I bet every Wanda Jackson fan can remember where they were when they first heard her.
My good friend Bryan Stuart and I were riding up U.S. 67 after midnight, sometime in the mid-Eighties, on the way to his home in Jacksonville from Little Rock. Of course, we had the radio on–Arkansas when it’s late at night, you know. We’d just witnessed a classic show–Gatemouth Brown, with Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks–and we were in very high spirits. Suddenly, a feral voice ripped a hole in our post-concert meditation:
Some people like to rock
Some people like to roll
But movin’ and groovin’s
Gonna satisfy my soul!
I was like, “Fuck!”; I like to avoid degrading the language, but that is what I was like. At that point in my life, I was still foolishly believing I knew what I needed to know about rock and roll history (bulletin: I still don’t). Before it’d started, the song was over–ahhh, rockabilly–and like thunder claps after lightning cuts the skies, our minds were cuffed in the ensuing silence.
“Who the hell was that?”
I didn’t know, and I don’t think Bryan did. Oddly, I was sure the singer was black*, though today she doesn’t sound at all that way to me–as if one can always tell. Eventually, some way, the Queen of Rockabilly, the Wildcat of Maud (Oklahoma), Ms. Wanda Jackson, was revealed to me, and she’s been a fixture on my turntables ever since. Singing on the radio before Elvis did, forced by the Opry to cover her shoulders (she never went back), writing songs in class instead of doing homework, deliberately aiming to bring a Marilyn Monroe-influenced sexual shock to the early rock and roll stage, she is a true heroine–she did all that before she’d turned 19.@
This all comes to mind because I’m engrossed in her excellent new autobiography Every Night is Saturday Night. It’s charming, spunky, and revelatory–and you forget it’s a still-active octogenarian telling you the story, one of the last titans still standing.
*Oddly, Wanda is described on her Wikipedia page as belonging to the genre of “black country rock.” But I get that. And by the way, did you know that the Jackson classic “Fujiyama Mama” was a cover version?
@Nicole and I were lucky enough to see Wanda play here in Columbia in 1998, in the old parking lot of Shakespeare’s Pizza, with Robbie Fulks opening. She was very high energy–and she was 60 then!
SZA: CTRL–As I told my students last week, it is great time to be alive if you’re an r&b fan. This young lady can really write–in some ways, it’s one of the most confessional r&b recordings ever–and she has an ear for settings that is white acute. A St. Louis, Missouri, product.
The Lester Young Trio–1944. Prez in amazing form (check the stunning “I’ve Found a New Baby”!), and Nat King Cole’s very fleet and fluent pianistics provide a bracing contrast to Young’s laconic lines.