January 23, 2011


The Queen of Rockabilly Returns: Wanda Jackson, a '50s music pioneer, gets a boost from rocker Jack White; covering Amy Winehouse (JOHN JURGENSEN, 1/21/11, WSJ)

More than 50 years ago, Ms. Jackson became a rock-'n'-roll pioneer with that throaty growl, an incongruously sweet singing voice and daring outfits that got her into trouble at the Grand Ole Opry. Despite a sound that helped define her genre, with blistering records including "Let's Have a Party" and "Mean Mean Man," Ms. Jackson is little known among casual rock fans.

Over the decades, however, waves of latter-day garage rockers have discovered her, prizing her raw edge and her role in rock's origin story. As a teen country singer from Oklahoma, she dated a young Elvis Presley and, with his urging, adopted his revved-up sound. This cachet has kept her working the road about 150 days a year, especially in Europe.

Now, one of her admirers has orchestrated a project that is pumping fresh blood into Ms. Jackson's living-legend act. Jack White, the leader of the White Stripes and at age 35 one of the most influential rock artists of his generation, produced Ms. Jackson's latest album, which will be released next Tuesday. The 11 songs on "The Party Ain't Over" showcase the range of styles she has worked in, from country blues ("Busted," written by Harlan Howard) to gospel ("Dust on the Bible," co-written by Johnny and Walter Bailes). The album features Mr. White on guitar and his handpicked band.

Ms. Jackson says she had cold feet about the project at first. She blanched at some of the songs Mr. White sent for her consideration, including "You Know That I'm No Good" by the British retro-soul bad girl Amy Winehouse. "I can't do this kind of material," Ms. Jackson recalled saying. Wearing a zebra-print shirt and glittering earrings, she gestured to her manager—and husband of 50 years—Wendell Goodman, sitting next to her in her publicist's office in New York last fall. "He drug me kicking and screaming into the studio."

Rockabilly Queen Prolongs Her Party (MELENA RYZIK, 1/21/11, NY Times)
Since she was discovered at 15 in Oklahoma City, Ms. Jackson’s career has been etched by men: Hank Thompson, the country star who got her signed after hearing her on local radio; Elvis, who encouraged her to wield her singular voice — a graveled purr — in rock instead of country; Wendell Goodman, her husband of 50 years, her tour manager and constant companion; and now Mr. White. But through it all she has become a shimmying emblem of female independence in a male-dominated industry, testing boundaries with her forward style and lyrics about mean men and hard-headed women (and those are the love songs). As she allowed, winkingly, at the Knitting Factory show, “No wonder I have a bad-girl reputation.”

Terry Stewart, the president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said, “She’s still working sort of a wildcat sound, and she had it as a young lady, which was pretty much unheard of at the time.” Vouched for by the likes of Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen, Ms. Jackson was inducted in 2009 as an early influencer, and she will be a spokeswoman for the museum’s “Women in Rock” exhibition, opening in May. And she continues to tour, as many as 120 dates a year in the United States and abroad. (Mr. White will join her for a few concerts this year; she plays the Bowery Ballroom in New York on Feb. 24.) “They all point to her as the source of the Nile on this stuff,” Mr. Stewart said of early rock fans.”

For Ms. Jackson the album with Mr. White is the latest surprise in a career full of them. “You can’t hardly name anything that I haven’t experienced somewhere along the way,” she said in a recent interview in a quiet Midtown hotel. Her husband sat nearby, typing on a computer, pausing to offer a cough drop. Ms. Jackson wore gray slacks, a gray cardigan, and a gray sequined top — she favors sparkly — and her blue eyes were sharp. “I always liked fishnets,” she said, complimenting a reporter’s. Her taste can be grandma-sweet too; she called Mr. White “so cute.”

“He’s not one of these sloppy dressers,” she explained. “I said, I’d like to just take you home, Jack, and set you up on the mantel on my fireplace and just get to see you when I walk by.”

She knew his name mostly from a 2004 record he produced for Ms. Lynn, “Van Lear Rose,” which was well received and earned two Grammys. But she was not a fan of the White Stripes. “I told Jack too, I love him, but that type of music, I just don’t relate to it,” Ms. Jackson said. “It kind of goes over my head.”

Initially Ms. Jackson and her husband hoped to make a Sinatra-and-friends-style duet record. “I think those kind of albums should be made illegal, they are such a bad idea,” Mr. White wrote in an e-mail. Instead he preferred to get Ms. Jackson in the studio at his home in Nashville, recording an album of her own.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2011 8:18 AM
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