I once asked Steve Wynn if he was bothered that bands like R.E.M. had cited his Dream Syndicate as an influence, given their relative success and his relative obscurity. His response was both mature and profound, insisting he would much rather be remembered as an influence, since it continued to ripple through the universe, in his own work and in the work of those he has affected.
Essentially, it’s the same thing for Wanda Jackson, one of the most influential Rockabilly stars to never benefit from her immeasurable impact, primarily due to the backward ’50s notion that audiences wouldn’t accept a female Rock & Roll artist. Although she scored respectable hits, “Let’s Have a Party,” “Fujiyama Mama” and “Mean, Mean Man” among them, and even dated Elvis Presley for a time before his ascendance to the Rock throne, Jackson was never promoted properly and therefore never gained the respect and fame that was rightfully hers.
Yet Jackson has persevered, and her loyal fans have remained devoted to her, which has kept her on the road for the past half century. The ’80s Rockabilly revival recharged her career in Europe and Scandinavia, but the new millennium has truly brought Jackson back into the spotlight. Her glowingly reviewed 2003 comeback album Heart Trouble featured guests like Elvis Costello and The Cramps and in 2009 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Early Influence wing (a somewhat lesser honor that she embraced with characteristic grace and humility). It was all capped by this January’s release of her excellent and appropriately titled new album, The Party Ain’t Over, produced by Jack White with musical help from Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler (Greenhornes/Raconteurs), Carl Bromel (My Morning Jacket) and White himself.
The Party Ain’t Over shows Jackson’s comfortable mastery of Rockabilly, Country, Pop and Soul, as well as how, even at age 73, she can still road dog with the best of them. Call Wanda Jackson a legend and she’ll blush and deny it. But if the frame fits, hang that picture in the Hall of Fame.
Wanda Jackson plays March 26 at the Southgate House with guests Dex Romweber Duo.