Rockabilly Legend Wanda Jackson: "I Do Music People Like"

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photos courtesy of Jon Hensley Management
Wanda Jackson has had a career most musicians would envy. The "Queen of Rockabilly" has entertained audiences for decades with such songs as "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad," "Hard Headed Woman" and "Fujiyama Mama," displaying an originality and bravado that helped pave the way for artists as diverse as Jack White, Adele and Tanya Tucker.

In 1965, Jackson shifted gears into country, releasing songs like "Big Iron Skillet" and "Earl Had to Die" that left a mark on latter-day stars such as Pam Tillis and Rosie Flores (with whom Jackson recorded and toured in 1995). She recorded a few gospel records in the '70s, and experienced a popularity surge in the '80s when European revivalists sought her out and invited Jackson to play country and rockabilly festivals, which she has continued to do.

Rocks Off recently spoke with the Oklahoma-dwelling legend about her brand-new album, Unfinished Business, touring with Adele and her legacy.

Rocks Off: What's been key to your having such a long and illustrious career?

WJ: Well, I think I do the music that the people like. I do music that continues to live on and on. It takes on a life of its own. If you were the first girl to do it, it works pretty well. I kind of lucked out on that one I guess (laughs). I'm enjoying it.

RO: Your latest album is called Unfinished Business -- a collection of new songs and covers of Etta James and Woody Guthrie, among others. What made you decide to cover such artists?

WJ: The young man that produced the album [Justin Townes Earle] chose the songs. He sent me a lot of songs to go through. I'd been quite busy and I didn't know for sure when I was gonna do my next session.

I liked everything that he picked out. We both had the same idea of going back to my roots - the rockabilly. Even though they're more current -- they're more rockabilly, country, gospel and blues. I was more than happy to do that.

RO: What was it like working with Justin?

WJ: He was very easy to work with. We had the same ideas and liked the same songs. He's more into country and alternative music, so he was familiar with my music even though he's young himself -- just like Jack White was. He's [White] been a fan of mine since he was a teenager. Both of them knew where I was coming from, and they made it easy to work with them.

I was happy with Justin. I had never met him, but we talked on the phone and discussed the album. I could tell he was going to be easy to get along with. I was so happy that a young, up-and-coming man like him was interested in taking time out of his schedule to record me. I think I'm the first one, other than his own records, that he's ever produced. He wanted to take me on, so I said, "OK, let's go for it."

RO: Another song that caught my attention from your latest album was "Two Hands," a gospel song infused with rockabilly. How has your faith influenced you as a whole?

WJ: It definitely affects you as a whole. Your whole life takes on a different perspective. Life is much easier when you become a Christian as far as your priorities, which get set up right. It makes a world of difference. So it certainly influenced me.

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