Wanda Jackson: rockabilly's queen 

Legend to headline Rebel Weekend

The 14th Annual Rockabilly Rebel Weekend
June 22-24
Clarion Waterfront Hotel
www.IndyRoadRockets.com

In 1955, Wanda Jackson was an up-and-coming country singer. That year, while on tour, she met another young performer, who would eventually convince her to try a new musical genre: rockabilly.

The other singer was Elvis Presley, and the two youngsters became friends while on the tour. They even dated for a while — Jackson still has a ring that Elvis gave her 51 years ago.

“Elvis told me that I should try to do rockabilly,” Jackson recalled during a recent phone conversation. “I told him I didn’t think I could do it. But Elvis believed that I could. And I’m glad I took his advice.”

Jackson was one of the first female rockabilly artists, and has nothing but fond memories of the early days of her career.
“I toured with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis,” Jackson pointed out. “I was the only girl on the tour because there were not that many girls at that time. I was one of the first five women to record country music.

“We were all teen-agers — I think Elvis had just turned 20 — we were all single, and our careers were going up, up, up. We would do these ‘wild’ songs, but we weren’t like that at all!”

Earlier this year, Jackson released I Remember Elvis, a tribute album to her old friend that features her covers of Presley songs, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.” This project is one that the Oklahoma City native had wanted to do for a long time.

“I wanted to do songs of Elvis’ from his Sun Records days,” Jackson admitted. “A lot of those songs I watched him perform in concert, from the side of the stage.”

Jackson’s own resume includes numerous rockabilly hits, including “Mean Mean Man,” “Hard Headed Woman,” “Let’s Have A Party” and “Fujiyama Mama,” a song that was No. 1 in Japan in the early ’60s.

In 1985, a record label in Scandinavia contacted Jackson, and she went back into the studio, and back on the road, mostly in Europe. Her overseas tours included country music festivals where rockabilly fans came out in droves to see this living legend.

“As time passed, the people who came to see me at these shows were asking more and more for the rockabilly songs. It was amazing. I did the shows, met the people and signed a lot of copies of my old vinyl albums. Then, around 1995, a rockabilly revival started here in the states, so I started doing more shows here in this country.

“In 1995, I sang with Rosie Flores, who is of the new generation of rockabilly artists, on an album she recorded. Well, a new generation of people heard me on Rosie’s album, and they found out that I was still alive! (laughs)”

An indication of Jackson’s influence on musicians who came along after her is the CD Heart Trouble (CMH Records), a release that features duets with Flores, Dave Alvin, The Cadillac Angels and another Elvis — Costello.

“When the record company announced it was going to do the album Heart Trouble, a lot of artists who were big in rock music called and volunteered to do the project — guys like Dave Alvin and Elvis Costello.

“One day, I brought Elvis Costello my first boxed set, and he told me that he already had it! I told him that now he would have an autographed copy of that boxed set!”

Costello, who wrote the liner notes for I Remember Elvis, has launched a campaign to get Jackson inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Elvis is appalled that I’m not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It really doesn’t bother me that much. I feel that I was a good influence, that I gave girls the freedom to go out and do it [music], and do it as good as the guys!”

When asked about the staying power of rockabilly music, Jackson, 68, paused, and responded, “The music has changed a lot, as expected. I think it was the simplicity of the songs we did back then that have helped them to live on after all these years. Young people will always want to dance, and to live in a simpler time, like it was when we were growing up.”

The 14th Annual Rockabilly Rebel Weekend will be held June 22-24 at the Clarion Waterfront Hotel, 2930 Waterfront Parkway West Drive. Events include the Seventh Annual Road Rocket Rumble Car Show and performances by Wanda Jackson and other artists, including Art Adams, Buck Stevens, Ace Brown & His Helldrivers, The Freightliners and The Lustre Kings. Tickets are Thursday, $25; Friday, $30; and Saturday, $35. For more information, go to www.IndyRoadRockets.com.

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