Wanda Lavonne Jackson (born October 20, 1937) is an American singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist who had success in the mid-1950s and 1960s as one of the first popular female rockabilly singers and a pioneering rock and roll artist. She is known to many as the "Queen of Rockabilly" (or "First Lady of Rockabilly").
Jackson mixed country music with fast-moving rockabilly, often recording them on opposite sides of a record. As rockabilly declined in popularity in the mid-1960s, she moved to a successful career in mainstream country music with a string of hits between 1966 and 1973, including "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine", "A Woman Lives for Love" and "Fancy Satin Pillows".
She has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity among rockabilly revivalists in Europe and younger Americana fans, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence in 2009.
Wanda Jackson was born to Tom Robert Jackson and Nellie Vera Jackson (December 19, 1913 - January 14, 2011) in Maud, Oklahoma, in 1937, but has lived much of her life in Oklahoma City. Her father, a musician, moved the family to Bakersfield, California, during the 1940s in hopes of a better life. Two years later, he bought Jackson a guitar and encouraged her to play. He also took her to see performances by Spade Cooley, Tex Williams and Bob Wills, which left a lasting impression. In 1948, when she was 11, the family moved back to Oklahoma. In 1956, she won a talent contest which led to her own radio program, soon extended by 30 minutes.
Jackson began her professional career while still attending Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City after being discovered by Hank Thompson in 1954, who heard her singing on local station KLPR-AM and invited her to perform with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. She recorded a few songs on their label, Capitol Records, including "You Can't Have My Love", a duet with Thompson's bandleader, Billy Gray. The song was released as a single in 1954 and reached No. 8 on the country chart. Jackson asked Capitol to sign her, but was turned down by producer Ken Nelson who told her, "Girls don't sell records." Instead, she signed with Decca Records.
After graduating from high school, Jackson began to tour with her father as manager and chaperon. She often shared the bill with Elvis Presley, who encouraged Jackson to sing rockabilly. Jackson briefly dated Elvis, during which time Elvis sometimes would coach Jackson how to play rock 'n' roll. She was a cast member of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri from 1955 to 1960, and in 1956 she signed with Capitol, recording a number of singles mixing country with rock and roll. "I Gotta Know", released in 1956, peaked at No. 15.
During the 1950s, Jackson's stage outfits were often designed by her mother. Unlike traditional clothing worn by female country music singers of the time, she wore fringe dresses, high heels and long earrings; and has claimed she was the first female to put "glamor into country music."
She continued to record more rockabilly singles through the decade with producer Ken Nelson. Jackson insisted that Nelson make her records sound like those of label mates Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. Nelson brought in many experienced and popular session players, including rock and roll pianist Merill Moore and the then unknown Buck Owens. With a unique vocal style and upbeat material, Jackson created some of the most influential rock and roll music of the time.
In the late 1950s, Jackson recorded and released a number of rockabilly songs, including "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad", "Mean, Mean Man", "Fujiyama Mama" (which hit No. 1 in Japan) and "Honey Bop." The songs, however, were only regional hits. She toured Japan in February and March 1959.
1960-1964: The Queen of Rockabilly:
In 1960, Jackson had a Top 40 pop hit with "Let's Have a Party", a song Presley had cut three years earlier. She was headlining concerts with her own band, which she dubbed The Party Timers. Prominently featured were pianist Big Al Downing and guitarist Roy Clark, virtually unknown at the time. Her country music career also began to take off with the self-penned "Right or Wrong", a No. 9 hit, and "In The Middle of a Heartache", which peaked at No. 6. Both songs also enjoyed top 40 pop success.
The unexpected success of her records led Capitol to release a number of albums composed of her 1950s material, including 1960's Rockin' with Wanda and There's a Party Goin' On, which included "Tongue Tied" and "Riot in the Cell Block No. 9". Her 1961 and 1962 albums, Right or Wrong and Wonderful Wanda, featured her two top ten country hits from 1961. In 1963, Jackson recorded a final album titled Two Sides of Wanda, which included both rock and roll and country music, including a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". The album earned Jackson her first Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
1965-1979: Country, gospel, and foreign language hits:
By 1965, Jackson was focusing more exclusively on traditional country music as rockabilly declined in popularity, and had a string of Top 40 hits during the next ten years. In 1966, she released two singles that peaked in the country top 20, "Tears Will Be the Chaser For Your Wine" and "The Box It Came In".
In early 1965, Jackson was invited by the German distribution partner of Capitol Records, Electrola, to record in German. Jackson's German language debut single, Santo Domingo (b/w Morgen, ja morgen), recorded at Electrola's studios in Cologne, peaked at No. 5 on the official German charts and at No. 1 on the charts of Germany's most influential teen magazine, Bravo. In the first months following the chart success of Santo Domingo, Jackson also re-recorded some of her German songs in Dutch and Japanese. The success of Santo Domingo prompted the recording of eight further German language singles until 1968, which were also released on an album, Made in Germany. A last German single was recorded in 1970.
In 1967, she recorded two albums, and released a string of singles during the next few years that often asserted a fiery and violent persona, including 1969's "My Big Iron Skillet", a top 20 hit which threatened death or assault for cheating on a spouse. In 1970 and 1971, she had her final top 20 country hits with "A Woman Lives for Love" (her second Grammy nomination) and "Fancy Satin Pillows". Jackson was a premier attraction in Las Vegas. She followed Kitty Wells' lead as only the second country female vocalist to have her own syndicated television show, Music Village, from 1967-68.
In the early 1970s, at her children's request, Jackson and her husband began to regularly attend church and accepted Christianity. She began recording gospel songs and albums, including 1972's Praise the Lord on Capitol. After Capitol dropped her, she recorded a number of albums for small religious labels and set up evangelical church tours across the country with her husband. Jackson wanted to record a mix of country and gospel music for her albums; however, religious labels were not interested.
1980-1999: Return to rockabilly:
In the early 1980s, Jackson was invited to Europe to play and record rockabilly material when revivalists sought her out. She regularly toured Scandinavia, England, and Germany during the decade. Now embracing her rock 'n' roll history, Jackson released a 1984 album titled Rockabilly Fever (later issued by Rounder Records as Rock N' Roll Your Blues Away in 1986), her first secular album in a decade and her first recording of rock music in over twenty years.
Cyndi Lauper acknowledged Jackson's classic rockabilly records were a major influence and inspiration for her during this period and Jackson's fan following also included a new generation of country music female vocalists, among them Rosanne Cash, Pam Tillis, Jann Browne and Rosie Flores. Jackson recorded a duet with Browne on a 1987 album release by Browne and in 1995, she sang two duets with Flores on her 1995 album, Rockabilly Filly, and then embarked on a United States tour with her, her first American tour since the 1970s.
She played at the Rockabilly Festival in Jackson, Tennessee in 2001 with The Cadillac Angels, Tony Balbinot (Guitar) Mickey Rae (Bass) and Evan Richards (Drums). Despite her age, Jackson continued touring.
Jackson released her first studio album since 1987, Heart Trouble (2003) on CMH Records. The sixteen-track album included guest appearances by Elvis Costello, The Cramps and Rosie Flores. Singer Amy LaVere portrayed a young Jackson in the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line (2005).
Jackson was interviewed about the origins of rockabilly music in the award-winning Canadian documentary entitled Rockabilly 514 (2008), directed by Patricia Chica and Mike Wafer.
She returned to England on October 28, 2008 for an appearance at the London Rock 'n' Roll Festival with Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis at the London Forum.
In 2009, she teamed up with Jack White to record The Party Ain't Over (2011), which was well received by many critics but failed to come close to the success of "Van Lear Rose" that White produced for the legendary Loretta Lynn. Jackson enjoyed her first ever charting on the Billboard Hot 200 LP chart, peaking at number 58. The album also broke Mae West's long-standing record for being the oldest female vocalist to make the chart with her 1966 album Way Out West with Jackson at 73 being a year older than West at the time of her hit rock LP. Billboard inexplicably failed to include The Party Ain't Over on the Billboard Hot Country LPS chart, although several of the songs were blatantly country, and the genre in which Jackson was always most successful in the United States.
To promote The Party Ain't Over, she performed with Jack White on the Late Show with David Letterman and Conan.
Wanda's song "Funnel of Love" appeared in the Guy Ritchie's film RocknRolla in 2008 and was featured on the film's soundtrack. In a 2010 episode of the HBO program Entourage featured the same song as the music to the ending credits.
Jackson appeared on the BBC's Hootenanny at the end of 2010, performing her version of "Let's Have a Party" and a cover of the Amy Winehouse song "You Know I'm No Good" with Jools Holland and his orchestra. The following year, after Winehouse's death, she took part in an Amy Winehouse tribute performance with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings at the VH1 Divas Live 2011.
Wanda released her thirty-first studio album Unfinished Business (2012) on Sugar Hill Records. The album goes back to her rockabilly and country roots and was produced by Americana singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. The album became Jackson's first in 39 years to make the Billboard Hot Country LPs charts.
In 1955, Jackson briefly dated Elvis Presley while on tour with him. She married former IBM programmer Wendell Goodman in 1961, who serves as her manager. The couple have two children. As of the 2000s she lives in Oklahoma City.
Jackson is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music and Oklahoma Country Music halls of fame, as well as the International Gospel and the German Music halls of fame.
She was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 but was not elected. In September 2008, she was nominated for a second time; and was inducted on April 4, 2009 as an Early Influence. She was the first addition to the category in nine years.
Jackson ranked number 35 on CMT's 2002 special, The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.
In 2006 Alfred Publishing acknowledged her influence on young musicians by publishing The Best of Wanda Jackson: Let's Have a Party, a songbook with music and lyrics to thirteen songs associated with Jackson. It was the first songbook ever published on Jackson.
In 2009, Oklahoma City named an alley for her in the Bricktown entertainment district. "Wanda Jackson Way" was officially christened with a live performance by Jackson in her "Way" on September 30, 2009. Besides this street in Oklahoma City, the city of Maud, Oklahoma, where she was born, has named one of its streets, Wanda Jackson Boulevard.
On September 9, 2010, she was given the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Jack White presented the award to her.
In 2013 she was inducted into the Iowa Rock And Roll Music Association (IRRMA) Hall Of Fame in the category "Women Who Rock."
In 1964, Ronnie Dove took Wanda's "Right Or Wrong" to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jackson's "Funnel of Love" was covered by the English rock band The Fall on its 2010 album Your Future Our Clutter, by the band The Young Veins for its 2010 album Take a Vacation! as a bonus MP3 track when bought on Amazon.com, and by Social Distortion lead singer Mike Ness on his 1999 album Under the Influences, by the Welsh psychobilly band Demented Are Go on their 1999 album Hellucifernation, as well as Southern Culture on the Skids' 2007 album Countrypolitan Favorites.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license