Wanda Jackson Parties On
Some in Nashville say Miss Wanda Jackson is the predecessor for the like of Joplin, Pat Benatar, Lady Gaga and others. Jackson says “I don’t know what got into me once I hit the stage”, it was a music party.
At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a 52-year-old, black and white clip plays over and over again, as visitors stop to gawk. The footage shows a 21-year-old Wanda Jackson strumming, shimmying in a spaghetti-strap dress and singing “Hard Headed Woman” on the television show Town Hall Party.
“It’s one of the most popular items in the entire museum, and it has been for a decade now,” says the museum’s Michael Gray, a music historian. “Some visitors who aren’t familiar with who she is see that video and then go to the store and ask for her CDs.”
When she taped Town Hall Party, Jackson was an aberration and a pioneer. She was the most prominent female rockabilly artist of her time, blending country roots and R&B energy like a distaff Elvis Presley. Now, as she prepares to release her new album, The Party Ain’t Over, produced by Jack White on his Third Man Records label, she is a 73-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who smiles at the memory of her 1950s days.
“I was quite the young lady, with gloves and hats,” she says, sitting on a couch at the Third Man offices in Nashville. “And then I’d get onstage and I’d change.”
That transformation, from quiet young woman to provocative dervish, had a ripple effect in popular music.
“Janis Joplin, Pat Benatar, even Lady Gaga owe something to Wanda Jackson,” says music historian and critic Rich Kienzle, who wrote the liner notes for Jackson’s 1990 Rockin’ the Country retrospective album. “She opened the door for everybody else because she had a sense not only of the musical but also of the visual. There were other great female rockers around that time, but Wanda projected this blend of sexuality and glamour on top of her vocals that was something no one else could touch”.