In the last twenty years, the “Queen of Rockabilly,” Wanda Jackson, has rightfully been crowned a legend beyond the niche of the rockabilly scene itself. She’s headlined major music festivals, such as Stagecoach, and played alongside younger rock artists who appreciate her place in music, such as Jack White.
Jackson, who was born in Maud, Oklahoma in 1937, spent her early childhood in California before returning to Oklahoma for her teenage years. She has fond recollections of California.
“The first places I sang in Southern California was in the early 50s for talent shows mostly,” Jackson said in an interview last week. “I won quite a few and the prizes were nice. I’ve played California more the last 15 to 20 years than I did in the early days.”
Jackson was a rocker before women were allowed to rock. She begin her life as a touring musician immediately after graduating high school. Her first tours, in 1956 and 1957, were with Elvis Presley, who she cites as a key influence. In the 1960s, she was recognized as a rockabilly pioneer, and had a string of mainstream hits such as “Fujiyama Mama,” “Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine” and “Satin Pillows.” Like many of her peers in the rockabilly scene during its fading days in the later 60s and 70s, she dabbled different genres, such as pop, country, and gospel. She won greatest acclaim as a country artist.
“I was the first one to put some glamour in the country music — fringe dresses, high heels, long earrings,” Jackson said in an earlier interview for her artist’s biography.
She returned to her roots after being asked to play all over Europe with the rockabilly revival of the early 1980s. Despite her experience in different genres, she always knew what she dug the most.
“At the moment, it’s definitely Rockabilly,” Jackson said. “The young audiences are so enthusiastic”
Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 as an “Early Influence.” Contemporary female rockabilly artists of course pay homage to Jackson, who has finally found a large audience and become a musical icon in the seventh decade of her career.
“I recently met and shot a video with Elle King, the new face in Rockabilly,” Jackson said. “I was very impressed with her as a songwriter and performer. There are many great artists today. One of my favorites is Rosie Flores. We’re great friends. Also, there’s Kim Linz and Marte’ Broom. I’ve had the pleasure of working with all of these great girls.”
Currently, Jackson is working with several prominent Nashville songwriters for an upcoming album.
“It’s going to be produced by Joan Jett on Blackheart records, she said. “It’s a project I’m very excited about.”
This Friday she’s playing with two local acts, The Thirsty Crows, a straight up rocking neo-rockabilly act with a crooner for singer, a stand-up bass player, and leanings toward punk rock and the Curly Wolf, a country act who dabbles in Southern Rock with of course a hint of punk rock (we’re still in Hermosa Beach and punk rock is a part of the landscape).
Jackson is excited to come to the beach.
“At the Saint Rocke show on the 23rd, I’ll be doing a set that consists of my best sellers over the years,” Jackson said. “I’ll be backed by Rick Shea and his band….one of my favorites to work with.”
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