Inquiring Minds

Wanda Jackson Loves Jesus, Jack White & Adele

Rocks Off conducted an unusual interview this week. We say "interview," when perhaps a better word is "exchange."

Recently we have been tinkering with the composition of our interviews, in the hopes of avoiding boilerplate questions like "Who are your influences?" in favor of something, we hope, will give our readers a better idea about what makes our subjects tick. It seemed to work pretty well, if a little disjointedly, when we asked the Black Lips for a personal garage-rock cheat sheet.

So we thought we'd give it another whirl when Oklahoma rockabilly filly Wanda Jackson's PR team offered us an interview. Jackson, 73, has had plenty of ink spilled on her since she released her latest album, The Party Ain't Over (Nonesuch/Third Man), earlier this year. And why not?

Some especially cynical critics may scoff that Jack White, who produced Party and played lead guitar (among other instruments), is just doing with Jackson the same thing he did with Loretta Lynn on 2005's Van Lear Rose - roughing up one of his heroes' sound in order to make it more palatable for the Facebook generation.

That's exactly right. Party is no Dead Weather album, but even people who don't know Jackson was known as the "female Elvis" in the late '50s and early '60s will instantly recognize White's audio footprint. But that reasoning also oversimplifies, or just omits altogether, two important points.

First, Van Lear Rose is a great album, and has a Grammy to prove it. And Jackson's sound was pretty rough to begin with - go back and listen to her early hits like "Fujiyama Mama" or "Mean Mean Man" again. Right now Rocks Off's favorite songs on Party are Bob Dylan's "Thunder On the Mountain" and Ray Charles' "Busted," but it's a toss-up, really. You might prefer Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," Elvis' "Nervous Breakdown" or "Rum and Coca-Cola," which was co-written by The Dick Van Dyke Show co-star Morey Amsterdam.

White's affinity for Jackson was a long time coming, it turns out. "When we were shooting the video for 'Thunder On the Mountain' in Nashville, an old friend of Jack's asked me if I knew that Jack had a picture of me on his bedroom wall all through high school," Jackson says via email.

Here are five other things she liked about working with the man behind Third Man:

"He's very creative"

"He's a perfectionist"

"He's also a singer, so he listens more closely to the singer"

"He knows what he wants"

"He's a big Wanda Jackson fan"

Naturally. But who does Wanda like? In her CD player right now, she says, are Martina McBride, Elvis, the White Stripes, Adele and Dwight Yoakam. Not bad.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray