By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Since arriving on the music scene as a young teen in 1954 as a featured singer with country legend Hank Thompson, Wanda Jackson has blazed a trail that women in the music business are still following today. In 1955, when rock and roll was in its infancy, Jackson was the only woman who stood toe-to-toe with guys such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley while also single-handedly sexing up the appearance of women in country music. (She didn't change the way women looked in rock, because there were no other women in rock!)
It was Jackson's father who brought her into young Elvis Presley's orbit. "I met Elvis around 1955 when I was on the Ozark Jubilee," says Jackson. "Elvis was beginning to catch on, and no one could open for him. His fans only wanted Elvis, and they would boo opening acts right off the stage. But for some reason they accepted me, and we ended up touring with Elvis most of 1956 and 1957."
Elvis and Jackson also dated during that period, and he convinced Jackson she should try rock and roll. The early rock and roll sides she cut, "Fujiyama Mama" (which was No. 1 in Japan for six months), "Hot Dog" and the incendiary "Let's Have a Party," were unlike any female recordings at the time. Jackson had a number of country hits, but by the mid-'60s she had faded from the country music spotlight.
After two decades of working the gospel circuit, Jackson was brought back to public attention by alt-country artist Rosie Flores when Jackson sang with Flores on her 1995 album, Rockabilly Filly, and later joined Flores on several shows. The response was so overwhelming, they ended up on a five-week tour. Since that time, Jackson has been working up to 150 dates a year, and today she is finally getting her critical and financial due. It seems the only thing that has eluded her is selection to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Elvis Costello and several other artists have been campaigning for my induction, and we made it onto the final ballot last year, so maybe that will happen eventually," Jackson says. "All I can do is just keep on rocking and hope for the best."