Wanda Jackson doesn’t just have a way with a tune and style, she’s also pretty good at attracting icons.
As a teen breaking out in the music industry back in the mid-50s, the Oklahoma City native caught the ear and eye of Elvis Presley.
“That was a big turning point for me,” Jackson said. “I was a country singer until Elvis exposed me to rockabilly and that changed everything for me. Rockabilly was new and exciting.”
Jackson, 73, started riding the rockabilly revival wave over recent years. While performing at a bowling alley five-years ago in Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen slipped into the cozy venue to catch Jackson.
“It’s always great to have people come out to see you whether they’re famous or not,” Jackson said. “I’ve been really fortunate.”
The latest singer of considerable acclaim to pay homage to Jackson is venerable White Stripes/Raconteuer visionary Jack White. Jackson, who produced Loretta Lynn’s Grammy winning disc ‘Van Lear Rose,’ in 2004, produced and played on Jackson’s latest album, ‘The Party Ain’t Over,’ which dropped three weeks ago.
Jackson covers Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ and absolutely nails the songs. She’s also on fine form while offering a terrific version of the Andrews Sisters’ ‘Drinking Rum and Coca Cola.’
“It’s nice when someone takes an interest in you,” Jackson said. “Working with him (White) is just great. I’ve been very fortunate with this. That all goes back to Elvis.”
Presley helped Jackson become a rockabilly queen. She recorded the Presley hit ‘Let’s Have a Party’ in 1960
“That was a hit in so many places,” Jackson said. “That helped get things rolling for me.”
Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, scored a hit with ‘Fujiyama Mama,’ which became a smash in Japan. “I got so big in Japan,” Jackson says. “It’s still an anthem over there.”
But Jackson, who will perform Tuesday at the World Café Live, doesn’t have to go to Asia for adoration. She has a cult of fans here, due in part to another singer-songwriter. “I went out with Rosie Flores in 1995 for a few weeks and that helped me connect with a younger group of fans,” Jackson said. “It was like breaking all over again. So I continued to tour and there is nothing more I appreciate than being able to go out before an audience.”
A number of musical luminaries helped Jackson’s career but she owes much of her success to her supportive parents.
“I was introduced to country music thanks to my father,” Jackson said. “He taught me how to play guitar and we used to sing together. My daddy was so excited that I liked the music that he liked. He was instrumental, not just in terms of encouragement but he showed me how the business works. He even quit his job after I got out of school in order to travel with me. My mother made my outfits I wore onstage. I wouldn’t have made it without them.”
Jackson, who was cool enough to hang with the big boys during the ‘50s when equality was just a notion, still has a swagger about her when she takes the stage.
“I think it’s that I just have fun when I get up there,” Jackson said. “I go up there and perform to the best of my ability. That goes back to what my daddy always told me, which was to show up on time and do your best. That’s all I can do.”