Wanda Jackson’s storied career heralds from the 1950s when she navigated a largely male industry with poise, talent and guts. Born in Mead, Oklahoma and later relocating to Oklahoma City, Jackson developed a love of music at an early age. Her father, who presented her with her first guitar, became her de facto tour manager/chaperone. In 1956, she was signed to Capitol Records.

She manned her own radio show and toured with Elvis Presley, who encouraged her to display her visceral rock and roll chops with confidence. Jackson’s 70-plus minute set included touching anecdotes and inspiring tales about those early years.

She was backed by The Ladybirds (Jaxon Swain, Max Balliet, Anthony Fossaluzza, Brett Holsclaw and Sarah Teeple). This hard working quintet, which includes a rhythm section plus two electric guitars and keyboard, rolls with the punches, shifting tempos frequently to frame Jackson’s rubato styling. They flit seamlessly from country to rockabilly to torch song/hymnals. To allow the Rockabilly Queen to make a grand entrance, they first played ‘Rumble’ and then segued into ‘Riot in Cell Block # 9’.

Decked out in shocking pink and sparkling stones, the 79-years-young chanteuse shimmied whilst belting out each phrase. ‘Rock Your Baby’ (‘All Night Long’) had just as much appeal. It was a sold-out show and the crowd needed no encouragement to join in the fun.

Jackson announced with a cunning smile that ‘I Gotta Know’ was written especially for her. Her next tune, ‘Funnel of Love’ stopped her in her tracks. She explained that when British singer Adele heard this recording it prompted her to pen ‘Rolling in the Deep’ . Adele was so smitten with Jackson’s exuberance that she asked her to open for ten shows.

Jackson switched gears and performed some country songs that even included some of her signature yodeling! As many people had never heard this technique, she garnered lots of love.

Luckily, she’s still able to recall so many memories. One of the best recollections was of The King. The young singer was entranced by the man’s “long sideburns” and even more overwhelmed by his pink Cadillac and bright, yellow jacket. “I credit Elvis for my success,” she explained. Presley encouraged her raw and natural approach to rock and roll arrangements.
When in Presley’s honour, she did ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ it brought the house down. To Jackson’s credit, not many performers can genuinely cover a song so linked to one star, yet this performance was stamped exquisitely with her originality. She purred, stomped and snarled her way through the steamy stanzas.

Jackson has always attracted talented fans. Jack Black (The White Stripes, is one. In 2009, he approached Jackson about collaborating on an album entitled ‘The Party Ain’t Over’ (Third Man Records). Black had also worked with Loretta Lynn in 2004. “He was a slave driver,” Jackson joked, when reminiscing about Black’s role as producer in the studio.

Jackson, mostly seated due to physical limitations, still performed with gusto. ‘Shakin’ All Over’ enjoyed some superb electric guitar riffs and solo work. Her ‘You Know I’m No Good’ (Amy Winehouse cover) prompted her to put Black on the hot seat once more. She argued that the song was too suggestive for a woman her age, but Black thought otherwise. Judging by the audience reaction, Black won that round—Jackson’s version defied age restrictions.

She rocked hard on the 1959 hit, ‘Fujiyama Mama’ (which charted incredibly high in Japan that year) and the piano-driven ‘Right or Wrong’ and then smoothly transitioned into the Hank Williams classic ‘I Saw the Light’, which had a sonorous, hymnal quality and stirring chorus.

And she burst like a lit firecracker when performing the title song of the Jackson/Black collaboration. ‘Let’s Have a Party’ meant just that. Jackson demanded audience ‘woohs’ and got them in spades but she was just getting started!

Jackson’s ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ was the quintessential crowd pleaser. She followed it up with ‘Rip It Up,’ a Little Richard tribute. Perhaps the most fun song of all, however, was ‘The Funnel of Love’ (which Cyndi Lauper covered in 2016).

It was an inspiring set from an ageless woman, someone everyone should see.

Wanda Jackson has not merely retained her role as the quintessential Rockabilly Queen, she demonstrated why an entirely new generation cannot get enough of her.


Photos by Philamonjaro
www.philamonjaro.com











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