Happy (belated)birthday Wanda Jackson!

Posted October 26th, 2012 at 3:44 pm (UTC+0)
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Ever hear of rockabilly singer  Wanda Jackson ? Well, if you have,  it should come as no surprise that the pioneering female rocker just celebrated her 75th birthday October 20thright where you’d expect: onstage.

And if you don’t know Wanda and her music, well, let me introduce you. It’s the perfect time, too as Wanda’s  just released  her 31st album, “Unfinished Business.”

Wanda Jackson has an interesting history. In the 1950’s, she shared the stage with a young Elvis Presley and was even his girlfriend for a little while (she talks about those days in this interview).  But while she was playing sold out shows all around the U.S., Wanda  didn’t have a lot of success getting her songs played on the radio. I think she was just a little bit ahead of her time.  Or as she puts it  “Audiences loved my rockabilly tunes, but we could not get radio stations to play ’em. They just weren’t used to hearing a girl singing this stuff.”
But the rest of the world was a little more enlightened.  In 1957, Jackson gave the full-blown rockabilly treatment to a rhythm & blues number called “Fujiyama Mama.” It was never a hit here in the US but the song was huge in Japan. Which is odd, considering the weird lyrics in the song.  As you can hear, “Fujiyama Mama” has Wanda Jackson singing to her lover that what she did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki she can do to him.

Japan wasn’t the only country to go crazy over Wanda Jackson. She had hits around the world, singing in Japanese, Czech, Dutch and German. But the US remained a tougher nut to crack.

Maybe it was the way she looked and acted.  Wanda Jackson’s  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography describes her like this: “Jackson cut a striking visual image onstage in the conservative Fifties. “ And in her own account to Goldmine’s Jeff Tamarkin, Wanda said “I was the first girl that I know of in country music to sing in a tight dress, more of a sexy type outfit: high heels and long earrings and silk fringe dresses. I designed those and was wearing them long before the go-go dancers were popular in the Sixties.”

Here’s Wanda Jackson performing “Hard Headed Woman” in 1958.

The 1960’s saw Wanda Jackson turn away from rockabilly and start singing  more traditional country music. It was a wise business move  and she went on to rack up 30 hits over the years.

But her new album is a throwback to the old days–a good mix of rock and roll and old school country.

Don’t be surprised to see Wanda showing up in a town near you one day soon.  She works 12 months a year, every year. And she’s not just touring here in the States—Wanda Jackson is currently in the middle of a three week tour around Europe. After that, she has a steady stream of dates in the US through the rest of this year.

But that’s not all—Wanda Jackson will soon be the subject of a feature film based on a career that started when she was a teenaged country star. At least that’s the plan—according to news reports, Jackson has already met with a producer and screenwriter interested in her life story. This won’t be the first time Wanda Jackson’s career has played out in film. A 2008 documentary called “The Sweet Lady With The Nasty Voice” already chronicled her true life and times. If you’d like to find out more about this singer, her incredible life and where she’s headed next, just head here. Don’t forget to check out all the brand new and vintage video clips while you’re there!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

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