Wanda Jackson performing during 2011 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club on May 1, 2011 in Indio, Calif.
Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson was in San Diego recently, serving as the opening act on a makeup date that red-hot pop songstress Adele canceled earlier in the season.
On Saturday, Jackson will return to co-headline (with Junior Brown) the So. Cal. Hellbilly Fest Car and Bike Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The wide discrepancy between those two gigs is indicative of Jackson’s career -- one that started in close proximity to the birth of rock & roll and has continued through substantial forays into rockabilly, country, gospel, and even songs in different languages. The 73-year-old singer was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 and has been making headlines again in the last three years through her partnership with ex-White Stripes bandleader Jack White. Much like he did with Loretta Lynn a few years before, White brought Jackson back to her roots, produced an album with her and helped introduce the pioneering star to an entirely new audience. When I spoke with the indomitable and legendary songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from her home in Oklahoma City recently, she assured me that this current revival of her storied career is merely an extension of one that started quite a few years ago.
SM: And then you got a call from Jack White.
WJ: These last three years working with Jack -- and being able to record an album with him -- has really been sensational. And I never could have expected it. I was thrilled in 2009 to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and I thought that was probably the icing on the cake. I thought that would be it, but then we turned right around and had the opportunity to record with a young man like Jack. Just like that, we had a whole new audience, we had new songs, we had a new, fresh sound, and it’s all really been quite exciting.
SM: Did it surprise you Jack was so passionate about what you do?
WJ: I already knew of some of the bigger artists who had told me that I had influenced them or encouraged them to hang onto their dreams -- people like Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Tanya Tucker and Cyndi Lauper. I was used to that, but with Jack being so young, it just kind of threw me. I mean, he’s in his 30s -- he’s younger than my kids. And he’s been a fan of mine all this time? I was quite flattered. But it’s a mutual admiration society. We have fun working together.
SM: I guess that’s why they call you the Queen.
WJ: Well, I don’t know many women who don’t dream of being a queen of some sort, and there’s nothing bad about that. But I really like the title of First Lady of Rock & Roll because that’s rock & roll. That’s the beginning of it all, and that’s what I did. But I like all of the things they call me.