Wanda Jackson, Unsugared But Deserving Sweet Praise

At Jammin' Java, Jackson revisited plenty of highlights from her long career.
At Jammin' Java, Jackson revisited plenty of highlights from her long career.
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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The film biography of rockabilly icon Wanda Jackson, debuting on the Smithsonian Channel May 18, is called "The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice." "I don't know about that title," she told the audience at Jammin' Java Thursday night following the movie's premiere at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Theatre. "I don't know about that 'sweet' part." Of course the line got a big laugh.

Jackson, a country singer turned rock pioneer and once a girlfriend of Elvis Presley (she mentioned his influence on her several times), demonstrated the sweet and nasty during her career-retrospective show. At age 70 and with 54 years of recording behind her, there were quite a few highlights. Backed by Upstate New York rockers the Lustre Kings, Jackson purred, growled and hiccupped through "Mean, Mean Man," "Rock Your Baby," "Let's Have a Party," "Fujiyama Mama" and a medley of Elvis hits.

The Lustre Kings were in top form, with Jeff Potter's boogie piano propelling the tunes and keeping Jackson's pacing at a swift clip. Guitarist Mark Gamsjager absolutely nailed the distinctive ostinato of the obscure "Funnel of Love," a song that became a hit only after being rediscovered by her latter-day fans.

Jackson demonstrated how she avoided alienating her country fans in the '50s when she became the Queen of Rockabilly with "I Gotta Know," a hook-filled number that zips from ballad to rocker and back again. On the straight-up country ballad "Right or Wrong," she showed she could have been the Queen of Country if that Elvis guy hadn't got her all shook up. Rockabilly fans and the legion of singers she influenced are glad he did.

-- Buzz McClain

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