on 16 May 2009
This may sound fairly dramatic, but to my mind Wanda Jackson is one of the all time best female vocalists. Born in 1937, she grew up in Oklahoma and on winning a talent show in her teens, she was given her own local radio programme. Even at school age, she was clearly talented.
Her recording career began in at age 17 in 1954, primarily recording Country music, before switching to Rock `n' Roll. She would juggle both genres and satisfy both camps of her fan base by putting a Country song on one side of a single and a Rockabilly number on the other. Many artists did this at the time as nobody knew how long Rockabilly/Rock `n' Roll would last.
As can be seen on early TV appearances in the 50s (see YouTube), Wanda was almost too hot to handle - beautiful, sassy, talented, and armed with incredible stage presence (not to mention swinging hips!), she was a real first and incredibly different. It's surprising but true that what Shania Twain was doing in the late 90s - combining glamour with talent and a flirtatious stage persona - Wanda Jackson was doing forty years previously.
Beginning with her Capitol debut "I Gotta Know" from 1956, the first disc - comprising her Country recordings - gets things off to a flying start. It is a fitting opener as it showcases both of this young singer/guitarist's styles. At 19, her voice was mature and strong - and here she is singing a classic. The number begins as a Country waltz before launching into Rock 'n' Roll and back again into slow-tempo Country.
Most of her best Country hits are gathered on the first disc, including her 1961 signature hit "Right Or Wrong", which she penned herself. Other classics such as "In the Middle of a Heartache", "The Box It Came In", "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine", "A Girl Don't Have to Drink to Have Fun", "My Big Iron Skillet" and many, many more brilliant songs pervade this disc.
Her style here is Traditional Country, similar to Loretta or Connie Smith, and with dashes of Patsy-esque torch pop. Talking of whom, Wanda's 1972 recording of "Crazy" is, in my opinion, superior to Clines' and is one of Wanda's very best performances; her vocals are soft and perfectly nuanced.
The second disc reveals her Rock 'n' Roll side. Wanda was and still is known as "The Queen of Rockabilly" (in other words, early Rock 'n' Roll). "Let's Have a Party" was an Elvis cover which became one of Wanda's biggest hits. Her raucous performance are sublime, but is surpassed by "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" from 1956 and "Money Honey" from 1959.
Even by this point of the disc, it is clear to the listener what a versatile vocalist Wanda Jackson is; a notion underlined with vibrant performances of Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Memphis Tennessee"; Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up"; Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't", Jerry Lee's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On" and more besides.
There are some truly great performances here: masterpieces of the period. Her recordings of "Hard Headed Woman", "Stupid Cupid", "My Baby Left Me", "Lonely Weekends" and her Japanese Number 1 "Fujiyama Mama", plus more, make for truly inspiring listening. The recording quality is startlingly fresh and could have almost been recorded last week.
Put simply, this album is an absolute bargain, and upon hearing it many times, I earned enough money selling on eBay to purchase her two extensive Bear Family box sets.
Upon conversion to Christianity in 1972, Wanda turned her attention to Gospel Music for the remaining decade. The European revival for Rockabilly in the 80s and 90s reignited the music community's interest in her and she now has younger generations - including me, I'm 20 - listening to and loving her fabulous music. She deserved to be a bigger star than she was -and by that I mean as big as Elvis, who she actually courted in 1955 and who encouraged her to record Rockabilly in the first place. Many comparisons have been made between the two, but if ever there was a male counterpart to Wanda Jackson, it would be Little Richard, one of her idols of the period.
Wanda has been inducted into the Country, Gospel and Rockabilly Hall of Fames respectively, and in early 2009 was finally inducted into the Rock `n' Roll Hall of Fame too. Having recorded Rockabilly, Country, Rock 'n' Roll, Pop and Gospel, such memberships in these Halls can only cement her position as one of the most versatile female artists in popular music history. Right or Wrong, that's what she is.