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The Fabulous Mrs. Wanda Jackson

by Hana Frenette

She’s recorded numerous country hits, dated Elvis and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Recently, 73-year-old first lady of rockabilly Wanda Jackson took some time out to discuss Elvis’s nerves, her daddy’s guitar lessons and Jack White’s sweet old soul.

IN: Have you ever played in Pensacola before?
WJ: I love to play in Florida. I think I did some work over near Pensacola very early on, maybe when I toured with Elvis, or on a gospel tour.

IN: For your latest album, “The Party Ain’t Over,” you worked with Jack White (and The Third Man Records Band). How did that collaboration come about and what was it like working with Jack?
WJ: It came about in a strange way. I was talking with my husband and Jim (her publicist) and a friend of ours over dinner one night about what kind of album I’d like to do. We were thinking about something called “Wanda and Friends” that would be collaborations with people I’ve influenced and people who might be glad to work with me. The friend of ours said to me, ‘If you do that, you make sure to call Jack White, he’s a big fan of your music.’ My publicist is a young man, and fearless. He called up Jack and asked him if he’d like to sing a duet on the possible “Friends” album. He said, no, he didn’t. Jack said, ‘I think there ought to be a law against making albums like that.’ He did not want to sing a duet with me, but he said he was interested in recording me. I’d barely heard of him, and I knew he was a big rock star, and I was starting to get a little nervous. I thought, why would a big rock star want to record me?

IN: What made you decide to move forward with the album?
WJ: Jack offered a deal to do a single, or an album, and we talked about the material, and he said that he didn’t want to change me, or my sound, and then I started to relax a little. We started exchanging ideas for songs, and then he got the tracks together. We worked together just fine. He’s a young man with an old soul. He helped me. He just wanted more and more. More of the real Wanda Jackson out of me. For one of the first shows for the new album we played in NYC. Jack was there to play with me and I thought I was actually opening for him. He looked at me straight and said, ‘You’re not opening for me, you’re the star!’ He’s so humble and sweet. I just love him.

IN: I’ve seen some of the performances promoting the new album and it looks like you and the Third Man Records Band are having so much fun on stage.
WJ: The band was very fun to work with, a real high ball of energy. We would goof around.  Jack would bump me in the butt with his guitar and I would pretend to strangle him.

IN: Will you be bringing the same band with you to DeLuna Fest?
WJ: I’ve got wonderful bands all across the country. People really get the best of the music. I think I’ll be bringing the Nashville Hi-Dollars with me, but I’m still not completely sure. Maybe you could look it up and let me know!

IN: You’ve been singing since you were very young. How did you get started?
WJ: I’ve been recording since my junior year of high school. I had one song go into the top 10 and then another one make it into the top 20 on the country stations in town. I couldn’t travel because I was still in school. When I graduated, my dad said he would go on tour with me, if that’s what I had my sights set on. He dropped his work, and my mother kept her job. We got a booking agent. We didn’t know anything about touring. Then we met Bob Neel, and asked him if he wanted to book me, and he said yes he did. He was also booking a young man about my age named Elvis.

IN: You dated and worked with Elvis in the 50s and you said he pushed you toward the newer rockabilly sound of the time. What do you think is the most important thing you took away from working with Elvis?
WJ: I think that would be having fun on stage. He was just as nervous as he could be before a show.  I’d ask him why he got so nervous and he’d wring his hands and I’d say, ‘All these people love you!’ And he said, ‘But they’ve never seen me perform live, and I don’t want to disappoint them.’ That really endeared him to me. Gosh, he has so much fun. My daddy was a good person to guide me, too. He told me, if you have fun, they’ll have fun. I’ve always tried to keep that in my mind. You learn through the years not to take yourself so seriously.

IN: It was your father who taught you how to play guitar, wasn’t it?
WJ: Yes, and of course he just played chords. As soon as I learned to pick some chords, that was enough for me. I remember learning Jimmy Rogers “The Singing Brakeman” and some other popular songs of the day. They eventually started calling the music Country and Western. How you can remember things from when you were so young.

IN: It is amazing what the brain can retain. We are very excited for your performance and will see you at DeLuna!
WJ: Yes! I am very much looking forward to it. See you all there. {in}

WANDA JACKSON at DELUNA FEST
WHEN: 5:15-6:15 p.m., Friday, Oct. 14
WHERE: Gulf Winds Stage