"Rockabilly Queen" Wanda Jackson hits Walla Walla

Past Event

Charles Smith Wines Presents: Wanda Jackson

  • Thursday, September 6, 2012, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Charles Smith Wines, 35 S Spokane St , Walla Walla
  • 21+ / $20



Charles Smith Wines

35 S Spokane St , Walla Walla

Charles Smith Wines

The Queen of Rockabilly was in danger of losing her crown.

A little more than a week ahead of her Walla Walla appearance at Charles Smith Wines next Thursday, 75-year-old Wanda Jackson found herself with a dental dilemma.

The Rock and Roll Hall-of Famer had a mere two days before leaving her Oklahoma City home for back-to-back performances at the Minnesota State Fair en route to several Pacific Northwest gigs.

Fortunately, she explained, her dentist is a music lover and “kind of a fan of mine,” and was able to jostle his schedule for a timely treatment.

When Jackson, not only a pioneer and legend in women’s rockabilly music since the 1950s but also proud to have brought the glamour to country, thinks about stepping back from touring, it’s these so-called breaks that seem much more hectic, and the road beckons.

“It’s all that my husband and I have ever done,” she said of her travel schedule in a telephone interview. “I’ve been doing tours on the road since 1955. I only ever had one break for a year, and that year nearly killed me.”

Sure, she and husband of 50 years Wendell Goodman have slowed down a bit, she said. But you wouldn’t know by looking at her schedule, which includes 24 performances from Minnesota to Seattle to Kansas to Delaware and everywhere in between starting Friday and ending Oct. 17.

“I do tours 12 months a year. I’d do it 13 if we had another month in there,” she said.

This summer has been as busy as any for Jackson, who broke onto the American music scene in the mid-1950s and shared a bill with Elvis Presley, who not only became her boyfriend for a time but also encouraged her to sing rockabilly.

Longtime fans will know her as the gravely voiced siren forever in fringe dresses who went from rockabilly to country to gospel and back again over the decades with “Fujiyama Mama,” “Let’s Have a Party,” “Right or Wrong” and “In the Middle of a Heartache,” among so many others.

But Jackson is also becoming known to generations of younger people as she continues to record and work with some of music’s contemporary producers, such as Jack White and Justine Townes Earle.

In 2009 White and Jackson teamed up to record the acclaimed “The Party Ain’t Over.” Released in 2011, the album included covers of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”

Her 31st studio album, “Unfinished Business” produced by Earle, the son of songwriter/singer/musician Steve Earle, is set for release Oct. 9 and is said to mark a return to Jackson’s country, blues and rockabilly roots. The new material has yet to be incorporated into Jackson’s live shows but will closer to the album’s release.

Her show at Charles Smith Wines will be accompanied by touring Americana/rockabilly group The Dusty 45s. Spokane Street will be closed off for the 7 p.m. event and the giant doors of Charles Smith Wines will be opened. Jackson said the venue sounds perfect for connecting with the audience.

“This is a totally new generation that loves my songs that I’ve recorded in the ’50s,” she said. “Of course they see the YouTube clips and I was kind of pretty and feisty. I can’t do that anymore. I try to keep the energy up anyway, but I can’t walk and do high kicks.”

The feistiness hasn’t gone too far away. And it was never the high kicks that earned the respect of musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Adele, who have all lauded the two-time Grammy nominee and her influence on music.

The latter, for whom Jackson opened with The Dusty 45s, referred to Jackson as a “rockabilly Etta James.”

“I love her, she’s so brilliant. I don’t think ‘Rollin’ in the Deep’ would exist if it wasn’t for ... Wanda Jackson,” Adele told a Los Angeles audience.

Jackson is awestruck by the number of her younger fans. “I’m sure there’s people from my era out there. I see some of them occasionally,” she said. “But 95 percent or more is young adults.”

They know her lyrics, she marveled. And they love when she reaches for her guitar, which she ended up putting down for much of her live shows years ago. “I was still young when I decided that guitar was covering up some of my assets,” she quipped.

In many ways the show is as fresh as it’s ever been with the same strong, gutsy voice and glamour for which Jackson became famous when her mother was sewing her dresses and her father managed her tours. A few modifications have been made.

“My mother used to make those fringe dresses. Now the sand has shifted, and I wear fringe tops instead,” Jackson said.

She’s heartsick as a shoe-lover who recently gave up high heels. But the signature big black hair is still very much part of the look, as is the flawless makeup.

“I think that’s my goal: Give them some fringe and the hair and do the makeup as professional looking as you can — lots of sparkles. It’s kind of what I did in the beginning,” she said.

A few other tidbits to know about Jackson: The Oklahoma native got her start in the business with the strong support from her parents after she won a local talent contest in 1952. She performed on a daily show through her high school years and even recorded some songs but was turned down to sign with Capital because she was so young. Instead she signed with Decca.

After insisting on finishing high school first, she took to the road with her dad as her road manager. She signed with Capitol in 1956 and stayed with that company through the early 1970s. She married IBM supervisor Wendell Goodman in 1961. “After we got married we knew we didn’t want to be apart. Being the good little wife, I gave him a choice: I could just quit traveling and be a housewife and he could have his career,” Jackson said. “Fortunately, for me at least, he chose my career. He said ‘It looks like a lot more fun and glamorous than sitting in a room and working with a bunch of computers.’”

She switched to gospel after the two became Christians. But after 15 years she longed for a larger stage and returned to her country and rockabilly music.

For next week’s show, fans can expect a mix of all of it, plus a yodel for good measure. “I like to think of it as a night of entertainment,” Jackson said.

“So many girls afterward will tell me, ‘You’re an inspiration to me,’” she said. “I don’t know what all that means, but if I can be then that’s what I want to do.”


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