She’s Like Elvis, But Hotter

Staff Pick: There’s A Party Going On, Wanda Jackson (Capitol, 1961)

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Although she’s still referred to as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” Wanda Jackson is not a household name. She’s an integral part of rockabilly and rock n’ roll history, however, and her gravely rasp and bold style is highly worth some overdue attention.

Born Wanda Lavonne Jackson in Maud, Oklahoma on October 20, 1937, Wanda’s father was the first to encourage her to play guitar, piano, and sing (he had also pursued a career as a country singer before the Depression). When she was a teenager, she performed regularly as a country artist on a local Oklahoma City radio show, where she was discovered by country superstar Hank Thompson. Wanda toured with Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys in 1954, and signed with Decca that same year.

During a 1955 package tour, Wanda was paired with the likes of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley. Wanda and Elvis dated briefly, but remained friends for long after; she largely credits Elvis for encouraging her to pursue a career in rockabilly music. In addition to being one of the first (and few) women to sing rockabilly, Wanda was also one of the first women to add glamour to the scene with her pencil dresses, heels, glitter, and fringe.

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In 1956, Wanda signed with Capitol Records, a relationship she would maintain into the early 70s. With Capitol, she cut her most successful singles, including “Fujiyama Mama,” “Mean Mean Man” and “Who Shot Sam,” which are still considered rockabilly classics today.

Her most popular single, “Let’s Have a Party,” released in 1960, was originally recorded by Elvis for the 1957 film Loving You. There’s a Party Going On, released on the heels of “Let’s Have a Party” in 1961, captures Wanda’s vibrant energy and raucous spirit. Must listens include Wanda’s rendition of “Kansas City,” and a silly number called “Tongue Tied,” a chronicle of Wanda’s lovestruck awkwardness. Her band on the album, dubbed The Party Timers, includes legendary country guitarist Roy Clark. To top it off, Marr’s copy of this album includes Wanda’s original signature on the cover with the note: Love you!

Although she gained fame for her rockabilly hits, Wanda eventually returned to her country roots, and even recorded gospel music in the 1970s after becoming a born-again Christian. Now 75, she continues to tour and record. In 2011 she put out the album, The Party Ain’t Over, which was produced by Jack White. Her latest album, Unfinished Business, released in 2012 and was produced by American singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. The Marr Sound Archives holds over a dozen of her records, including cuts from both the rockabilly and country genres.

[audio:|titles=Tongue Tied by Wanda Jackson]

Barbara Varanka, Graduate Assistant, Marr Sound Archives