Wanda Jackson is a true legend. Originally a country singer, Jackson has been baring her soul through song since the mid ‘50s. Luckily, her good friend Elvis convinced her try her hand at rock n’ roll, and from that moment on, Jackson and the rest of world would never be the same.
Known as “The First Lady of Rock n’ Roll” and “The Queen of Rockabilly,” Jackson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 and has sustained a career through seven decades. I had the honor of interviewing Wanda, and getting her thoughts on today’s music, working with Jack White and what actress would be best suited to play her if they ever turn her life story into a movie.
SLUG: What are your thoughts on your new record and working with Jack White?
Wanda Jackson: That’s a big question … where do I start. I was quite excited to know a young man like Jack White was interested in working with me, and I knew he had produced a very successful record with my friend Loretta Lynn a few years back. I began to pick up some of his albums and listen to his stuff and I got worried that he might want me to sound like some of his stuff, but when we started exchanging songs I was relieved when I knew some of the songs he was suggesting. There was one song I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do and that was Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m no Good.” I said to Jack, ‘You know I’m not going to sing the second verse she’s got on there.’ Jack’s answer was, ‘Oh I didn’t expect you to,’ and he had already rewritten a softer version for me, and he told me,‘We gotta keep things age appropriate here.’ He really pushed me through the entire record and I said to him when we were all done, ‘I think you’ve pushed me into the 21st century.’
SLUG: What have your recent live shows been like?
Jackson: My audience has been getting younger since about 20 years ago, when the revival of ‘50s rock n’ roll started happening. At first it was in Europe and Scandinavia in the late ‘80s, and it wasn’t until 1995 that I recorded and toured with Rosie Flores, she really introduced me to the new generation. They’re beautiful young people that are so enthusiastic about my music and it’s a lot of fun to play for them.
SLUG: What are your thoughts on the young kids that are finding out about you?
Jackson: Well I hope this sounds the way I mean it, but I’d rather see kids listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry than a lot of what kids are listening to now. The music from my era is music that will make you smile and uplift your mood, and I hate to say it, but a lot of what I hear today sounds like noise.
SLUG: Who do you like to listen to?
Jackson: I’m a big fan of country music, but it seems since the ‘90s everything sounds so pop oriented that there’s not much current country that I listen to. I like Vince Gill and Dwight Yoakam, but few things recently have caught my ear.
SLUG: Is there anything you haven’t done in your career that you would like to do?
Jackson: Well early on I used to think I wanted to try to be an actress, but I never wanted to take the time away from music to train and I probably didn’t have the discipline for it, but when you can make your livin’ and a pretty good livin’ doing what you love to do you can’t be any happier than that.
SLUG: You’re an amazing live performer and you’ve seen all of the greats. Who sticks out in your mind as an amazing live entertainer?
Jackson: Well there’s so many. Elvis always had so much fun on stage, and that’s what I always took from him, to not take yourself so seriously. It’s not about you it’s about those people out there.
SLUG: What’s next for you?
Jackson: Well we’ve been working on a documentary called The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice, for awhile now and hopefully we’ll have that airing on the Smithsonian channel sometime this year. I’m also working on a book, a biography, so once that’s done who knows—maybe they’ll make a movie out of it.
SLUG: Who do you think should play you?
Wanda: It would have to be Ashley Judd, I think she’d be great.
The music industry swallows up careers and spits them out on a daily basis, so when you examine Jackson’s life span as a performer, its nothing short of astonishing. She was there for the birth of rock n’ roll and she has carried the untainted torch ever since. I hope, for their sake, that kids are still listening to Wanda Jackson 100 years from now. Wanda Jackson will perform at the State Room in Salt Lake City on March 30.