Flashback 2016: Die-Hard Wanda Jackson Still Having Fun


WANDA JACKSON plays The Casbah Jan. 28 and The Coach House Jan. 31

Flashback 2016: Interview with WANDA JACKSON

Whether you call her The Queen of Rock, The Queen of Rockabilly, or by her plain old name, Wanda Jackson is a living legend. The music icon will be playing in all her fringe-trimmed, feline-growlin’glory at The Casbah in San Diego Jan. 28 and The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Jan. 31.

The Fujiyama Mama herself talked to Concert Guide Live about her decades-spanning career, a new project, and of course, Elvis.

Growing up with a musician for a father, a life in music was practically written in the stars for Jackson. He purchased Jackson her first guitar and would take her to performances by country acts like Spade Cooley, Tex Williams and Bob Wills. Jackson was hooked.

“When I was about six years old I would see the girl singers in these bands. I would stand right at the front of the stage, and stare up all night long. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, and I didn’t make any backup plans [laughs], so it was like, ‘Ok, kid, you’ve gotta do this, or you’re in the soup line’.”

Trying to make her dream a reality as a teenage girl in the testosterone-fueled music industry of the 1950’s wasn’t easy. Jackson was famously turned down by Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson, with the now laughable words, “Girls don’t sell records.”

“You have to remember, the mindset of that generation. It was quite daring of me to just not want to get married and start having babies. I knew I didn’t want that. That’s part of why my daddy went with me, to help me. He collected the money, because I would forget to get paid. I would come home, and I had forgotten because I had so much fun! Isn’t that something?!”

After graduating high school, Jackson set out on her first real tour with another youngster who was just making his way: Elvis Presley. Presley and Jackson would briefly date, but it was his influence on her career that was crucial, and lasting.

“I had a crush on him before long. We got along fine and enjoyed being together, and my daddy liked him, so he would let me go out after a show, have a coke or a burger. Somewhere along the way he started talking to me about doing this new kind of music. There wasn’t a real name for it at that time.

“I would say, ‘Elvis, I love your songs and the way you do them, but I can’t do it. I’m a girl.’ See, that was the mindset. That type of music was for guys. He just kept kind of daring me. Then he double-dog-dared me. Then you’ve gotta do it, you know?! [laughs]”

Finding material was tough so Jackson took matters into her own hands.

“None of it was for girls, no one was writing it for girls, so my daddy, he said ‘Why don’t you just start writing your own? They sound kind of simple.’ And I said, ‘Well, I think you’re right! Maybe I could write one’.”

Jackson’s own material, combined with covers of “Hot Dog, That Made Him Mad,” “Fujiyama Mama,” and her biggest hit, 1960’s “Let’s Have A Party,” struck gold with listeners who were already in love with Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and the newly crowned King. Dressed up in fringed dresses, high heels, and red lipstick, Jackson soon became the undisputed Queen of Rockabilly.

Once rockabilly faded from popularity, Jackson continued to tour and record country music. But, following her high-profile collaborations with Jack White for 2011’s The Party Ain’t Over and Justin Townes Earle for 2012’s Unfinished Business, Jackson is back in the spotlight where she loves to be. Lucky for us, another collaboration is in the works.

“Joan Jett is going to produce for me on Blackhearts records. I’m seriously looking for songs and I’ve already got about six or seven original songs to do, and I’m hoping she’ll do a duet with me if we can find a cute song. So, that’s got me excited.”

Looking back at then vs. now, it seems life on the road has only gotten sweeter for Jackson.

“I’m glad now that I stuck with it as long as I did. I still don’t want to quit. I guess I’m a die-hard or something. Most of us are. We just hate to give up the life that we love. I’m not wealthy by any means, but I can fly everywhere I go. I stay in nice hotels. Poor daddy and I used to stay in old run-down motels. We just didn’t make enough money for a nice room! I get home with the money now [laughs].”

When told that she’s certainly earned the right to more money, Jackson just laughs.

“Well I kind of feel like maybe I have!”