Last week the wonderful Wanda Jackson was in Melbourne town for two gigs and I must say I am very pleased that I accidentally bought tickets to both nights. Wanda Jackson is truly a musical legend. I’ll try not to gush my brains out but it’s so hard to contain myself when I think back to watching this tiny septuagenarian woman growl and sing and rock out songs that span her 59 year career as a recording artist. My lord, she even yodeled.
Wanda Jackson’s voice belies her years and her sweet nature. It has been said that she was a nice girl with a mean voice. It’s a voice that is so well suited to traditional Country (as witnessed by her wonderful rendition of “Big Iron Skillet.” ) but when it crosses over to rock n roll, as she did in the 50’s, on the advice of her friend Elvis Presley, her voice just seems to become infused with energy and expression. And off the scale on the cool factor.
Wanda tells us at her gigs that she is taking us on a musical journey. Interspersed with witty anecdotes (she was chattier on the first night) about Elvis and his suggestion to her to play a “style of music that had no name”, about touring with her Daddy as chaperone because she never thought about getting paid because she was having too much fun, wearing Elvis’s ring and falling in love with her husband of 51 years, Wendell (she said “I have a t-shirt that says “I’m the girl who dated Elvis” and he has one that says “I’m the man who beat Elvis”). He appears on stage to deliver her a cup of tea – a trick for soothing the vocal chords she learnt from Adele.
Wanda tells all of these stories with genuine humility; surprised and incredulous at her influence on such artists as Adele and the fact that producers like Jack White and Justin Townes Earl want to make records with her. Well who wouldn’t admire her? Her wonderful songs like “Funnel of Love” and “Riot in Cell block Number 9” are classics. She also sang “Fujiyamamama”, “Rock ya Baby”, “Mean Mean Man” and “Let’s Have a Party”. From her later recordings she sang ”Shakin’ All Over” and from her latest album, “Unfinished Business”, she sang the gorgeous ballad “Am I even a Memory?”. But she topped it all with a spine tingling rendition of the Amy Winehouse song “You Know That I’m No Good” – just so tender. It was a song that Jack White made her record. She thought it wasn’t “age appropriate”. But she describes Jack White as “a velvet covered brick” that always got his own way. And I’m glad he did. The song is a heart breaker.
Wanda shows that talent, hard work and polished musicality makes her an artist of such calibre that age cannot dim her sheen – in fact I would say she was better this time than the last time I saw her. The backing band (she only had one rehearsal with them!) really matched her energy and together they seemed to have a great rapport for this first lady of rock n roll. The guitarist in the band was just 15 years old! On the stage was a 75 year old lady singing and rocking out with a 15 year old up and coming musician as her lead guitarist. Two degrees from Elvis Presley! It was really special.
On the second night she didn’t talk so much but she rocked even harder – she spontaneously started to sing “Let’s have a party” again because she found it irresistible. As did we. We could have listened to her all night long. The crowd were young and she greeted them with such warmth, reaching out and touching their outstretched hands and complimenting them.
After the gig on the first night we hung around the back door like sad old groupies, for just a glimpse of Wanda and maybe an autograph - but we had no joy. On the second night we managed to get back stage for a private audience with her. She was tiny, beautiful, sparkly and gracious. We gave her a photo of our little girl Wanda and her twin sister Pepper....
|Wanda Jackson with the photo we gave her of our twins, Wanda and Pepper.|
and she signed this record for our "little Wanda". She told us to tell Wanda that when she was her age she got her first guitar and knew she was going to be a girl singer. Wanda seemed genuinely touched that we named our daughter after her. She also liked my frock!