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In the Spotlight: Wanda Jackson


In the Spotlight: Wanda Jackson

Wanda Jackson



Wanda Lavonne Jackson on October 20, 1937, in Maud, OK


Rockabilly, Country and Western, Rock and roll, Gospel, Honky-Tonk, Americana


Vocals, guitar, piano

Contributions to music:

  • The first "Queen of Rock"
  • Expertly mixed straight Country and Western music with Rockabilly
  • The sassiest and most independent of the '50s female singing stars
  • The first female rock performer to write her own songs
  • The first performer to bring a sense of glamour to the country music stage
  • A favorite of Elvis Presley, who viewed her as his peer
  • A major Vegas attraction for nearly two decades
  • One of the first women to have her own musical TV show (Music Village, syndicated, 1965-1967)

Early years:

Like a lot of folks who came of age during the Great Depression, Wanda Jackson's father Tom transferred his hopes to his child, relegating his own country music career to a sideline when money troubles forced him to become a barber. Moving his family to Bakersfield, CA, young Wanda fell naturally under the spell of country, and Tom encouraged her, having her sing in the church choir, bringing her to Western Swing concerts, and teaching her both guitar and piano. By the time she was in high school, her homesick mother had persuaded Tom to head back to Oklahoma, where Wanda was soon singing on Oklahoma City radio station KLPR. Soon she had her own 15-minute show, which grabbed the attention of famed "country boogie" guitarist Hank Thompson. The song he recorded with her, "You Can't Have My Love," cracked the country Top 10, but Capitol declined to sign her, claiming "girls don't sell records," she was told. Thompson instead got her a Decca contract.


Over the next few years, she didn't find much success with Decca, partly because she refused to tour until she'd finished high school. They kept plugging her anyway, eventually adding her to its "Ozark Jubilee" package tour, where she was billed alongside a young singer named Elvis Presley. The two hit it off immediately, dating for a time, but Elvis' greatest influence on young Wanda came from his insistence that she should switch from country to rock and roll, sure that it was the next big thing. Jackson hedged her bets, recording singles with rock on one side and country on the other, but the strategy worked. She soon became the "Queen of Rockabilly," notable for radical regendered reworkings of men's hits like "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Riot in Cell Block #9," not to mention wild, almost comically overblown originals like "Fujiyama Mama," which compared her sexual prowess to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

Later years:

Though far too wild even for rock radio, Wanda kept trying, eventually scoring a pop Top 40 hit with a cover of Elvis' "Party" (from the film Loving You), reworked as "Let's Have a Party." When rock became diluted by the teen-idol craze, Jackson moved back to country, telegraphing the later move made by honky-tonkers like Jerry Lee Lewis. She enjoyed an equally wild musical rep in C&W through the '60s, but the pressure began to affect her marriage to her husband, who was also her manager, and the two embraced Christianity in 1971. A successful gospel career followed through the mid-'80s, when Wanda was encouraged to revisit her rockabilly roots; she did so on and off through the next two decades before engineering a big comeback in 2011 with the album The Party Ain't Over, produced by admirer Jack Black of the White Stripes. She records and tours today.

Wanda Jackson awards and honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame (2009)
  • Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame (2001)

Wanda Jackson facts and trivia:

  • Instructed her producer to give all her rockabilly records the same sound as Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps
  • At different stages in her career, Wanda was backed by both Buck Owens and Roy Clark on guitar
  • Jackson's parents were thrilled by her success; her mother made her wild stage costumes
  • The bizarre "Fujiyama Mama" was actually an enormous hit in postwar Japan, going to #1 for six months and causing Wanda to get mobbed when she toured there
  • Was properly chaperoned on her few dates with Elvis
  • Forbidden to perform at the Grand Ole Opry until she covered up a somewhat revealing top
  • Recorded, phonetically, in four languages, scoring a massive hit in Germany with "Santo Domingo"

Wanda Jackson hit singles and albums:

Notable recordings: "Let's Have a Party," "Fujiyama Mama," "Mean, Mean Man," "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad," "Baby Loves Him," "Cool Love," "Honey Bop," "I Gotta Know," "Savin' My Love," "Tunnel of Love," "Tongue Tied," "Riot in Cell Block #9," "Sticks and Stones," "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," "Stupid Cupid," "Santo Domingo," "Who Shot Sam?," "There's a Party Goin' On," "You Don't Know Baby," "Tongue Tied," "Fallin'," "Man We Had a Party," "If I Cried Every Time You Hurt Me," "Violet and the Rose," "Because It's You," "The Box It Came In," "Funnel of Love," "Tears at the Grand Ol' Opry," "Weary Blues from Waiting," "Rock Your Baby," "One Day at a Time," "This Should Go On Forever," "Kickin' Our Hearts Around," "If You Don't Somebody Else Will," "Why I'm Walking," "Both Sides of the Line," "This Gun Don't Care Who It Shoots," "My Heart Gets All the Breaks," "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine," "You'll Always Have My Love," "A Girl Don't Have to Drink to Have Fun," "By the Time You Get to Phoenix," "Little Boy Soldier," "My Baby Walked Right Out on Me," "I Wish I Was Your Friend," "My Big Iron Skillet," "Two Separate Bar Stools," "Who Shot John?," "Woman Lives for Love," "Back Then," "Fancy Satin Pillows," "I Already Know (What I'm Getting for My Birthday)," "I'll Be Whatever You Say"

Top 10 hits:

  • "You Can't Have My Love" (1954)
  • "Right or Wrong" (1961)
  • "In the Middle of a Heartache" (1962)
Adult Contemporary:
  • "Right or Wrong" (1961)
Top 10 albums:
  • Blues in My Heart (1965)
Film and TV appearances (films in italics): "Ozark Jubilee" (1958), "American Bandstand" (1958, 1960, 1961), "The Joey Bishop Show" (1968), "Hee Haw" (1970, 1973), Mallacoota Stampede (1979), "Chiefs" (1983), Born to Race (1988), "The Women of Country" (1993), Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly (2001), "CMT: 40 Greatest Women of Country Music" (2002), "Biography" (2006), "Rockwiz" (2007), American Music: Off the Record (2007), Rockabilly 514 (2008), "Zibb" (2008), The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice (2008), "The Marty Stuart Show" (2009), "Jools's Hootenanny" (2010), "VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul" (2011), "CMT Insider" (2011), Queens of Country (2011), "Conan" (2011), "Late Show with David Letterman" (2011)

Covered by: The Go-Gos, Robert Plant, Lou Ann Barton, The Rivieras, The Spencer Davis Group, The Fall, Southern Culture on the Skids, Mud, Neko Case, Rosie Flores, Carolyn Mark, Kim Lenz, Kristi Rose, Kelly Hogan, Jesse Sykes, The Young Veins, Laura Cantrell, Wayne Hancock, Cornell Hurd, Mike Ness, Jennie Duff, Demented Are Go!, Velevtone, Ronnie Dove

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