Interview: Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson on Jack White, Lady Gaga and Being a Woman in Today's Music Industry
How do you sum up the influence of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson? During her 50-year-plus(!) career -- which started when she was a high school student in Oklahoma City -- the singer has moved effortlessly between country, rockabilly and early rock & roll. She opened for (and covered) Elvis Presley, had a then-undiscovered Roy Clark in her band and has never let waning chart success derail her touring schedule. At the age of 73, the queen of cool is touring behind a new, Jack White-produced/arranged album, The Party Ain't Over. (Before you ask: No, White isn't part of Jackson's touring band for this show.) Jackson is again making waves on the strength of Over's first single, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain." She'll be performing at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room on Sunday, March 27, at 8 p.m. Dex Romweber Duo opens. $20 tickets are still available. Jackson recently spoke with Robin Wheeler about her new album
Robin Wheeler: The new album is fantastic. You sound amazing.
Wanda Jackson: Thank you. I'm very proud of it. It's all Jack. He's got those great arrangements, and he pulled that performance out of me. Man, he just pushed me right into the 21st century. It's feeling pretty good, by the way.
Are you bringing the horn section for your St. Louis show?
You know, on those dates, I'm not the one to ask. Sometimes I don't know for sure. I'm using a band out of Nashville. They're a very good band, but I don't think they're having the horns. Don't say for sure, because things change on me from day to day, and I don't always know what's going on in the office.
You got your start in Springfield, Missouri, with Ozark Jubilee...
Oh, my old stomping grounds!
Looking back, how to you feel about that time, being in that place?
Well, I think it was some of my better years. I made some great friends, and when you work a show like, every week, or every week that you possibly can, you get acquainted with your cast, the band members and Mr. [Red] Foley himself. It was great. Brenda Lee was coming up in the ranks on the show, and Porter Wagoner and some of the greats in country music. It was a good time, and working with Red Foley was a good experience.
[Ozark Jubilee] was the first network country show. I had just been invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. I also had been asked to join Ozark Jubilee as a regular. To me, that was a no-brainer. I had to have the network television. At least I was smart enough to know that. That gave me such national exposure.
How did you and Jack White choose which songs to cover on the new album, specifically Bob Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain"?
That young man just seems to have an uncanny ability to match performers with the right songs. I don't even question it. I just take his word for it because he seems to really know. He and Bob Dylan are apparently very close. I read in one of his interviews that he said he had three fathers. He has his biological father, his Heavenly Father and Bob Dylan [Laughs]. So that tells me they're pretty close.
He called Dylan and told him he was recording me, and if I did a Dylan song, which one should it be. And Jack said he [Dylan] didn't even hesitate. "Oh, it's gotta be 'Thunder on the Mountain'." And Jack, of course, knows the Dylan version, and he rewrote some of the verses, changed them somewhat to make them pertinent to me. It was fun. It was a challenge. Jack did it just a little bit fast. It's kinda flyin' at ya.
It has that feel of what you started out doing.
He copied that energy we had, and that was the challenge for me. He's wanting to pull that eighteen-year-old foxy, little feisty gal out of me. I did my best to give it to him.