comfortable.
surprised at first that Jack picked that for me until it came to pass that he
did his homework in regards to me; that gospel music was important to me. He’s
a spiritual I think. That music is important to him as well. He recognizes God.
He’s a family man with solid values.” Bob Dylan, a self-confessed Wanda fan,
must’ve known, too, about Jackson’s
gospel singing past, which included hosting a ministry with her husband that
landed them on tour throughout the world preaching the Word of God as well as
on television and radio throughout the States. When White came to talk to Dylan
for a song for Jackson’s
new album, Bob didn’t stall. He chose “Thunder on the Mountain,” trembling
track whose lyrics straddle Heaven and Earth, without hesitation.
lyrics don’t necessarily make too much sense,” she explains. “But between Jack
rearranging and taking out some lines and me changing lyrics on one verse with
Dylan’s blessing it worked out fine.” She speaks Dylan’s line “Standing beside
the King/I wouldn’t betray that love for any other thing” as if the delicate
prose was hers.
touching is how Jackson speaks of being led by God from the testimonies she
made and the sacred music she recorded throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s back into
the secular sounds of rockabilly; on her first studio album in 20 years, 2003’s
Heart Trouble where she had help from
Elvis Costello and The Cramps (“they were funny people”), to 2011’s Party.
lot of prayer, consideration and council, Wendell and I felt comfortable; that
God had a different avenue in mind for us,” says Jackson. Being sought out by the likes of
Poison Ivy and Jack White was God’s grand design, especially when you consider
that she was hesitant to work with the Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather musician
fearing that he’d bring a more contemporary brand of rock to her table. “That
wouldn’t have been me be me, and nor would that be very believable,” she
laughs. Luckily the guitarist sought her out and just wanted to embolden Jackson’s sound (much as
he did in with Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van
Lear Rose which he produced) with raw heft and new fangles. Her fans, like
musicians such as White, know that Jackson
is the genuine article; the first gal in to rockabilly; the Queen.
I’ve been made aware for the last twenty years or so that ‘hey this is the girl that started it all’.” Jackson speaks with a kind confidence. “That
I was out there on the limb doing this wild music right along with the guys.
I’m all bunched up in that group of originators who did it first. That’s part
of the appeal that draws them to me. Then after I have them in my clutches I
tell them stories and entertain them and it’s all just like new.”
Wanda Jackson just kicked off a
weeklong string of U.S.
dates – go to her official website for the itinerary. (A version of this story originally appeared in issue #10 of BLURT.)