Wanda Jackson – A Legend; Pure and Simple. Part One

Elvis

Gladys and Vernon Presley‘s son had many monikers.  Movie star,  Elvis ‘the Pelvis’ and ‘The King of Rock n Roll’ – to name but three very important ones. ‘Wanda Jackson‘s boyfriend’ was also a name Elvis toted for a while. Few know it – everyone is impressed when it is discovered…

For Wanda Lavonne Jackson of Maud, Oklahoma –  it was a special time for both her personally and for the start of her musical career.

wandaelvis
Wanda and Elvis

“I worked with Elvis from the summer of ’55 to ’57.” Says Wanda. ” I did not do every tour with him but I did do some very long tours with him. Don’t forget – I was very excited at that time to start my own career. We dated and liked each other and all, we had a sweet friendship and cared for each other deeply. At that time there was Jerry Lee Lewis, myself, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbinson – a bunch of guys, we all toured together. All of us became very close friends and cheered each other on as our records began to sell.”

Jackson continues …

“As the years went on, Elvis and I did not keep in touch but I followed his career like everyone else. He got so big – he was in a different world. Like everyone else, I was saddened by what happened to him at the end but I don’t think anyone could have saved him. It is funny – back in the beginning when Elvis starting getting popular and the girls were grabbing him and everything, my Father ( who was Wanda’s manager at the time) said he would have a miserable life. He said that Elvis won’t be able to go out and lead a normal life. My Dad was exactly right …”

Wanda and the rest of the people in question, the ‘men’ in her life, did not realize at the time they were starting something special. Little did they know, they were setting the groundwork for future generations of rockers. They were the pioneers of Rock n Roll …

“All of us were young and just doing our thing, just having fun.” Explains Jackson form her home in Oklahoma City.” At that time, nobody understood young people and they were trying to make it bad what we were doing. They made it devilish – which, of course, it was not. We had no idea what we were starting and I guess we were the pioneers. Myself, I have the distinction of being the first woman in Rockabilly. It is something that makes me proud.”

wanda5Wanda Jackson may be known as the first lady of Rockabilly yet funny enough – it was country music where she enjoyed most of her success starting in the early sixties. A genre of music which explains the roots of Wanda’s career.

“I pretty much gave up on Rock n Roll.” Explains the seventy-five year old Grandmother. ” I could not get any airplay. I did not get my first hit ( in Rock)  until 1960 ( Let’s Have a Party) and I started recording in 1956. I just thought -well, they are not going to play my records and if the fans cannot hear them – they won’t buy them. I switched to country to make some money. I would often make side A on my record a Country song and side B a Rockabilly song. That way I got the best of both worlds and Country music kept me afloat.”

Jackson’s decision paid immediate dividends …

Her early sixties country songs such as “Right or Wrong” and “In The Middle of a Heartache”, both earned her spots in the top ten on the Country charts as well as stays in the Top Forty Pop charts.  Her new -found popularity, forcing Capitol Records to re-release her past Rockabilly / Rocks songs and allow Wanda the freedom to record one last disc for the company. ‘Two Sides of Wanda’ showcased Jackson’s genius as a duel Country and Rock performer. It was a mixture of both genres and has left a permanent mark in the history of music. In 1965, Jackson made the move to country music with an exclamation point. She had a string of Top 40 hits during the next ten years including “Tears Will Be the Chaser For Your Wine” and “The Box it Came In”. Just two examples of what would be many Top Forty hits.

wanda4Jackson was not finished there however.

Her soul somewhat incomplete until she commenced the next chapter in her life. A integration of Gospel music into her repertoire. A genre which is part of the foundation of popular music. ..

‘I became a Christian and was very enthused about that.” Explains Wanda. “The music industry continued to change and was in turmoil really since 1956 on through.  I never intended to divorce Country music – I just wanted to add Gospel.  Capitol did not want it and  they allowed me to  record only one album in Gospel so by my choice – I decided to walk away. I wanted to pursue a more Gospel – oriented career because that’s where my heart was at the time and still is …”

Jackson’s Mother was a devout Christian yet her Father did not ape his partner’s denomination. Her Dad was very encouraging and believed Christianity was the right thing to do although he did not practice it. Wanda also wanted to raise her children in that environment and believes that accepting the Lord in her life in 1971 – is the reason that good things have come her way every since. Things like working with one of Rock’s biggest names – Jack White.

Wanda-Jackson-and-Jack-White1

Please stay tuned for Part Two …

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