Lets Have a Party With the Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Wanda Jackson
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Wanda Jackson born on October. 20, 1937, in Maud, Oklahoma, and from a young age was encouraged to play music by her father, himself a musician. She began singing professionally while still in high school and recorded a few singles for Capitol Records, including “You Can’t Have My Love,” a 1954 duet with Billy Gray that reached No. 8 on the country chart. Jackson was turned down for a deal with Capitol Records; undeterred, she signed with Decca Records instead.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) STUDIO Photo of Wanda JACKSON, Wanda Jackson & Her Party Time.

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It wasn’t until after she graduated from high school that Jackson went on the road to tour. She was often paired with another aspiring star, Elvis Presley, who she dated briefly and who encouraged her to sing rockabilly — an early style of rock ’n’ roll that blends country music with rhythm and blues. Her parents were heavily involved in her tour, with her father acting as manager and her mother designing all of Jackson’s signature glamorous outfits. 

In 1956, she finally signed with Capitol, and her single “I Gotta Know” peaked at No. 15. Along with other smaller hits, Jackson also recorded “Fujiyama Mama,” which hit No. 1 in Japan and led to her touring the country in 1959. But in 1960, she scored a U.S. Top 40 pop hit with “Let’s Have a Party,” previously recorded by Presley. This was followed by country songs “Right or Wrong,” which peaked at No. 9 (and its B-side, “Funnel of Love”), and “In the Middle of a Heartache,” at No. 6. Her success led Capitol to release some of her earlier material, and in 1963 she recorded her album Two Sides of Wanda, which earned Jackson her first Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

As rockabilly faded from public popularity, Jackson switched to more traditional country music. In 1966, she had two songs in the country Top 20 — “Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine” and “The Box It Came In.” Soon she cultivated an impassioned persona of a woman scorned, which included the release of the single “My Big Iron Skillet.” In 1970 she released “A Woman Lives for Love” — which gave her a second Grammy nomination — and “Fancy Satin Pillows.” 

After dipping her toe into gospel music, Jackson came back to rockabilly with a vengeance in the ’80s and ’90s. She released the album Rockabilly Fever in 1984 (re-issued as Rock ’n’ Roll Away Your Blues in 1986). Jackson continued touring throughout the 2000s and even teamed up with Jack White for an album, The Party Ain’t Over (2011). She released the album Unfinished Business in 2012 before announcing her retirement from live performing in 2019 following a stroke, among other health issues. Her songs are frequently covered by other artists — including Cyndi Lauper, Rosanne Cash and Rosie Flores — and she is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence. Recently she was honored with a permanent portrait of herself at the Oklahoma state capital.

Queens of Country
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Queens of Country

November 2019

Get your toes-tapping as we give a nod to the queens of classic country music.

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