When I saw that Wanda Jackson was making her way to the Orbit Room here in Grand Rapids, I was jumping at the opportunity to sit down and talk to her. Not only did Wanda just get inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame, she has also deemed the title of the Queen of Rock n Roll, and if you ask me, it’s a title that Wanda rightfully earned, by opening the doors for female artists in the music business. Wanda Jackson has been touring the world and making a name for herself since the 60’s, when her and Elvis were both fresh faces in the scene. Wanda shows no signs of tiring or slowing down, with a new album that’s produced by Jack White, that was just released in September. It was a great honor and a pleasure to speak with Wanda Jackson for a few minutes before she rocked the house.
Amanda: How difficult was it for you to gain respect being the first woman to start playing rock-a-billy?
Wanda: I demanded it.
Amanda: Great- I guess you’d probably have to go about it that way, being one of the pioneers in the music business.
Wanda: It worked out that way, I was quite young; I was seventeen when I began touring, and my father went with me, and I think everybody knew from that, that this was a young lady, and I wasn’t to be messed with, and I had no problems.
Amanda: How does it feel to be named ‘The Queen of Rock n Roll’, even though you’ve never actually gotten a number one hit here in the U.S.? That has to be quite an honor, right?
Wanda: (laughs) Well, that’s one way of looking at it; I mean who else has done that? When I was inducted into the rock n roll hall of fame, that’s what I was thinking. They have a special category called early influences, which I think really fits me.
Amanda: Well congratulations on that! As a mother of two, how was it juggling family life with being on the road and touring?
Wanda: I don’t remember it being difficult, because we had a lot of help, and Wendell travels with me, and always has. We didn’t get married to be apart. I said, this is the only way it will hold, and I gave him a choice of me quitting and being at home, or him going with my career, and he chose going with mine for various reasons, and jumped in and learned the business, and has taken over.
Amanda: Did you ever take your children on tour with you when they were younger?
Wanda: Only in the summer months and then we kept a governess, which lived with us, so the kids didn’t have to deal with much change; we tried to fit into their world when we got home. The woman that took care of them and the home, she was like the housewife, and she just carried right on, so I got to be at home and play with the kids, and take them to their appointments.
Amanda: You mother used to make all your costumes for you when you first started out; how did people react to the new style of dress that you brought into the music scene?
Wanda: Well it was kind of like WOW, you know. (Laughs) It was also the days of Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor, the glamorous sexy gals, so I was kind of in that group, and the other girls were kind of in the gingham dress. It kind of changed things up, and I think that most everyone liked it. I never got any bad feedback, well except for at The Grand Ole Oprey- They made me cover my shoulders before I could take the stage.
Amanda: Times have definitely changed since then, wouldn’t you say?
Amanda: What advice do you have for female artist who are just starting out?
Wanda: That’s a hard question to answer, not knowing their talent. I think if they’ve proven to the people that they have sang for, that they are talented, and if this is what their real dream for themselves is, then I think they should prepare for it, do everything they can to learn their trade, music performance, or whatever they can do, and just practice, practice, practice.
Amanda: And don’t give up, right? I’m sure it isn’t the easiest business to jump into.
Wanda: Yes, don’t give up- It sure wouldn’t be easy to try and do today. There are so many more singers today than when I started, and yet women are accepted better, so in that sense they recognize you faster.
Wendell: A whole lot more places do rock-a-billy now days, so it opens the doors for female artists today; it wasn’t like that before.
Wanda: It sure wasn’t, we had to open a bunch of doors, and knock down a few too.
Amanda: Over the years, who has been your favorite person to share the stage with?
Wanda: I’d have to say Elvis.
Amanda: What’s your favorite memory of him?
Wanda: There was just so much excitement around Elvis; I was with him in the early days, in ’55 and 56’, and he was just exploding on the scene, and the crowds were going wild, and I was in the middle of all of it, and was trying to understand what was going on.
Amanda: That was the very first tour you ever did, correct?
Amanda: That would surely be a site to see; Elvis’ fame rising so quickly.
Wanda: Yea, we became friends, and we worked a lot together and it was exciting to see his records go up on the charts, and to hear him on the radio, and get to say, ‘I know him!’
Amanda: How long were you on tour with Elvis then?
Wanda: It was about a year and a half. We did a lot of tours- I didn’t work exclusively with him, because I did television and my own tours as well. We did a lot of 10 day tours.
Amanda- I know that you’re in the process of making a new album that Jack White is producing, as a matter of fact, I actually just bought one of your singles on itunes- The Amy Winehouse’s cover of ‘You Know I’m No Good’. I also am looking forward to hearing the Bob Dillian cover you did as well. Is there any other covers on the album, or are those the only two?
Wanda: There aren’t many originals, so that’s certainly different for me, but Jack wanted to keep me in my comfort zone as far as my singing, he’s not asking me to change my style. He wanted me to get fresher material, and so most of its covers, but a lot of them are more obscure, and some from way back. I got to do an Elvis song that hardly anybody has heard, that is one of my favorites.
Amanda: Well I can’t wait to hear it! When can we expect the new album, or don’t you have a release date yet?
Wanda: He’s working real hard right now to get it mixed.
Amanda: You’ve already laid down all the tracks and everything then?
Wanda: Yes, we’ve already done all the work, and then it will be released in September.
Amanda: Do you have any plans of retiring any time soon, or are you just going to keep doing what you love?
Wanda: I’m just going to let that kind of happen. It should be at a point where both of us know. We’ve already begun to slow down, after working very hard over the last few years. While we still have our health, we purposefully did that, and we’re not ‘old’ but we’re getting there, and we don’t want our hips to break down before we get a little more time at home, in which we’re enjoying very much.
Amanda: Is there anything you’d like to say to fans, new and old?
Wanda: Keep rockin!