Wanda Jackson — “an atomic fireball of a lady” and “a hurricane in lipstick,” in the words of Bob Dylan — will sing some primal rock ‘n’ roll at the Rent Party series in Maplewood, Dec. 9. It will be a rare New Jersey appearance for this Oklahoma native, who still lives in that state.
Jackson, 79, is one of the few performers who were part of the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll explosion and are still active. She toured with Elvis Presley — and dated him, though by all accounts it was not a serious relationship — in the mid-’50s, and had most of her biggest hits, including the exuberant “Let’s Have a Party,” in the early ’60s. She continued having hits — though mostly on the country charts, not the pop charts — into the early ’70s. Somewhere along the way, she got the nickname, The Queen of Rockabilly.
Over the past five years, she has become known to a new generation via albums produced by Jack White (The Party Ain’t Over, in 2011) and Justin Townes Earle (Unfinished Business, in 2012). The day after the Maplewood show, she will head into New York to begin work on a new one, with Joan Jett producing.
“It’ll be something new. I’ve never had a woman rocker (as a producer) before,” says Jackson, in a phone interview. “But it ought to be good. We know each other and get along fine.”
Jackson met Jett after releasing Unfinished Business, when Jett was suggested as another producer she might want to work with. The two women met, and got to know each other.
“I’ve been out to her performances several times,” said Jackson. “She introduces me onstage and all. It’s like we’re longtime friends.”
Jackson wrote some of the songs for the new album in Nashville, with co-writers. “They’re still written, a lot of them, in a rockabilly style, but we have some ballads,” she says. “They’re more contemporary. I’ll try my hand at it and we’ll see.”
Jackson was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 and 2008, without making the final cut. In 2009 she finally was chosen, in the Early Influence category.
“I never thought I would ever be inducted,” she says. “I just didn’t give it much thought. I knew I wasn’t one of the big rock ‘n’ roll stars. But I was the very first girl to do rock ‘n’ roll, so that gave me a place in the Rock Hall.”
Artists such as Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello lobbied for her to be selected, but Jackson gives most of the credit to her manager (and husband of 55 years), Wendell Goodman, who wouldn’t stop pushing to make it happen.
The induction “has been been the greatest thing, ever, in my career,” she says.
The Rent Party show begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at The Woodland in Maplewood, with an opening set by Li’l Mo and the Monicats; visit RentPartyLive.com for information. Like all shows in the Rent Party series, this one will raise money to help fight hunger in the community. (Note: For a chance to win two tickets to this show, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight Dec. 7 with the word “Jackson” in the subject line.)
Here is a video of Jackson singing Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” (which was on the Party Ain’t Over album), and below that is “Let’s Have a Party”: