Pianist, Composer Rachel Z & Women Warriors

Posted November 20th, 2012 at 7:40 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet

Rachel Z

Rachel Z

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Grammy winning pianist and composer Rachel Z who has a new album coming out next year.  It’s her first since a very successful 2010 release.

Rachel Z’s new album, Warriors, will showcase ten songs as a tribute to women warriors: women who have truly made a difference.  Some are historical, like ancient Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, French folk heroine Joan of Arc, and astronomer, mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_11/rachelz_jazzbeat_nov2012-56.mp3]

Rachel was fascinated by Hypatia and recently started her album project, encouraged by the words of her late piano hero.

“My piano teacher Charlie Banacos used to say, oh you’re like Hypatia. So I had to like get some study going on about Hypatia and she was very interesting,” Rachel told me in our interview (mp3).

Rachel Z: Discography

  • Dept of Good and Evil Featuring Rachel Z
  • Peter Gabriel – Hit
  • Highlife
  • Trust the Universe
  • On the Milkyway Express
  • Room of one’s own
  • Love is the Power
  • Moon at the Window
  • Everlasting 2004

The album will have “a pretty big ensemble.”

Warriors also has a song dedicated to Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old Afghan girl, who was shot by militants in Pakistan for speaking out for education for women.

On that 2010 album, Rachel Z and legendary drummer Omar Hakim founded a music band called The Trio of Oz.  Their debut album, also called The Trio of Oz, garnered rave reviews and Jazziz Magazine nominated it Best Jazz CD of the year. The group is also releasing its second album next year. Rachel told me that “The Trio Oz #2 is going to be more originals than the last one because everyone in the band writes.”

The Trio Of Oz

The Trio Of Oz

Besides Rachel Z and Hakim who played with Weather Report, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Sting and other prominent musicians, The Trio of Oz also includes a new addition, bassist Solomon Dorsey who performed with Stevie Wonder and Bobby Watson. The group toured extensively around the globe for the last year.

Rachel Z toured for almost five years as a key pianist with progressive rock and pop superstar Peter Gabriel. “I was always a fan (of Peter Gabriel) throughout the years,” said Rachel who joined Gabriel’s band in 2002 and performed live with him worldwide.

Rachel Z last performed with him live in 2006 on my all-time favorite album, “Games Without Frontiers,” a 1980s hit in the UK, USA, and was at the top of the charts for a year on Radio Cairo’s Songs in the Race.

“His (Gabriel’s) voice is so original, and the color of his voice has this cry and somehow it almost sounds the same to me like Wayne’s saxophone,” said Rachel who performed with saxophone icon Wayne Shorter, a former key member of Weather Report.

Rachel was highly influenced by Shorter, and later she worked on his hit comeback album High Life, for which she built a synthesized orchestral framework to crystallize his musical vision. She also played acoustic piano on the album and was musical director for the tour that followed. The album won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

Rachel Z also worked with other jazz superstars like Al Di Meola, Larry Coryell, Special EFX, and Angela Bofill. She also collaborated with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri who produced her debut album Trust the Universe in 1993.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Dionne Warwick Then and Now

Posted November 19th, 2012 at 6:48 pm (UTC+0)
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By Doug Levine
I wasn’t thinking about singer Dionne Warwick until I saw that she had just released a new album called “Now.” Well, I couldn’t help myself. After giving it my undivided attention track by track, the verdict – mine, at least – Dionne is in fine form. Not that I ever doubted her ability to carry a tune. She’s a young 71 years old, and hey, if Nancy Wilson can still belt them out at age 75, and Tony Bennett at 86, why not Dionne.

Dionne Warwick seen here in 1969 celebrates her 50-year solo career in 2012. (CBS)

“Now” commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dionne Warwick’s debut single, “Don’t Make Me Over.” The five-time Grammy winner recorded a new version of that song for the new album, as well as other classics from the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songbook. She says choosing the songs was overwhelming, a decision too big for her alone to make. So, she took a novel approach: she asked her friends, colleagues, doctors, nurses, and even people on the street to choose their favorite Dionne Warwick song, and that’s what ended up on the album. Two songs from “Now” were written by the late Hal David after he and Bacharach went their separate ways. And Bacharach, now 84, selected two songs, including “Love Is Still The Answer.”

I personally didn’t participate in the poll but I’m happy to inject a few of my favorites, like the quintessential Bacharach-David numbers “Walk On By” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose.” Although these two are absent from the album, Dionne does a fine job with a remake of “I Say A Little Prayer,” featuring vocals from her son David Elliott.

Check out this entertaining look back at Dionne’s past 50 years, including clips of her singing a few of her early hits, the making of “Now,” interviews with Burt Bacharach, Clive Davis and Phil Ramone, and tributes from Gladys Knight, Mary Wilson and Barry Manilow.

Dipping into the archives: Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia

Posted November 15th, 2012 at 6:21 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

Every once in a while I stumble across an album that takes me totally by surprise. The latest is “Keystone Companions,” a live boxed set  from Grateful Dead founding member Jerry Garcia and his longtime friend, keyboard player Merl Saunders. The four discs that make up Keystone Companions were recorded during a two night stand the band played at Berkeley, California’s Keystone Club in  July of 1973.


I was never a “Deadhead,” one of those people who followed the Grateful Dead from concert to concert to concert…but I did see them in their prime five or six times. But after listening to “Keystone Companions” last weekend, I really wish I’d had the chance to see this Jerry Garcia side project in person.

Garcia, a guitarist and singer, and pianist Saunders started playing together on a regular basis in 1970. At the start, it wasn’t anything formal, more of a weekly jam session where they guys would gather in a small San Francisco club and just play whatever they felt like. Soon the Saunders-Garcia band  outgrew those informal jams and was playing to packed houses in local clubs every weekend when the Dead wasn’t touring.

While he isn’t as much of a “household name” as Garcia, Merl Saunders was  quite a musical force. Before teaming up with Jerry, he was a successful session player and bandleader and played with artists including Dinah Washington and Miles Davis.   In this undated interview, Garcia talks about learning to play jazz and the classics from his longtime friend.

Keystone Companions is exactly what you’d expect from a Jerry Garcia side project:  it’s a mix of rock, blues and jazz, with some bluegrass and soul mixed in. Like any jam session, the songs sometimes stray a bit, not sticking to just one sound. A few even include all those styles of music within the same tune!  If you don’t believe me, take a listen to their take on The Temptations classic “I Second That Emotion.” This version is NOT the one on Keystone Companion, but was recorded at a gig the next year.

The archivists did a great job with this the Keystone Companions collection. Many of the tunes had been released on various albums over the years, but this set includes new liner notes, a poster, and a 28-page photo book, along with seven previously unreleased songs.

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!

The Return of Captain Fingers

Posted November 8th, 2012 at 8:47 pm (UTC+0)
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By Doug Levine

You would think that anyone whose nickname is “Captain Fingers” must really be good with his hands.  Either that or there’s a brand new superhero battling for ratings on Cartoon Network.  Well, to his loyal following of fans, guitarist Lee Ritenour (aka “Captain Fingers”) is considered a jazz superhero, knocking out by his own count close to 45 albums since 1976.

Lee earned the nickname during his early days as a session player, traveling from gig to gig with a collection of 20 guitars, including his signature Gibson L-5 and ES-335 models.  His song “Captain Fingers” became the title of his third solo album.  That was the first Lee Ritenour album I ever bought and I was hooked.  He sounded like a cross between the legendary Wes Montgomery and prolific studio guitarist Larry Carlton.

“Captain Fingers” Lee Ritenour 2009 (Creative Commons)

Lee’s new album, which was released in September, is called “Rhythm Sessions,” and the emphasis is on the word rhythm.  Now 60, he has performed with some of the best and brightest rhythm sections in the world, and this project is no exception.  After all these years, I’m still in awe of his smooth guitar lines and melodic arrangements.  And, I’m always amazed by his generosity in the studio.  Here’s Lee with veterans George Duke and Stanley Clarke in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album.

Lee says he loves making solo albums, but his biggest thrill comes from making music with great musicians.  “This is a gift I don’t take for granted,” he writes in the liner notes for his new album.  Here, Lee is paired with award-winning vocalist Kurt Elling on “River Man.”

Lee says he had Elling’s voice in mind when he chose to record Nick Drake’s “River Man,” a song that also features Dave Grusin, Nathan East and Will Kennedy.

You might also recognize these guest stars from “Rhythm Sessions”: Chick Corea, Marcus Miller, Larry Goldings and Christian McBride.  And how about this?  Lee’s 19-year-old son Wesley plays drums on one track.  Lee is known for supporting up-and-coming musicians.  In 2010, he launched his International 6-String Theory Guitar Competition.  Winners of this year’s inaugural rhythm section contest got to perform on the track “Punta Del Sol.”  They are keyboardist Hans de Wild from Holland, drummer Selim Munir from Turkey, and, from the U.S., bassist Michael Feinberg and pianist Demetrius Nabors.

 

 

Singer and Songwriter Kat Edmonson

Posted November 8th, 2012 at 6:52 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Singer, songwriter Kat Edmonson

Singer, songwriter Kat Edmonson

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American singer and songwriter Kat Edmonson is a rising jazz star. The unique musician has been writing songs since she was nine years old. The amazing thing is that Edmonson doesn’t master any instruments.

“I compose the music in my head usually and then I go figure out what the chords are later,” explains the jazz sensation in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat (mp3).

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_11/Kat_Edmonson_JazzBeat_Nov2012.mp3]

“Usually, it’s not just a melody that I have. I’ll simultaneously be writing words and the chords either implied or I know what they are,” she says. “I just have to go in and determine, you know, identify the name of the chord but I usually have a pretty accurate idea from the get go about this, what the entire song is about and even production-wise I’ll know that initially as I’m writing it. It all comes to me at once.”

National Public Radio describes the Texas native as “memorable and contagious.” Other music critics call her a “promising jazz singer” and a “rising star.”

Edmonson grew up as an only child with a single mom. She spent a lot of time daydreaming and avidly absorbing her mother’s collection of old movies, musicals and records.

“She [mother] was working day and night to take care of us,” the musician recalls.  “A lot of time she would pop up a VHS tape for me to watch when she was busy.”

Edmonson admits those “standards” from her childhood had a strong effect on her – especially those of Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, various jazz artists, The Beatles, and Motown artists.

“So, I became very familiar with that repertoire,” she says.

Edmonson has performed with country superstar Willie Nelson, opened for Smokey Robinson, and toured with Boz Scaggs and Lyle Lovett. She has released two albums: Way Down Low which went on sale this year, and Take To The Sky which came out in 2009.

According to her official bio, Take to The Sky is an homage to songwriters.  Edmonson says her first album was “me trying to question what a standard actually is, and what popular music is; taking tunes and using them as canvases for self-expression.”  On the record, she re-interprets such storied works as “Summertime” along with more recent pop gems such as The Cardigans’ “Love Fool” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Musicians and politics—

Posted November 6th, 2012 at 7:13 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

By Katherine Cole

In the aftermath of the LOOOONG US election campaign season, I wonder if celebrity endorsements make a difference in presidential elections. There certainly have been a lot of them this year, for both candidates. Actors, comedians, athletes, talk show hosts, super models. And there’ve certainly been a fare share of musicians joining each camp: Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels, Meat Loaf, and Donny and Marie Osmond are among those backing Mitt Romney; and Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Beyonce, and Barbra Streisand are on President Barack Obama’s bandwagon. And there are many more.

Yesterday, Katy Perry shared a photo taken with President Obama at a recent campaign stop. And as she said on twitter , this might be the cutest picture ever. It’s Katy and the President with her 91 year old grandmother, Ann Hudson.

Katy Perry Twitter

For Katy, showing up at a rally wasn’t just because it was a good photo op. She spent a good deal of time out on the campaign trail this fall. This fan video shot was shot at an Obama rally in Las Vegas last month.

While Katy was out stumping for President Obama, Kid Rock has been speaking (and singing) out in support of Mitt Romney. And he’s happy that “Born Free” has become a sort of campaign song for the Romney-Ryan ticket.

And earlier in the campaign, Meat Loaf surprised everyone by making his first ever political endorsement, coming out in support of Mitt Romney.

But the most outspoken musician campaigning this year is probably Bruce Springsteen.

President Barack Obama and singer Bruce Springsteen stand together on stage during a campaign event, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

He spent the final day of the 2012 campaign with the President in Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa. He also gave a rousing speech that day at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin.
My crystal ball is a bit cloudy, so I can’t predict who’s going to be the winner. All I can say is that some musicians and entertainers are going to be singing the “White House Blues” tomorrow.

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!

Baseball on the brain…and in my headphones

Posted November 5th, 2012 at 7:34 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

Doug Levine’s recent blog on baseball and music got me thinking about the connection our “great American past time” has with music.
Baseball has been celebrated in song almost since the first pitch was tossed. The most famous baseball song ever written sprang from a most unlikely source. When Jack Norworth wrote “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in 1908, he had never even been to a major league game. But inspiration struck on a subway train as he stared at an advertisement for a game. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s not uncommon for musicians to play a concert (or even an entire tour!)  in the outfield of a baseball stadium like Bruce Springsteen did this past summer, but did you know that some musicians love baseball so much, they schedule their tours dates around the game itself?

That’s what mandolinist Sam Bush has been known to do. Sam’s team is the St. Louis Cardinals , and he’s such a fan that he wrote a song about the Cards great Ozzie Smith on his “King of My World” CD. Sam’s tribute to the now retired back-flipping shortstop is called “The Wizard of Oz.”

Bob Dylan wrote a baseball song, too. It was about the late pitcher “Catfish” Hunter, not only one of the best pitchers ever, but one of the most important to those enjoying multi-million-dollar playing contracts today.

Catfish Hunter was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers during a 15-year career that brought him five World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees.  He also strung together five straight 21-victory seasons, pitched a perfect game, and also won a Cy Young Award, given annually to the outstanding pitcher in each of the two major leagues.

But Catfish Hunter is also remembered for what Bob Dylan sings about: signing a five-year, $3.75 million contract with the Yankees in 1975, making him the games first multi-millionaire player.  Catfish retired after the 1978 season, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.  If you ever pay a visit to those hallowed halls, you might see Bob Dylan’s autographed album featuring the song “Catfish””

Singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky is known for including a baseball tune or two on his albums, and even released a collection of just baseball ballads. “Moe Berg: The Song” is the story of a real life Dodgers player in their pre-Los Angeles days, when they called Brooklyn, New York home.  Moe Berg lived a double life: baseball slugger and American spy.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Poltz has never come out and admitted to booking concerts specifically to catch a game, but I’ve been to post-interview Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles games with him, so he must be thinking about it. Steve’s also sung the National Anthem before a game or two—this performance was in San Francisco last May.

And while we’re on the subject of The Giants— no discussion of baseball and music could be complete without Tim Flannery.  The San Francisco Giants 3rd base coach is also a singer-songwriter and has released twelve CD’s of bluegrass-tinged music and has worked with artists including  Jackson Browne, Garth Brooks and Jimmy Buffett. Baseball keeps Tim busy for much of the year but now that the season is over,  he’ll be back out on tour soon.

Now let’s see…how many days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training?

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!

Choose Your Weapon

Posted November 2nd, 2012 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

By Ray McDonald

From the time I bought my first Rolling Stones record at age seven, I’ve been convinced of one thing: you can’t rock without an electric guitar.

Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t need one to make great music. There’s an entire galaxy of musical instruments out there to enjoy. But for  sheer sonic power,  I’ll take a six (or 12)-string guitar run through a stack of amplifiers.

But which guitar? For the past six decades, two models in particular have fought for supremacy: the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
Marketed since 1954, the “Strat” bears an iconic double-cutaway shape. It’s been used in many genres, from rock to country to jazz, always enjoying great popularity.

Fender Stratocaster   (AP photo/Matt York)

First sold in 1952, the Gibson Les Paul has led a turbulent existence. It bears the name of the great guitar innovator Les Paul, who helped design it. By 1960, it had lost so much market share to Fender’s Stratocaster that Gibson took it off the market.  During that time, however, blues-rock devotees such as Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Peter Green re-discovered the Les Paul and its thick, meaty tone. Manufacturing resumed in 1968, and continues to this day.

Gibson Les Paul    (AP photo/ Alice Keeney)

So, what separates these two noble combatants? Musician Keith Dean lists five areas where they differ:

1) Tone. The Stratocaster boasts a sweet, stinging sound, while the Les Paul possesses a thicker, more sustaining tone.

2) Pickups. Strat pickups typically consist of a combination of three single coils, producing that sweet tone. Les Paul guitars normally use “humbucking” pickups, enabling more distortion.

3) Feel. The guitars have differing fret boards, with the Strat typically more rounded and the Les Paul flatter.

4) Weight. The Gibson Les Paul is decidedly heavier than the Strat. In 1961, Gibson began selling its own lighter, double cutaway model, the Les Paul SG. Les requested his name be removed owing to a design issue with the neck, and today it’s simply sold as the SG.

5) Amp compatibility. Keith Dean says many Stat players consider a Fender tube amp perfect for its clean, stinging sound. Les Paul players, he says, often prefer Marshall tube amps for their distorted qualities – the choice of many hard rock and metal performers.

So, who plays what? Most of the world’s most famous guitarists have spent time with one of these instruments – or both, as in Eric Clapton’s case. He helped revive Les Paul sales during his stint in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before switching to the Strat in the 1970s. Other Strat wielders include Jeff Beck, Billy Corgan, The Edge of U2, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and let’s not forget Jimi Hendrix. The left-handed Hall of Famer preferred to play a right-handed model flipped upside down.

Some of hard rock’s biggest names claim allegiance to the Les Paul. Among them are Slash of Guns ‘N Roses, Pete Townshend of The Who, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and Neil Young, who crafted many of my favorite solos on “Old Black,” his 1953 Les Paul.

So there you are – even in this era of sequencers and synthesizers, the timeless battle for guitar supremacy continues.  But I’d say if you’re a rock lover like me, we’re the true winners, either way…or both.

A Tribute To Memphis Minnie

Posted November 1st, 2012 at 4:17 pm (UTC+0)
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By Doug Levine

It’s true you learn something new every day.  Take the great country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Memphis Minnie (1897-1973).  I never knew that Minnie was actually born and raised in Algiers, Louisiana, not in Memphis, Tennessee.  And, it was news to me that her real name wasn’t Minnie, but Lizzie Douglas.  Check out this clip of Minnie singing “Please Set A Date” and then I’ll fill you in on a new tribute album to this blues pioneer.

Ok, I promised a word or two on the tribute album, but first here’s the skinny on Minnie.  When she was 7 years old, Lizzie (Minnie) and her family moved from Algiers, Louisiana to Walls, Mississippi.  But, in 1910, when she was 13, Lizzie ran away from the family farm in Walls for the bright lights of Memphis.  There, she first made a name for herself as “Kid” Douglas, honing her vocal and guitar skills on and around Beale Street.  She also toured the South in tent shows with the Ringling Brothers Circus.  Changing her name to Memphis Minnie, she moved north to Chicago where she helped pioneer the city’s famous electric blues scene.  Minnie wrote and recorded more than 200 songs before retiring from music in the 1950s.

Jump to October 2012 and the release of “…First Came Memphis Minnie,” a new tribute album produced and compiled by singer Maria Muldaur.  Muldaur is best known for her ‘70’s hit “Midnight At The Oasis,” but over the years, she’s kept her blues roots intact.  She describes Minnie as “tough, independent and outspoken,” pointing out that she was “one of the few figures to make the successful transition from the rural acoustic guitar-dominated blues of the 1920s to the urban nightclub styles of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.”

The album features recordings of vintage Memphis Minnie tunes sung by Muldaur, Ruthie Foster, Del Rey and Bonnie Raitt, as well as the late Koko Taylor and Phoebe Snow.  One of my favorites from the collection is Muldaur’s spicy rendition of “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” composed by Minnie’s husband and collaborator Ernest Lawlers.

Memphis Minnie was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980, seven years after her death at age 76.   By the way, she is buried back in Walls, Mississippi and her grave marker was paid for by one of the singers on the new tribute album, Bonnie Raitt.   In part, the marker reads, “Listening to Minnie’s songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own.”

Memphis Minnie’s gravestone near Walls, MS. (Creative Commons)

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!

About

About

VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.

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