Get into it: A video introduction to Rockabilly Queen (and ACL performer) WandaJackson
When I heard Wanda Jackson had been added to this year’s Austin City Limits festival lineup, I was overjoyed; one of my favorite vintage badasses, Jackson has spent decades perfecting her signature, throaty wail with offbeat hits like “Funnel of Love” and “Fujiyama Mama,” and she still manages to completely slay audiences with her unwaveringly sharp attitude and playful stage presence.
The unmatchable Queen of Rockabilly—whose career began over a half century ago in the mid-50s—has made appearances at SXSW the past few years, and still actively tours in addition to recording new albums (with the likes of Jack White, no less). An Oklahoma native—still, in fact, an Oklahoma resident—Jackson began her career as a country artist but quickly found a niche for her unique sound in the burgeoning rockabilly scene (thanks, in part, to the guidance of friend and tourmate Elvis Presley).
“Hard Headed Woman” live on Town Hall Party, 1958
Throughout her career, she’s managed to find a perfect balance between traditional country sensibility (by working with backing bands like Buck Owens and The Green Corn Revival) with rockabilly style (just check out the sequins and tassels in the “Let's Have A Party” video, below) and, more recently, gospel standards.
“Let’s Have A Party” live (from what looks like the early 80s)
Earlier this year, Jackson released an album nearly two years in the making: The Party Ain’t Over, a set of covers (featuring songs from Bob Dylan and Amy Winehouse, among others) produced and co-performed by White Stripe and engineering whiz Jack White.
Official video for “Thunder on the Mountain,” featuring Jack White
It’s especially fitting that Jackson chose to cover Winehouse, a singer who (completely regardless of any personal issues) blazed the trail for artists like Adele and Duffy, strong-voiced ladies embracing more traditional, soulful styles. And “You Know I’m No Good,” the cheeky Winehouse single that shows how important a little onstage attitude can be, sounds just as good coming from the 73-year old Jackson.
Wanda performing “You Know I’m No Good” at SXSW 2011
Jackson’s usually not the one performing covers—her hits have inspired hundreds of fan-bands to put their own spin on the classics. “Funnel of Love,” for example (my personal favorite Wanda tune, which you are hopefully already familiar with—and not just because it was featured on a Season 7 episode of Entourage), has been covered by bands like the Meat Puppets and The Fall—and Jackson even re-recorded a version in 2003 featuring backing guitar from punk band The Cramps.
Southern Culture on the Skids covers “Funnel of Love” at The Continental Club
When you’ve been crowned queen of an entire genre, what comes next? Jackson’s not content to rest on her throne, as evidenced by her ACL appearance and tireless touring. Unsurprisingly, she’s still wildly famous across Europe, especially in Germany—and she’s even re-recorded some of her biggest hits in German to make her catalog even more accessible. Also among her fans? Betty Boop, whose sultry style perfectly fits with Jackson’s lyrical personality.
“Fujiyama Mama,” as interpreted by Betty Boop
I can't think of a better way to spend a late Saturday afternoon than with Wanda, an Oklahoma legend who brought rockabilly to the mainstream—and encouraged droves of ladies to do the same.
Wanda Jackson performs at Austin City Limits on Saturday, September 17th at 5:45 pm on the Austin Ventures stage.