“It’s an exciting time to be Wanda Jackson,” Austin’s American-Statesman declared in October on the eve of Jackson’s 73rd birthday bash at the Continental Club there. The undisputed Queen of Rockabilly - a touring powerhouse for more than 50 years - is releasing her debut disc for Third Man/Nonesuch Records, the aptly titled The Party Ain’t Over. This collection of vintage and contemporary covers was produced by fan and new-found friend Jack White at his Nashville studio and recorded with a late-night honky-tonk feel by members of My Morning Jacket, the Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, among others. The White-curated line-up of tunes, says Jackson, showcases “all the various types of music that I've done through the years - some country, some gospel, some rockabilly, some rock ‘n' roll. It's got all of that, and we threw in a Bob Dylan song, ‘Thunder On the Mountain,’ just to be safe.”
The spirited Jackson, revered for such classic singles as “Let’s Have a Party” and “Fujiyama Mama,” proves that brash rock and roll attitude need not have an age limit. Her trademark growl remains intact on rockers like “Rip It Up” and “Nervous Breakdown”; she opens the set with an echo-laden sneer on a rollicking version of “Shakin’ All Over” and ends it 10 songs later with a plaintive take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Yodel #6.” Along the way she tackles the Andrew Sisters kitschy “Rum and Coca Cola” and a big-band rendition of the DeCastro Sisters’ “Teach Me Tonight,” and she out-sasses - and out-classes - Amy Winehouse on a cover of the British bad girl’s “You Know I’m No Good,” which has already been released as a single.
In 2009, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honoured with an Early Influence accolade for her pivotal role as a rockabilly star and rock and roll pioneer. As a teenager in the mid-1950s, the diminutive Jackson was the first woman to perform unadulterated rock and roll - and she one-upped the boys defining this new genre (her one-time boyfriend and tour-mate Elvis Presley included) with her exhilaratingly forthright approach. The young Jackson, an Oklahoma native, came across as both gritty and glamorous; a playfully suggestive growl to her voice matched the daring, self-designed outfits she wore, short skirts and fringed dresses that have inspired would-be bad girls for decades since.
The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice is what many have taken to calling her. As The Houston Press recently put it, “When you first discover Wanda Jackson, you'll spend about a month in awe of her sinful growl. Easily one of the most underrated female instruments in rock and country, Jackson's voice can sound shredded by the daggers of love one moment and absolutely man-ravaging the next.”