Dianne Duran

Updated: November, 2007

Wanda Turns 70: Still Rockin'

Wanda playing the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto in late October.

WANDA kicks off her tour, supporting her new "I REMEMBER ELVIS" CD",
at The Mint in Hollywood January 14, 2006. Order your copy of Wanda's new disc HERE

The rockabilly queen was in great voice
when she appeared to a full house at Nashville's
Mercy Lounge Saturday, April 3rd, 2004.


"Wanda Jackson started rockin'
with Elvis and she's still
going strong...

         April, 2004 - By ANDREW McGINN, News-Sun Staff Writer. Giving a 66-year-old lady 30 days in the joint for "loafing on the street" seems a bit harsh ‹ even if it does happen only in a song. So if the judge still wants to come down hard on Wanda Jackson, he should at least sentence her to a more suitable holding facility. You know, for someone her age. Life in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be a good fit.
         Jackson, playing the local Peach's Bar and Gril as part of a tour to promote her first studio recording in 15 years, is long overdue for enshrinement. C'mon, she was one of the first women to sing rock 'n' roll. Oh, but there's more. With her sexy outfits and songs about jailhouse riots, she was the first X chromosome to match the attitude of a Y. Cleveland, are you paying attention?
         "I have a dress I'm saving for them," Jackson explained. "One with fringe." To tell you the truth, on Jackson's Web site, her husband-manager, Wendell, has started a campaign to get her in. "I know it will happen," Jackson said from Oklahoma City. "And I hope they'll do it while I'm still around to enjoy it. But knowing me, they'll put me in the year after I'm dead."
         The native Okie, a born-again Christian who sang nothing but gospel in the 1970s and '80s, sounds more alive than ever on that new album, "Heart Trouble." A searing return to rockabilly, it came out to glowing reviews last fall.
         Jackson, who jumped to country in the late 1950s after rockabilly waned, wanted Tanya Tucker on the new one. She ended up laying down stuff like Buck Owens' "Crying Time" and Lieber and Stoller's "Riot in Cellblock No. 9" with Elvis Costello and the Cramps. She knew Costello because her kids had liked him, but the Cramps? New to her.
         "It makes for a good conversation piece. I had no idea what they looked like. I didn't know they were punk," she said. If you're wondering, bassist Lee Rocker, formerly of Brian Setzer's Stray Cats, turns up on "Heart Trouble" as well. The 16-track disc, which includes a smoking update of her lone Top 40 outing, 1960's "Let's Have a Party," is only strengthening Jackson's reputation with hipsters and punks, who have assumed rockabilly as their own because of its purity. Rockabilly, the fusion of country and R&B, was what rock sounded like in its infancy, after all.
         "Now I have the ear of these beautiful young people," Jackson gushed. And during a Wanda gig nowadays, you'll get primal Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins cuts, but you'll get a message, too.
         "I don't abuse them, but I do talk briefly about Christ. Then I sing a gospel song and they all sing with me," she said. The new disc does include the gospel "Walk With Me" ‹ a few minutes after "Anytime You Wanna Fool Around." A contradiction, you say? Nah. No more than it was for a pretty gal like Jackson to sing rock 'n' roll 50 years ago.
         "So much of the nation wasn't accepting of Elvis and Jerry Lee and Little Richard, much less a teenage girl," she said. Barely out of high school, Jackson had been yodeling Jimmie Rodgers songs when she met Presley, still in his Sun era. "Elvis talked me into doing the rock thing," she recalled.
         A year later, in 1956, Jackson signed to Capitol Records. It's worth noting her parents were all for it. "My mother designed my clothes. My daddy used to say, 'I don't care what you do, just do it different,' " she said. She indeed was different. Brenda Lee could belt 'em out, but Jackson could growl like no other woman.
         Frankly, Jackson still can growl like no other woman ‹ or at least one half her age ‹ as long as she stays off milk. "At my first Capitol session, we did 'Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad.' I really wanted to put the growl in that. But we took a break and I went to the cafeteria to have some milk. Sure enough, it's a real dry 'Hot Dog,'" Jackson said.
         And backed by a mixed race band in her form-fitting fringe dresses and high heels, she looked plenty different, too. "My dad would come in and want the neckline up a bit. But when he'd leave, my mom would ask, 'Well, where do you want it?' " Jackson said. "But it just never happened for me, the rockabilly thing. I was never accepted, you know, being one of the only girls out there. I had given up and gone back to country when 'Let's Have a Party' hit."
         While Jackson admittedly feels 30 ‹ "Until I get up" ‹ there's only one reason she's back rocking again like a kid. "They're just now asking for me," she bragged. "Now I'm enjoying the fruit of my labors..."

Born Oct 20, 1937 in Maud, OK. Wanda Jackson was only halfway through high school when, in 1954, country singer Hank Thompson heard her on an Oklahoma City radio show and asked her to record with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. By the end of the decade, Jackson had become one of America's first major female country and rockabilly singers. Jackson was born in Oklahoma, but her father Tom - himself a country singer who quit because of the Depression - moved the family to California in 1941. He bought Wanda her first guitar two years later, gave her lessons, and encouraged her to play piano as well. In addition, he took her to see such acts as Tex Williams, Spade Cooley, and Bob Wills, which left a lasting impression on her young mind. Tom moved the family back to Oklahoma City when his daughter was 12 years old. In 1952, she got won a local talent contest and was given a 15-minute daily show on KLPR. The program, soon upped to 30 minutes, lasted throughout Jackson's high school years. It's here that Thompson heard her sing. Jackson recorded several songs with the Brazos Valley Boys, including "You Can't Have My Love," a duet with Thompson's bandleader, Billy Gray. The song, on the Decca label, became a national hit, and Jackson's career was off and running. She had wanted to sign with Capitol, Thompson's label, but was turned down so she signed with Decca instead.

Jackson insisted on finishing high school before hitting the road. When she did, her father came with her. Her mother made and helped design Wanda's stage outfits. "I was the first one to put some glamour in the country music - fringe dresses, high heels, long earrings," Jackson says of these outfits. When Jackson first toured in 1955 and 1956, she was placed on a bill with none other than Elvis Presley. The two hit it off almost immediately. Jackson says it was Presley, along with her father, who encouraged her to sing rockabilly.

In 1956, Jackson finally signed with Capitol, a relationship that lasted until the early '70s. Her recording career bounced back and forth between country and rockabilly; she did this by often putting one song in each style on either side of a single. Jackson cut the rockabilly hit "Fujiyama Mama" in 1958, which became a major success in Japan. Her version of "Let's Have a Party," which Elvis had cut earlier, was a U.S. Top 40 pop hit for her in 1960, after which she began calling her band the Party Timers. A year later, she was back in the country Top Ten with "Right or Wrong" and "In the Middle of a Heartache." In 1965, she topped the German charts with "Santa Domingo," sung in Dutch. In 1966, she hit the U.S. Top 20 with "The Box It Came In" and "Tears Will Be the Chaser for the Wine." Jackson's popularity continued through the end of the decade.

Jackson toured regularly, was twice nominated for a Grammy, and was a big attraction in Las Vegas from the mid-'50s into the '70s. She married IBM programmer Wendell Goodman in 1961, and instead of quitting the business - as many women singers had done at the time - Goodman gave up his job in order to manage his wife's career. He also packaged Jackson's syndicated TV show, Music Village. In 1971, Jackson and her husband discovered Christianity, which she says saved their marriage. She released one gospel album on Capitol in 1972, Praise the Lord, before shifting to the Myrrh label for three more gospel albums. In 1977, she switched again, this time to Word Records, and released another two.

In the early '80s, Jackson was invited to Europe to play rockabilly and country festivals and to record. She's since been back numerous times. More recently, American country artists Pam Tillis, Jann Browne, and Rosie Flores have acknowledged Jackson as a major influence. In 1995, Flores released a rockabilly album, Rockabilly Filly, and invited Jackson, her longtime idol, to sing two duets on it with her. Jackson embarked on a major U.S. tour with Flores later that year. It was her first secular tour in this country since the '70s, not to mention her first time back in a nightclub atmosphere. -Kurt Wolff

Vivacious and versatile - talented and terrific - adjectives used to describe the artistry of pretty Wanda Jackson. Wanda has been singing and entertaining her fans throughout the United States, Canada and around the world since her early teens.

A native of Oklahoma, Wanda's talents were discovered by another great entertainer from the southwest, Hank Thompson. In early years, Wanda worked with another young entertainer that was just getting started by the name of Elvis Presley. Elvis encouraged Wanda to try her hand at Rock & Roll. She did in 1956, and in fact became America's first female rock & roll singer.

In the innocent '50s, America was not ready, for a '90s gal singer that could "get down and belt out" a rock and roll song just like the guys (in most cases even better). So Wanda never received the credit or the acclaim that was due her here in the States. Not so in the rest of the world: all of Europe and the Far East opened their arms and welcomed in the first lady of rockabilly.

There are great singers and there are great entertainers: Wanda is both, and her shows are energy packed. On one tour in France she was billed as "Hurricane Wanda," and she did not disappoint them. The Japanese people took a super liking in 1959 to one of Wanda's rockin' songs, "Fujiyama Mama," and made it their #1 song for six months. Wanda toured Japan that year for seven weeks.

Wanda tours Europe and Scandinavia several times each year headlining big rock and roll festivals. One year in Budapest, Hungary for their freedom celebration Wanda sang to over 70,000 fans. She went to Europe five times in 1997. Wanda has recorded with other singers in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany. She has recorded in the German, Dutch, and Japanese languages. Her German recording of "Santo Domingo" became a #1 song in six different German speaking countries, and is still known by all the people today.

Wanda has been nominated for the Grammy Award twice as the best performing female singer. She has been inducted into The Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame, and The Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She has been awarded the Oklahoma Native Daughter Award.

Wanda recorded for Decca Records for two years ('54 & '55), and for Capitol Records 18 years (1956-1973). She now records for Amethyst Records in Oklahoma City. Wanda has recorded somewhere between 50 and 60 albums, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs around the world.

Bear Family Records of Germany released her first box set "Right or Wrong," BCD 15629 DI. It contains four CDS and is Wanda's first ten years of recordings - 1997, "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine," BCD 16114 HI. It contains 8 CDs and the second ten years of her recordings - 1964 through 1973. Wanda has had two new CDs released in Europe in 1996 and 1997. There are discussions of releasing them in the U.S. soon.

Wanda and Wendell Goodman (her husband and manager) became Christians in 1971, and for several years in America only appeared in churches and church sponsored events. In 1996 Wanda recorded two songs on Rosie Flores' new CD, "Rock A Billy Filly." Wanda had always been Rosie's hero, and she asked Wanda to do a couple of promo dates with her on the west coast to promote her new CD. The tour was so well received that it ended up being a five week tour that covered from California to New York, and from Toronto to San Antonio. Wanda was amazed at all the new rockabilly fans that knew her and her songs. She enjoyed the tour so much that she started working all the rockabilly spots again. All the fans are excited and honored to see a true rockabilly legend in person. Wanda is having a ball and singing just as good as ever.

In real life, Wanda is a devoted Christian and lives happily with her husband/manager, Wendell Goodman, in Oklahoma City. A talented and versatile star of television, stage, and records - a dynamic entertainer - that's the best description of Wanda Jackson.

Hit Songs

Right Or Wrong
Mean Mean Man
In The Middle Of A Heartache
Little Bitty Tear
Let's Have A Party
The Violet And The Rose
Big Iron Skillet
I Gotta Know
Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine
Silver Threads And Golden Needles
Stupid Cupid
Fujiyama Mama
Santo Domingo-German

Record Labels

"60 Albums"
"Recorded In 4 Languages"

T.V. Shows

Women Of Country
Red Foley Show
PTL and 700 Club
Ozark Jubilee
Dick Clark Show
Grand Ole Opry
Hee Haw
Music City Tonight
At The Ryman

Career Highlights

Nominated twice for the Grammy Award
Hits in Country, Rockabilly, and Gospel
#1 Songs in Japan, Germany, and Scandinavia
Toured 24 Countries
Recorded with others in Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany
Song Used In Movies: Let's Have A Party - "Dead Poet's Society", Big Iron Skillet - "Harmony Cats"

Wanda's Official Home Page

Courtesy Kansas City's PitchWeekly, June 24-30, 1999, by Andrew Miller, posted June 25, 1999

Magic Wanda
The fans surrounded Wanda Jackson, and although they remained polite and well-mannered, they made her a bit claustrophobic. Everywhere she went people stared at her, followed her, yelled her name. Finally, the attention got to be too much for her. She sent people out to do her shopping for her while she stayed inside her hotel room, a prisoner of fame.

Jackson was unprepared for the reaction she received when she arrived in Japan in 1959 to tour in support of her hit song "Fujiyama Mama," but she'd seen a close friend struggle through a similar situation just a few years earlier. Jackson was working with Elvis Presley when his career first started to take off.

"In 1957, it had already gotten to where he and I couldn't go out and get a Coke or go to a movie, because people would follow us," the guitarist says in a phone interview from her Oklahoma City home. "I just felt sorry for him. It was like he had created a monster. It was at that point that he had to stop his autographing, because the fans would get so rowdy. It was hysteria."

Jackson didn't generate the same frenzied reaction in America, although she did have a smash hit with "Let's Have a Party," which was taken from the Presley film Loving You. The reason has nothing to do with her music, which was every bit as powerful and edgy as the sound of the era's male rockabilly titans. Instead, the blame falls on the country's social climate. It was controversial for Presley to shake his pelvis and sing "the devil's music," but it was absolutely unacceptable for Jackson to adopt a similarly sexy persona and blast out songs such as "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad."

"America just wasn't ready for a female screaming, hollering, twisting and singing like that," she says. "Nowadays, the more you do it, the better. It was frustrating that I couldn't get the airplay and record sales. That's why I jumped from rockabilly to country so much."

Jackson started as a country singer, and earned her own radio show in Oklahoma City as a teenager. She recorded for two years on the Decca label before meeting Presley Despite the obvious promise she showed in her original genre, he convinced her to change her style.

"Elvis was the one who first encouraged me to try rock," she says. "When I first started working with him in the summer of '55, he was not nationally known. In fact, I had never heard of him when we went on our first tour. But I worked with him for a couple of years, and we dated when we had the opportunity. I still have a ring he gave me that I wore around my neck for a couple of years. He told me that (rock) was going to be the next big music, which I could tell that it was. The girls were screaming and crowding the stage, and I'd never seen anything like that. My father also said that I should try my hand at it. He said, 'You can do anything you want to do."'

After "Let's Have a Party," however, American fans became less receptive to her rockabilly sounds. Her next hit, "Right or Wrong," came several years later, and it marked a return to her country roots. After recording several more country albums, Jackson became a Christian and began releasing gospel albums and performing at revivals and churches.

"I still perform at least one gospel song at the shows, and tell the people what happened in my life," she says. "Everyone accepts it very well. But I fell through the cracks and started recording rock and country again. I have to do my own thing."

While she hopped from genre to genre in America, fans in Europe remained loyal to her rockabilly material. "I'm not really sure why people over there enjoyed the music more," she says. "For some reason, they liked the simplicity of it, the energy that was in it. We sang about driving in cars, listening to radios and going dancing. It's just clean, innocent music."

What Jackson calls innocent, others deemed dangerous. Still, she says that only recently have music writers and fans bestowed the "rebel" label upon her.

"I never had anything like that said about me then," Jackson says. "My father traveled with me all the time, and I had a very good reputation. I never heard anything about being a rebel. Now, in retrospect, I look back and say, 'Yeah, I was.' I wouldn't let them pigeonhole me. We're used to today's stars being individuals, but in the '50s everybody grouped together. If one person had a hit with something, the next week there'd be 15 more just like it. But I broke out of the mold of a girl singing country music with cowboy boots, full skirts and a guitar. I designed my own clothes and got some glamour and sex appeal into country music. I think I can take quite a bit of credit for the fact that country music stars now are very fashionable."

Jackson doesn't have to look far for fans, musicians and writers that are willing to give her this credit. Stars such as: Tanya Tucker and Rosie Flores have named her as a major influence, and Rolling Stone featured Jackson in its Book of Women in Rock.

"I get a lot of good strokes," she says with a laugh. "In fact, it can get to be a pretty heady thing. I have to be careful to make sure that I can find a hat that fits me, you know? But it's exciting to see such talented young people telling me that I've influenced them. The stories that really touch me, though, are when I do a song and I see someone just perk up in the audience, and later they might tell me, 'That song meant so much to me because...' There's so many different stories."

Some of these stories might come to Jackson through a translator. Although she's done 18 albums in German and has recorded in several other languages, she has yet to master any of them.

"When I did my first German recordings in 1965, they told me not to bother to learn the language because it's too hard," she says. "Sweden told me the same thing. In France, they said, 'Don't learn our language, because we like hearing you speak English.' I guess they liked the accent. So it just makes it easier for me."

Jackson's German recording of "Santo Domingo" topped the charts in six different German speaking countries and remains immensely popular. Because of the song's success, Jackson still receives the star treatment in Europe, with private cars and lush hotel suites.

"That's one I have to include on the setlist for every show when I go overseas," she says. "It's become what we call a standard. They call it an evergreen. No matter what the age of the people in the audience, they know that song. They sing it with me and they hold up their cigarette lighters, and it's really touching."

Now that America has rediscovered Jackson through the Women in Rock book and the publicity given to her recent tours, more and more rockabilly followers are showing up at her shows in the states to sing along. She's not swarmed by fans as she was in Japan 40 years ago, but she claims people do let her know she's appreciated.

"My fans seem to like Wanda Jackson, whether I'm singing rock, country or gospel," she says. "They give me the freedom to do whatever I want, and I'm not sure every artist can say that. So I feel really fortunate."

Also visit this page on Wanda

Wanda Photos Courtesy: Mark "Daddy-o Dilly" Dillman - daddyodilly@yahoo.com

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