"Wanda wasn't like other children after the guitar came into her life."
--Wanda Jackson's mom.
A prodigy who had her own 15 minute radio show in high school and was signed to a record label before she graduated, Wanda Lavonne Jackson's life has always been dedicated to music.
Born in 1937, in Maud, Oklahoma, about 50 miles south of Oklahoma City, her father worked odd jobs and played piano in a local night club. The family moved to Bakersfield, California in 1941 to escape the dust bowl and the depression. She learned to sing in a church gospel choir and learned to play the guitar when her father bought her one when she was about 7. She practiced insessantly. In 1949 Wanda's family moved to Oklahoma city. In high school she won a talent show with a local radio station. The first prize was a daily 15-minute radio program. One day Hank Thompson heard her on the radio and asked her to audition with his band. Soon she was playing with the Brazos Valley Boys on the weekends.
In 1954 she recorded a duet with Billy Grey called "You Can't Have My Love", released by Decca Records, it reached #8 on the country charts. Decca signed her in that year and over the next two years she recorded 14 songs with them, mostly country songs.
After graduating from High school in 1955 she toured the south with "Ozark Jubilee", among other singers on that tour was the as-yet unknown Elvis Presley. It was Elvis who told her that rock and roll was the next big thing and told her to try it out. She said she didn't think she had the voice for it, but decided to give it a try, signing a recording contract with Capitol records at around the same time.
Her first recording with Capital was "I Gotta Know", essentially a rock and roll song with a little bit of a slow fiddle/waltz thing mixed in. It reached the top 20. This set the tone for the next six years, a mixture of country and rock and roll. Capital kept her working in both genres because they weren't really sure what to do with her. It is during this period that she recorded some of her most famous songs, including "Let's have a Party" and "Fujiyama Mama" (which was a huge hit in Japan by the way).
During this period her songs projected a woman who was intent on getting her share of the fun, the sex, drugs, and rock and roll if you will. She was not interested in the submissive suffering image of many other female singers at the time. She recognized that sex was the real underlying subject of rock and roll, and it comes out not only in her subject matter and in her voice.
Her voice is worth noting. It can be sort of sweet and sensual, but more often than not it rubs and rips and growls like a banshee or a wild cat. It is incredibly distinctive and unlike any other female singer I've ever heard. This combined with her Oklahoma accent make her rock and roll songs something altogether different.
In 1960 she produced the albulm "Rockin' with Wanda", followed by "There's a Party Goin' On" in 1961. After that she produced three country albulms in quick succession: "Right or Wrong" and "Love Me" in 1961, and "Wonderful Wanda" in 1962. It was this point in her career that she started making real money.
She also got married at this time to Wendell Goodman, an IBM programmer who became her manager. They had two children.
In 1963 she recorded her last rock and roll songs on an albulm called "The Two Sides of Wanda Jackson", which was half rock and half country. After that she started producing exclusively country albulms for a while, and from 1965 to 1967 she had a syndicated television show called "Music Villiage". In the mid '60's she was playing to extensive crowds in Vegas and recording songs like "Tears Will be the Chaser for Your Wine", by most accounts a rather bad period in her career.
In the early 1970's she and Wendell found Jesus, and Wanda retreated further from her rock and roll past. She wanted to do a gospel albulm, but Capitol wasn't interested, and after 16 years with the label she left. During this time she recorded several albulms for small religious labels and went on a couple evangelical religious tours throughout the US. She wanted to combine religious and country music, but this was difficult because just as Capital wasn't interested in religious music, the religious labels weren't interested in country.
In the late '70s several record labels re-released her early rockabilly and country songs. Although virtually unheard of in the US at this point, Wanda Jackson is still popular in Europe, and she frequently tours in Germany, Scandinavia and England.
Wanda Jackson is called "The First Lady of Rockabilly" . She was the first woman rock and roll star in the US, and one of the first international rock stars ever. She has recorded in the German, Dutch and Japanese languages. She has been nominated for 2 Grammy Awards for Best Performing Female Singer and been inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame.