Wanda Jackson Returns with The Party Ain’t Over
By Kyle Melton
One of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest female participants, an Oklahoma teenager named Wanda Jackson, forged a fiery sound with her single “Let’s Have a Party,” earning her the title of “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Over her nearly 50-year career, Jackson continued to work steadily in rock, country and gospel, consistently recording and touring. In the midst of a late-career renaissance, January, she released a new album, The Party Ain’t Over, with help from Jack White [Third Man Records/the White Stripes], and will be making a tour stop at the Historic Southgate House Saturday, March 26.
When Wanda Jackson began performing live, she was still playing the country music popular in her time, but she turned to the new sound of rock ‘n’ roll and earned a reputation as a formidable talent with her trademark growl. Although she recorded and performed furiously, her breakthrough to large audiences never came.
“I didn’t get hit records because I couldn’t get airplay,” Jackson explained. “The disc jockeys would not support me for some reason. They just didn’t like rock n’ roll. They didn’t like Elvis or any of them. When I came along, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back I guess.”
By the early 1970s, Jackson and her husband/manager Wendall, saw the music industry was changing drastically and decided to pursue another strain of American music: gospel. For the next decade the pair worked together on Wanda’s gospel records until, in 1985, they received a call that would dramatically alter her course.
“I was invited by a man who was a fan of mine,” recalled Jackson. “He had a record company and he was in Sweden. He invited me to come to Sweden and make an in-studio album and do a tour. So, we did that and we got back into country music and some rockabilly at that point. I had earned these fans over there, so my tour was a sold-out tour.”
For the next 10 years, Jackson toured and recorded heavily in Europe, making five trips a year most years. In 1995, Jackson was invited by Rosie Flores to record and tour, resulting in Jackson finally earning recognition again in the U.S.
“It was strange in a very nice way,” Jackson admitted. “I didn’t have to cross the ocean so many times. I noticed my audience, the demographics had changed. I had young people. These young people knew all of my 50s rock songs. I was rather astonished, because I had no idea that the 50s rock music had caught on so much and that we had such a big audience and as many venues as we have.”
While Jackson continued to tour extensively across the U.S., she continued to earn a new fanbase. In 2009, a call came from the enigmatic Jack White, which would result in Jackson’s new album, The Party Ain’t Over.
“I didn’t know much about Jack White, but I began to educate myself on him so that I knew who I was working with,” said Jackson. “We have a wonderful working relationship, as well as a friendship. He’s produced probably the best album I’ve ever done, one of the best at least. I’m quite proud of our product together, I really am.”
The duo is currently touring out together in support of the new record, giving audiences a taste of all that Jackson has done over the years: rock ‘n’ roll, country, gospel and even a blue yodel. While the new album and tour have provided Jackson with a new lease on her career, she is grateful for the opportunity to continue working.
“It’s the greatest business you could ever choose, if you treat it like a business, like your job,” Jackson explained. “You might get very popular and all, but that doesn’t make you a special person. That’s always carried me through and kept my feet on the ground.”
Wanda Jackson will perform on Saturday, March 26 at the Historic Southgate House in Newport. Tickets are $17; $20 DOS. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more info, visit www.wandajackson.com.
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at email@example.com and visit his blog at www.thebuddhaden.net.