Written on Tuesday October 6, 2009
Wanda Jackson Interview
Dick: You were born in Oklahoma, but your parents moved to California-- to Bakersfield-- when you were very young-- five years old. What did your dad do?
Wanda Jackson: Before that, I don't remember, probably oil fields or something, because I know he went to California for work, mainly, and we went to Los Angeles first, and he went to Barber School, so he became a barber. He was a very good one, and his first barbering job took us to the Bakersfield area, in Greenfield actually. And he worked at the trade for two years, and then my mother got homesick. (laughing) So she said, "Take me back to Oklahoma. I think that's where I need to be...." and so forth. My dad told her, he said, "Okay, we'll move back to Oklahoma. The day that you have to make the gravy out of water again, we're moving back to California."
So, mother worked real hard at keeping enough milk to make daddy's gravy. (laughing)
Dick: You were exposed to music at a young age.
Wanda: um hmm.
Dick: What do you remember?
Wanda: Well, I just remember always having music in the house, and I'm an only child, so it was just the three of us-- mother and dad, me and daddy had been a musician. In fact, he had a band that worked on the weekends, I think, around Oklahoma, little towns, and that's where he met my mother, was at one of the dances. So you know, he was professional. He played guitar, played fiddle and he sang, and he was quite handsome. So that was what I remember, daddy playing guitar at night and then when I was seven, he bought me my first guitar and began teaching me chords. And it wasn't too long... I loved it! It wasn't too long before he could play the fiddle and I could accompany him. Every night then we were making music. (laughing) After supper we'd listen to Gabriel Heatter. You wouldn't know him, you're too young. Anyway, news commentaries that daddy liked. And then we'd play music till bedtime probably. (laughing)
Dick: When did you start singing?
Wanda: Well, right along in there. My daddy was a big fan of Jimmie Rogers, the Blue Yodeler, and he had a lot of his records, so best I remember, the first song I learned was a Jimmy Rogers called "Blue Yodel Number Six." That meant I had to learn to yodel (laughing) so some way or the other, I learned to yodel. People ask me, "How do you yodel?' and I say, "Oh, there's nothing to it. You get on the back of a horse out in the north forty and as you sit like this-- yay-dee, yay-dee-- (laughing) Get him at a full trot and you've got it made! (laughing)
Dick: So, you learned how to yodel. You came back to Oklahoma when you were ten.
Dick: ...ten years old. Where did you go to school?
Wanda: Well, we settled in Oklahoma City, so I've been here ever since then. We lived in the southeast part of town. I went to Crooked Oak Elementary-- fourth and fifth grade, something like that-- and then for junior high, I went to Capitol Hill and also to Capitol Hill Senior High, where I graduated.
Dick: What stands out in your mind about Capitol Hill during that time?
Wanda: Well, I didn't like school very much. I wasn't very studious or very smart, I guess. It was always very hard for me, you know, history and math and all those things. And I think because in my mind I thought, "I'm not ever going to use this," you know. (laughing) Wrong! But I knew I was going to be a singer, and that's all I ever wanted to be, and I didn't prepare myself for anything else. So school was something that I just had to get through to get on with my career. (laughing) But I had some good friends-- made a few good friends. I would sing at so many assemblies. And also when I think of school, I tried out for the lead part in the senior play. Is that what it's called? Yeah, senior play. And I played Reno Sweeney from... (laughing) I can't think of the name of it... "Anything Goes," a play. So that was one of the real highlights in my school years. In junior high, I was in the band. I was a twirler, and then I was a band queen, so I got a good taste of school life, but I didn't join like a pep club, and I didn't go to football games and basketball very much on Friday night because I sang with Merl Lindsay on Saturday afternoon on his show on the radio, and then I sang with him that evening at the dance where he'd work. So if I went to ballgames, I would get my throat so messed up and hoarse, I couldn't sing, so school is, you know, it was wonderful times. It really was.
Dick: There were a lot of people, though, that came out of south Oklahoma City during that period of time that achieved a lot.
Wanda: Is that right?
Dick: It seemed like there were many people... There were a lot of athletes and...
Wanda: Well, yeah, that's right.
Dick: ... and people that were involved in music, as well.
Wanda: Is that right? We have sports, and my best girlfriend is also from Oklahoma. Norma Jean is the name she goes by-- her professional name-- Norma Jean. And she, you know, graduated from Capitol Hill also, so that's on other one. And I know some of the football players because we had such a great team-- football-- from Capitol Hill.
Dick: How did you get your start-- what you would consider to be your start in music?
Wanda: It was on the radio, Capitol Hill. The station was KLPR and Jay Davis had a show each afternoon from 4:00 to 5:00 that he called "Mountain Jamboree," I think. And the last 15 minutes of that show he would use local talents. It was a good showcase, you know, for the talent around Oklahoma, and my friends at church dared me to go try out and see if I could be on that show, and finally when they double-dog dared me, then I had to! (laughing) And Jay let me on, and then I became on there pretty frequently. They ran a contest, and whoever won that particular contest would have their own radio show for a certain length of time-- I don't remember. But I won that! So everyday, Monday through Friday, 5:15, I had my show, and it was just me and my guitar. It doesn't seem like it could have been very good, but they did tell us... Mr. Ross was the owner of KLPR and he said, "Your show's going over good. If you can get sponsors, then we'll let you keep that 15-minute segment." So I worked pretty hard to keep sponsors, and they helped me to write my own commercials and how to read them. I learned so much from the people at KLPR. But that was really the catalyst for my career because as it turned out in '56 probably, Hank Thompson was living in Oklahoma City. Now he had the number one western swing band in the nation-- many hit records on his own. He was a huge star! And he heard me on that little radio station-- my show-- and called me up and invited me to sing with the Brazos Valley Boys at Saturday night at the Trianon Ballroom. And he and I both remembered I said, "Well, Mr. Thompson, I'd love to, but I'll have to ask my mother." (laughing) And he said to me that... on the phone he said, "Well, how old are you, gal?" I said, "Well, I'm seventeen," or whatever I was. He said, "Well, how about that!" I guess he thought I was older. (laughing) But Hank became my mentor and dear friend for ever since. We lost him a couple of years ago.
Dick: What did he see in you?
Wanda: I asked him that. I said, "Hank, I know I wasn't very good. I broke meter." And he said, "I liked your singing!" Just that simple. "...liked your voice." Well, I was forever grateful. I said, "I wished there was some way I could even pay you back for all the help you've been to me." And I said, "Is there any way?" and he said, "Well, there's only one way you could pay me back." Now we would say, "Pay it forward." He said, "Do the same for someone else when you have the chance, so I was able to do that with Roy Clark later on-- the sixties-- to help him get started on his career.
Dick: Hank Thompson also had a TV show.
Dick: You appeared on the TV show.
Wanda: Right, he let me on the show, even with all the mistakes (laughing) I would make. You know, television wasn't all that new to me and it wasn't scary to me, but I went for two or three, four weeks forgetting the lyrics to whatever song I was singing, and I was just getting so frustrated. I thought Hank's just going to fire me. He's going to say, "Don't bother coming back!" But he always got a kick out of it. He was such a gentle man, you know, and just so warm, and he would just laugh. He'd say, "Oh, it happens to the best of us!" You know. But finally, one time I came on with all the lyrics, you know, not all of them, but certain words in my hand, and I made it through that one without help because I'd swing my hand up and catch a word. (laughing) So, when I was through he said, "We've got to show people what you did." So, you know, he got a kick out of everything. (laughing)
Dick: What kind of a reaction did you get from your classmates at Capitol Hill as you were becoming a singing sensation with a radio show and also on TV?
Wanda: Not much different than you'd... I don't know. I don't know that I've ever been asked that. But I do remember in junior high... Now, Capitol Hill Junior High was maybe a block, maybe two from KLPR Studios, so everyday I walked from school to KLPR carrying my guitar, and the boys used to kid me and laugh at me carrying that guitar. "What do you got in there, Wanda, machine gun? You gonna go rob a store?" You know, just hassling me, but I got the last laugh on them. (laughing) Because the kids, my girlfriend remembered, they used to-- maybe they still do-- have monitors in all the classrooms if you needed to make an announcement. So when I signed with Decca Records, she remembered our principal came on the intercom and said, "I want you to know that one of our own has just signed with a major record company, with Decca Records." And she said the whole school... you could hear applause all over it. So, they were all happy. They didn't seem to be envious or anything like that.
Dick: And how old were you when that happened?
Wanda: When I signed with Decca, I was sixteen, because I was a junior in high school.
Dick: Hank Thompson helped you there, too, didn't he?
Wanda: Right, I did a demonstration record and we recorded it out at his house with his band, and he sent it to Decca Records. And my very first release was actually a duet of sorts with his band leader. It was Billy Gray, and it was a song where I sang and he did a recitation in the middle of it, but it was a very big hit. Of course, our very first record, so that was very nice. And then we recorded a couple or more songs, but I didn't want to be a direct hatch, I wanted it all for me, I guess. (laughing)
Dick: Did your parents encourage you to be different-- to be independent?
Wanda: Absolutely! One of the main things, because my career was more of a family affair after I was out of school and was ready to go on tour, because I'd had a couple of hits by then. So mother and dad apparently talked this over and decided that one of them should travel with me because I was just seventeen when I graduated, so you know, naturally, and being an only child they could adjust their work and stuff, and they decided daddy would go, of course, and drive me and try to book me and things like that, because he remembered some of the times I had worked and actually got paid for it. (laughing) In school, I'd sing and then just go off and forget to get paid, so he thought, "Maybe I'd better travel with you and keep your business records and everything," which he did. And then my mother, who was a beautiful seamstress, she'd always made all my clothes-- practically all of them. And I didn't like the way I was having to dress. I didn't have much choice in clothes for a country singer. I was just country, and, you know, cowboy boots and a full skirt. I didn't look good in that stuff, and a hat on my head. I wanted to be more glamorous and show off a little more of my assets. (laughing) So we designed... we came up with the idea of the form-fitting dress with the soft silk fringes on it, and little spaghetti straps and a little bit low-cut. My daddy would always come in and look and he'd say, "Nelly (my mother), better raise that bust line up just a little bit. (laughing) So yeah, it was very unusual. All of us were. But my mother was working for the government. She was at Tinker Field, had an excellent job and all the benefits, and so we knew somebody in the family needs to bringing home a regular paycheck, and we didn't know if it was going to be me, because daddy gave up his job totally to travel with me. And that's just what wonderful parents they were to help me to make my dream come true. They sacrificed like that.
Dick: How hard was it for you to find songs that fit you?
Wanda: It was very hard. Being in Oklahoma, most of the songwriters-- as they are today-- they were then in Nashville. Because a good songwriter will write and finish a song one day, he wants it recorded the next. So naturally, if you lived there, they'd think, "This would fit Wanda Jackson." They'd get it to me. But by living out here, I would just get the throw-offs, the ones that nobody else wanted really, and I started writing quite a few of my own country songs at that point-- not that they were great songs, but I had to have something to record. And Hank Thompson had a publishing company, so sometimes he would find a song that would fit me, but it was hard. And the same thing happened when... they want to hold these stories till later, Dick, but eventually I had to start writing my own rock ‘n' roll songs for that same reason.
Dick: You wrote "Mean, Mean Man." That was your first one, right?
Dick: ...big hit that you had written?
Wanda: Yeah, that I had written. You're right. But my daddy, once again, he just encouraged me to write your own. He said, "You've been writing songs a long time. They seem simple. Try it!" (laughing) So he even gave me the idea for "Mean, Mean Man," so he was very helpful to me.
Dick: What did he say to give you that idea?
Wanda: He said, "Try to write something that's really simple that everybody can relate to," which that makes a hit song, and he said, kind of like, and he'd get the guitar, and he'd say, "Start it off kind of like this." And that's what we did. Then I came up with "Mean, Mean Man," or maybe he thought of that title, I'm not sure, but yeah, that's my first one that was a hit.
Dick: You not only came up with a distinctive look-- sexier, not so much country and western-- but you also came up with a distinctive sound. How did you find your voice, specifically the growl that people talk about.
Wanda: (laughing) Yeah, I thought that's where you were going. Well, it's kind of like once again, my dad played a part in that. Of course, Elvis, working with him, he's the one that encouraged me to try this new rock music like he was doing, and I didn't think I could, but he explained to my dad and I... He was a pretty smart fellow. He was about twenty and I was seventeen and eighteen working with him, but he said, you know, our music has always been aimed at adults because they bought the records, but he said, "Now it's the young people buying the records." And he said, "You need to start recording songs that they can relate to." And it was some of the best advice I ever got, and my dad just went right along with it. He said, "I think he's hit on something. It's what you need to do." So when I changed record labels from Decca to Capitol, 1956, I thought this would be a good time to try this, and a lady here in Oklahoma City wrote a special song for me that was country and rock, and it was called "I Gotta Know," and then I guess I did "Mean, Mean Man." The one I remember using the growl on that I didn't realize was even in me was "Fujiyama Mama." I was having trouble recording it. I don't remember why. Ken Nelson, my producer, was wanting me to try, I don't know, phrase them different ways, or doing something, and I wasn't comfortable with it. So my daddy, who usually was very quiet and sat in the control room and watched, he came out, pulled me aside, and he said, "Wanda, I think this is a great song!" He said, "You rear back..." That was one of his terminologies. "Rear back and sing it however the heck you want to!" "Oh, okay, I can do that. I was not trying to please somebody else, and I just went out there and ripped that song apart with it, and I didn't know where it was coming from!" (laughing) So that's how it happens a lot of times.
Dick: And that really has been part of your success.
Dick: ...is your enthusiasm in singing. Some would call it wild. Some people called you wild and sassy and rebellious and all of that. Do you look at yourself that way?
Wanda: No, but I can see how they could get that impression from my persona on stage, maybe, or the songs I sang, but if they will take the time to notice that I was always a lady first. That was very important to me and to my folks, as well, that my daddy, yeah, "You be a lady, but be different. Don't copy anybody's style." And I was able to do that.
Dick: You did not want to be stereotyped as a country singer.
Wanda: I guess I didn't, yeah. But this was my generation's music, you know, rock. Elvis, when he first hit the scene, well, I was a teenager. Then working with him and all, I saw his enthusiasm, and so yeah, I wanted to try it and give it all I had. And it wasn't really all that successful for me, Dick, not then. My first hit in rock and roll music was "Fujiyama Mama," 1959, but it wasn't in America. It was in Japan. You know, go figure. (laughing) The Japanese people loved that song and made it number one for a whole summer. But America, I couldn't even hardly get air play on it. And, I'm thinking, what's the deal here? We won that war, you know, if that's what's in their minds. But I think I figured out that they were having a hard time accepting Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, you know, and all these others. And they just weren't going to accept a teenage girl standing up there and singing shoulder-to-shoulder with the guys. They just weren't going to let it happen, and I was just determined enough that I kept recording it and kept recording it, and we put a country song on one side of the single and rock on the other. Then we did that with my albums. So I had this huge body of work in rock and roll that never... hardly anything ever happened with until lately-- the last twenty, thirty years, well, twenty years-- and now I'm being rewarded for all of it, and it's quite nice.
Dick: How did you come to tour with Elvis Presley and other greats? He was not the only one.
Wanda: Well, I told you that my dad quit his job and was going to travel with me. Well, he didn't know how to book me, you know. He was a barber at that point, and we knew nothing about it, so he got a Billboard. He'd heard of that paper, and was thumbing through it and just kind of decided he'd call this man called Bob Neal who had a booking agency in Memphis and asked if he would be interested in booking me. And Bob Neal said, "Oh yeah, definitely I would!" He said, "In fact, I'm booking a young man now named Elvis Presley, and he's getting real big, real fast! And so on his shows, I would like to have a girl on the show." And so I started working with him that way, and I was one of the few that his audiences would accept. Some of the big country stars-- like well, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, they were big stars then-- couldn't work with him because the audience that came, they came to see Elvis, and nobody else. And it used to upset Elvis. He'd say, "These kids don't know what they're doing. Here they've got these great talents here to listen to, and these hit songs they've had, and they're out there screaming for me." You know, it just sounded upsetting. So I thought, "Man, I dread going out there! They're going to throw tomatoes or something at me!" But for some reason, I was accepted. They liked me. One guy, one time interviewing me and I said, "I never could understand that why I could work with Elvis and these big stars couldn't." He said, " Well, I think I know part of the answer." He said, "If Elvis was appearing in town and you were with him, and you had a date with a girl that night, you knew where you had to go. You had to take her to see Elvis. So, she could see Elvis, but you were for the guys." (laughing) Hey! He may have something there! (laughing)
Dick: And Elvis liked you, too.
Wanda: Yeah, we dated for... well, not traditional dating because he lived in Memphis, I lived in Oklahoma City, but when we were out on tour, we'd catch movies and go out to eat afterwards or just drive around, as young people do, and get acquainted, talk. Yeah, he was a special person to me.
Dick: What made him so special?
Wanda: Well, it's just charisma, you know. All of us know certain people that way, but his quiet charm and way about him, you felt comfortable around him. I wouldn't notice if we were in a room and musicians or you know, before a show or whatever, talking, and Elvis would just kind of walk in very quietly. And it would just almost hush, and all eyes would go on him. I don't think you can explain that really. And people were just mesmerized by him, and that's the only way I know how to answer it.
Dick: Elvis encouraged you to change your music.
Wanda: Well, he didn't want me to change as much as he wanted to stretch me. He said, "You can sing this kind of music." And I said, "I don't think I can like you." He said, "Well, I think you can!" and we were in Memphis working one time at night and in the afternoon he took me to his home and played records, got a guitar and sang and kind of started giving me the idea of how you could take a song like he did. "Blue Moon in Kentucky" is a straight country song as you'll ever hear, and yet he did it in his style, made it rockabilly. And so it was something new and a challenge for me. So he just wanted to stretch me and have me be more than I thought I was. I've loved him for that ever since, because that's what my dad was always like. You know, "You can do it! Try it!" (laughing) I didn't have a lot of self-esteem, probably, and a lot of confidence as a young person. I don't know why, but I just didn't, so it kind of took someone's kind of prodding me all the way. Now my husband does it. We'll get a request for something. I'll say, "Oh, honey, I won't be able to do that." "Yes, you will! What do you mean?" (laughing) So I wind up doing it.
Dick: There were several artists during that period of time that were changing the sound-- Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly.
Wanda: Yeah, Buddy...
Dick: You were contemporaries with them.
Wanda: Yeah, yeah it was nothing at all for me to do a ten-day tour and have people... of course Elvis would be the headliner, and to have Carl, Jerry Lee, those you named, Buddy Holly... We were in Lubbock the first time Elvis and I heard Buddy. He opened the show because he was a local, and very well loved there. We heard all the commotion and we stretched around where we could see and so we heard Buddy for the first time that way. And Johnny Cash... The one that I continue to work with the most-- well, there was two of them-- was Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee. I still work with Jerry, oh, a couple of times a year, at least. Just recently, we were together in London. And I worked with Carl up until, you know, he got sick with cancer of the throat or something, but until then I worked quite a bit with him.
Dick: How would you describe "rockabilly?"
Wanda: Well, I'd rather they just forget the term, actually, because it seems like nobody understands what it was, but it was rock and roll. I mean, Elvis and even me a little later on in my way, certainly Carl and Jerry Lee, that our first rock and roll... Bill Haley, and Bill played a guitar, Elvis played a guitar. Carl did. Jerry Lee a little different, the piano. Johnny Cash was the guitar. So, it was just the beginning of rock and roll. One reporter, a journalist in California, I think, an article about me where he said, "Wanda was there at the creation of rock and roll, and for girls with guitars. she was the creation of rock and roll." So I would rather use the term just to distinguish what rock and roll has become today, which I'm not proud of at all, for the most part.
Dick: You like "rock and roll" better than "rockabilly?"
Wanda: Yes, I do, because it was the first rock and roll. I prefer to call it "'50s rock." That way it distinguishes it from the hard rock and the things that we're hearing today-- hard metal and you know, it's just taken off meaning all sorts of things. But to me ‘50s rock says it.
Dick: Did you know at the time that you were creating a new musical genre? Did you know you were on the cutting edge of something fresh, new, important like it was?
Wanda: I didn't know how important it would be, but I believe, you know, I was never asked about it, my opinion, or anything like that, but yeah, you had to know. Something's going on here, you know. Elvis was turning the whole industry upside down. Nobody knew what to record, who's buying the records. They didn't know how to market us, you know. Capitol Records signed me as a country singer. Now, here I am doing this wild new stuff, so everything was in a turmoil and music was beginning to change. The country music, by 1960, I guess it was, maybe a little earlier, but it was changing into orchestras behind the singers, vocal choruses, vocal background, you know, backup things and so it was all changing. I just felt like I'm on a merry-go-round or something. I'm just trying to hang on, because I didn't want my career to just drop away. I wanted to do what was fresh and what the people were buying and wanted. So that was one reason I kept recording it, and also in person, I could do these songs and they'd just bring the house down. They loved it! The people did. It was the disk jockeys that controlled that, you know. They'd play my country, but not the other stuff.
Dick: Your music went from country to ‘50s rock, as you say, but it did not really take off. What made it finally take off?
Wanda: I think just time evolved some way. I did get a pretty good sized hit with "Let's Have a Party" in 1960, and that's...
Dick: You're being modest.
Wanda: Well, I never had a number one song in country or in rockabilly or rock music in America. I've had it in Germany and in Japan and other places, but I think it's just the resurgence of this ‘50s rock music in the last twenty-something years. I began singing it again in 1985 in Scandinavia, and then shortly after that in Western Europe in the U.K. and all that. So I had been singing and doing rockabilly, rock and roll shows in Europe for ten years before I started singing it in America. I tell people I kind of backed into rock and roll. I set the pace, and then had to back back into it, but the young people who were discovering this simple, pure good music. They loved it and discovered it and wanted it and there's not all that many artists left, you know, that were the big artists in those days. And so, my friend, Rosie Flores, had me record with her, and word got out to this new generation of rock and roll fans that I was still singing, I was still working all over the world, and so we started getting requests for me to go with Rosie, or Rosie and I to do a show together, and in 1995 is when we did a five-week tour after I had recorded with her. Five week tour all the way across America-- San Francisco to New York City-- and here were all of these fans that I knew nothing about, and all the venues that were wanting early rock and roll. So, you know, I was tickled to death and the fans were so happy to have one of the originals, you know, and it's just been working great for me since then.
Dick: Why has your music been so popular in Europe and in Japan-- places like that?
Wanda: (laughing) Kind of a bent mystery, isn't it? I don't know. Maybe they like good music. (laughing) I am teasing. For one thing, America's pretty bad about changing, I mean they are always looking for the next big thing, and drop one thing and go to the next, and the other countries don't do that. I was told that ‘50s rock didn't ever die in Europe, and I said, "Boy, it sure did in America, and when it did, it was dead!" You know, it evolved into other kinds of music, but no, they wanted that original kind-- three pieces in the band, no backup singers, no dancers, no lights flashing and all that stuff. The entertainers had to do the entertaining. We didn't depend on sounds, lights, anything. It was a unique time.
Dick: I want to take you back. The lyrics in some of your ‘50s rock songs were quite edgy, especially for the time. A lot of them have been called "gender bending." They also were about female empowerment, some of them. Was that by design, or did that just happen?
Wanda: It just happened. (laughing) I can't take credit for that. Maybe in the back of my mind somewhere, but, you know, being a woman, you naturally want the lyrics to... you want to sing a song that's talking about a man, not vice versa or something, so I would change if a man were singing it and he would say, "I love her, blah, blah, blah" I would just change it, "I love him, blah, blah, blah." I never really thought much about that, but songs like "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad," and I didn't write it, but I thought that was the cutest song. And Betty Hutton had done that in a movie, and (clears throat) excuse me.
Dick: There's not a problem at all.
Wanda: Okay, all right. There was a cute little song called "Hot Dog! That Makes Him Mad" and I found it. I heard it in a movie, and Betty Hutton was singing it-- musical, you know. And I was quite the movie buff, I was, and so I found the record after that, and I like it, I remember, because it was about a woman saying, you know, I'm going to get even with him! I'll make him mad! You know, or something, and I thought, "I like that! I want to say that!" (laughing) So maybe that was my attitude even back then. I'm asked a lot, did I get a lot of hassle being a woman in the business and all, and I never experienced that. I never heard any harsh statements or anything. A lot of it, I believe, had to do with the fact that my dad traveled with me, and my reputation stayed intact, and I was always proud of that, that I liked to sing the songs but maybe would write the opposite. (laughing)
Dick: Did you understand instinctively that rock and roll was a lot about sex? You created that kind of a persona.
Wanda: Probably, I wrote one that even now I look at it and I think, "I wrote that when I was a senior in high school?" Something about "Cool Love" was the name of it, and "I'm not an ice cube," you know, and stuff like that, you know. Most songs are, I mean you don't have all that many choices. You can talk about falling in love, love falling apart, sex, again, you've got your blues. I'm blue because my man left me, and there's just not all that much to write about. So yeah, sex would be a big part of it, I think, without coming out and saying so. We would word it just so.
Dick: You even had a great song that was made out of or inspired by... Let me start over again.
One of your great rock songs was inspired by a riot in a women's prison.
Dick: Nobody else can say that!
Wanda: No, that's right. That was a different theme, wasn't it? That was written by Leibert and Stoller, the kind of guys who write for Broadway plays and still do, and I finally got to meet them at a doins in Paris. Let's see... but I just liked it because it was a wild type song. I guess I just liked to sing those kind of songs because people like them so well. I think they are crowd pleasers, and you've got to have a few of those crowd pleasers in your show, and other ones you can take a little chance and see if it's going to go over. But those are the sure bet. But those aren't the only reason I chose them. I just liked what the song said.
Dick: "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine"
Wanda: (laughing) Yeah!
Dick: In 2003, you changed the introductory lyrics just a little bit on that. Why did you do that?
Wanda: Well, I don't know how that happened, but the writers, Lee and Stoller... I was sitting by--not Lee, but Leibert-- I was sitting by him at a banquet and he said, "I have to tell you. Those words that you changed..." I guess he'd thought I changed them at the front of that song. He said, "Your words are better than mine. It fits better." And he said, "Just between you and me, I like your record best of all!" (laughing) You know, I didn't have the big hit. Some group, like the Coasters or Ventures or somebody had that song was a hit for them, but I just took it because I liked it. I like to sing it on stage and have a lot of fun with it.
Dick: And you took a song that Elvis recorded and made it your own.
Wanda: Yeah, that's chancy...risky. But to tell you the truth, I have to be truthful here, I didn't know it was Elvis's song or I probably wouldn't have touched it with a ten-foot pole! But I learned it from the Collins kids. Laurie and Larry Collins were very popular on the West Coast, especially, and I did a lot of TV out there with them, and even back in the ‘50s I'd be on those shows with them. And they gave me their record, and I said, "Man, that's a cute song!" So I began opening all of my shows and my sets with "Let's Have a Party." And I was doing my first album for Capitol Records, and it was strictly country. We had 12 songs then. We had 11 good strong country songs, but we needed one more, and I couldn't think of what I wanted to record. So I told my producer, "I've got one. It's not real country, but people just love this song! He said, "Well, okay, do it and we'll throw it on there." And so that's how that song happened two years later. A disk jockey found it and started using it for his theme song on his show. People started calling in wanting to know who was singing that, where could they get that record. And that man, bless his heart, called my producer and said, "You're missing the boat, I think, if you don't pull that song out and make a single of it." So Capitol did it. You know, that's kind of unheard of too, but they did it and I had a hit on my hands. (laughing) Later I named my band the Party Timers, so it's carried me a long ways. But I didn't know that Elvis had done it until later.
Dick: How did you meet your husband, Wendell Goodman?
Wanda: I met him in the living room of my parents' home where I lived. I lived with my parents until I was married, and oddly enough Wendell did too. He was still living at home. This makes me sound terrible too, (laughing) but he was dating my best girlfriend, (laughing) Norma Jean. I know it's not like I stole him from her or nothing like that, but what was funny is I worked so much that I couldn't have a boyfriend anywhere-- Oklahoma City or anywhere else. I just wasn't there long enough to get involved. And I was lonesome when I'd come in from a tour and have a few days off, so I called Norma. I said, "Let's go to a movie, or let's go out to eat." "Well, I can't. I've got a date with Wendell." I said, "Well, ask Wendell is I can come along with you." (laughing) I was a tag-along as the third wheel. And I said, "I'll pay my way, but let me just go with you guys." And he did, and so the first time I went out with them they came in to say "hi" for Wendell to meet me and the sparks kind of flew even right then and it wasn't too long-- about six weeks, something-- Norma was invited to go be on the Porter Wagoner television show out of Nashville, which was a big break for her. So she moved to Nashville, and she actually told me, "Wanda, take good care of Wendell." And so I've just been trying to take good care of him! (laughing) The only way I could do that was eight months later, we married.
Dick: That was in 1961.
Wanda: You're right!
Dick: He gave up his career and began supporting your career. That had to be a big decision and unusual for that period of time.
Wanda: It really was. But to my credit, at least, I gave him a choice. I said, you know, I knew he had a very good future for him. He's a very young guy. He was in computers already and programming them and everything. But my career had just taken off in 1960 with "Let's Have a Party," turned right around with "Right or Wrong," another big one, and I said I'll just drop my career and I'll be a housewife or whatever. And he thought about it-- not too long-- and he said, "No, I think you and your folks have worked too hard to get where you are." And he tells me now my life looked a whole lot more exciting than his was. (laughing) But what was so sweet he said, "Wanda, we'll try it in your career as long as I can be helpful to you." ...meaning he wasn't going to be a tag-along, and so he right quick jumped in learned the business, and within three years time he was booking me and traveling with me, taking care of publicity, and he's been doing it ever since and doing it very well.
Dick: You went back to country, did you not in the ‘60s-- later in the "60s? Why'd you do that?
Wanda: Well, you know, as we mentioned earlier the music was changing a lot. My type of rock and roll was kind of old hat, I guess, and I hadn't really gotten any big hits, you know, they were good sellers and things like that. All I knew to do was just go back to where I started and do country. That was the reasoning behind it.
Dick: Your life and career changed in 1971.
Wanda: Drastically, yes!
Dick: You saw the light.
Wanda: I saw the light! (laughing) and so did Wendell, my husband. Yeah, what's your question first of all? (laughing)
Dick: What changed in 1971? What did you do?
Wanda: Well, our lives changed, because we gave our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ and He makes such a wonderful difference. Our marriage was getting in trouble, you know. That kind of life is hard, and especially though we had two kids at home that had to be taken care of and you know, it's getting harder and we were having some problems between us and so our children had invited us to go to church. My mother kept them in church, so even though we were gone on weekends, she was very faithful to take them. And they had a new preacher and the kids were excited about him, so we were going to be home on a Sunday and they'd made us promise that we'd be there for church. So we promised and we were kind of late, but we got there, and they had already left. They were disappointed. They thought we weren't coming. But we went on in, and it was that day God just spoke to us at the end of that service, and we publicly went forward and dedicated the rest of our lives to Christ and that made all the difference. The fence, the wall between us, we were like butting heads on several fronts, and that just dissolved. Because all of a sudden when both parties want to please God, and not themselves or somebody else, then it just takes that load off you, and Wendell began seeing... You know, he had a problem with being jealous, naturally. I understood it, you know, because he was from... at that point he'd lived in West Texas and he was the cowboy sort, and he didn't share his girlfriend with anybody or all that stuff-- macho things-- and so I understood that, and I was constantly being asked about Elvis, and that didn't sit too well with him. What was so wonderful that as soon as we were saved, it just changed. It's like it wasn't there anymore. In fact, he would say, "Tell them, tell them that story... now don't forget about you and Elvis." I'm thinking, "My goodness!" (laughing) "God has made a big difference!" ...and He did, and so I wanted the world to know what had happened to me, and the only way I could do that was through music, so I began writing gospel songs, and I did one album for Capitol, and they felt that was enough, and so I asked for my release from Capitol so I could do more gospel music with some other company. Because at that point, we were being invited to all these different churches to give our testimony, and I still had a big name, you know, in country music. You know, I could fill a church house up! Just give them an evening of entertainment and inspiration, tell them my story, sing some good country gospel songs and my husband would come and speak and give his testimony and it was wonderful. We saw a lot of other people make decisions for Christ, the same decisions that we had made, and it was a very fulfilling point in our lives. We did one-nighters, mostly, and we still traveled just like we did, but in totally different circles. And it wasn't ever the fact that I wanted to divorce country music and just sing gospel. So many artists do that-- "I'll never sing another...." Well, I didn't say that. All I wanted to do was extend-- I wanted to add gospel to my repertoire. The people thought I'd gone off the deep end, I guess. (laughing) So I lost my country audience pretty fast.
Dick: Other artists did gospel. Tennessee Ernie Ford did it. Elvis did gospel.
Wanda: Oh, yeah.
Dick: That seemed to be okay.
Wanda: It seemed to be, didn't it? I don't know, Capitol... I guess I'd already changed once on them. They weren't going to stand for me to keep changing my style, but I didn't want to do just all gospel, but I certainly enjoyed those years that I was able to do that, and on the other hand, I was just really thrilled to go back into secular music, being able to sing the country songs, and the little rockabilly things, and that happened in Europe in '85-- 1985.
Dick: What happened in '85 that made that happen?
Wanda: Well, a gentleman in Sweden had a little record company, and he had been a big fan of mine, so he got in touch with us and invited me to come over and do a new, in-studio album. Because all that had been... being released on me was compilations, you know, from my Capitol and my Decca days, and they'd mix them up and have another album. He wanted to do a fresh, new one, and while I was there, he wanted to do about a three-week tour. And I thought, "Well, great! If you can book that many dates, fine!" But I'd never been... I'd been to Sweden once, but I didn't know I had fans. You know, we didn't have the media to go to, even then, as we do now. So I was shocked. Here I was going into these cities and filling up the halls, and we weren't in the clubs anymore at that point, so I was still in big auditoriums and things and I'm thinking, "Have these people been here all this time?" (laughing) Apparently they had been. They thought I'd died or retired or something. But that's how it started, and actually I've been back to Sweden every year, and for about 20 years I did extensive tours, you know, like a month or six weeks in just the Scandinavian countries, but then Europe began opening for country... I call it Europe-- Western Europe.
Wanda: ...and the U.K. I've always worked there quite a bit. But I thought it was interesting, here was all these rock and roll fans in Sweden and in Western Europe and bit fans of mine, had all my records. They'd come up to the table for signatures and there would be a stack of albums like this, you know, for me to sign. And, you know, it was thrilling, exciting. And, finally, well, I was going to tell you Western Europe opened up. In Germany... I had recorded 18 songs in the German language through the years. That was in the ‘60s, I believe, I did that, yeah. And the first song that they released went to number one in Germany. It was me singing in German a song called "Santo Domingo."
Dick: It's a beautiful song.
Wanda: Have you heard it?
Dick: I have.
Wanda: I think it's so pretty. Not country, but anyway, I pulled it off however it happened, I don't... but I wound up doing 18 songs like that. So Germany was one of the first places that invited me back to tour. And other people then would want me to record with them on their albums, and then Belgium and some other places-- Sweden... not Sweden, Switzerland and other places would open up to me. They have a lot of big festivals there. Europe is real big on festivals so they had... I could see I had a lot of fans in France. Now in France it's strange because they don't recognize me as a country singer at all. It was rock and roll from the very first, when I first started getting bands in France. In Germany, they didn't know much about my rock and roll career; I was a country singer. (laughing) That's why I was inducted into their Country Music Hall of Fame in Germany.
Dick: Well, you didn't want to be stereotyped.
Wanda: That's right!
Dick: It turns out that you weren't.
Wanda: I wasn't. I made it, didn't I? (laughing)
Dick: Hispanics like your music, too.
Wanda: Do they?
Dick: They do. I've read about that-- that your music is big in Hispanic communities here in the United States.
Wanda: I'm glad to know that. They may ask me to sing in Spanish sometime, which I don't think I have the patience any more to do that. (laughing) It was the hardest work I'd ever done in my life!
Dick: But you are working hard. You are working hard now.
Wanda: Oh, yes, I am. I work 80 to 100 dates a year, and I'm asked a lot of times "What's the difference in travel and working now than it used to be?" I said, "Well, I used to be in a four-door car-- eight or ten-year-old car, maybe-- and working for $100 a night, so I said it's a lot better now. I get to fly and get some more zeros on there. (laughing)
Dick: You relate so well to your audience. Does that just come naturally?
Wanda: Apparently it must. I just love having my audience right up there where I can see them in the eye, and to me my performances are more like just singing for my friends in my living room. That's kind of the feeling I like to get-- tell them little stories along and I kind of flirt with them and have fun, play with them. I throw the water on them and I'll go by them and mess up their hair or hold the mike down and let them sing with me or something. To me that's the fun part.
Dick: How do you keep your voice in such good shape?
Wanda: Well, I don't have any secrets, that's for sure, but the only thing I can figure is that I never stopped singing. I think those that retire several years and then maybe try and come back probably have problems building that voice back up. I know I've had... oh, like I broke my leg severely and was in a cast six months, and so I didn't work. Well, I started trying to get my voice back and it had weakened a whole lot in that six months. And I had to build my breath back and get the vocal chords back strong. And the voice box is just a muscle, and so I'm told it's just like any other muscle. If you don't use it, you lose it. So I just keep growling and singing. (laughing)
Dick: It turns out that Bruce Springsteen is a big fan.
Wanda: How about that? Yeah.
Dick: Tell me about your meeting with Bruce Springsteen at a bowling alley in New Jersey.
Wanda: (laughing) Well, that was rather funny, wasn't it? I guess nowadays they're having shows any and everywhere. I've been in two bowling alleys. I've been in two music stores, and that's so unusual to me. But I was in this bowling alley in his home town, Asbury Park, New Jersey, and I was late getting there. Something had happened, late flight or something, and I was about an hour-- my band, too-- was about an hour late. He'd waited through all that-- he and Patti, his wife, and so... When I got there, well the manager came back to the little office I was in and he said, "Wanda, Bruce Springsteen and his wife are here and they'd like to know if they can come and say ‘hi' to you." I said, "Yeah, sure. Tell them to come on back. When the President gets here, have him come on back, too." Now, I thought he was pulling my leg, and in five minutes, here they came in and you know, I could tell, they knew my songs and had a good short visit with him, and then the producers that did my documentary set up a time at their home where he interviewed them and I got to hear how they became fans and how my music influenced them, so...
Dick: You performed with two Elvises...
Wanda: (laughing) Yes.
Dick: ...Presley and Costello.
Wanda: That's right. How unusual! And my husband... after I'd recorded with Elvis Costello and I started doing all these interviews, and I'm still talking about Elvis-- both Elvises. At that time he says, "Oh, man," he said, "that's all I need is another Elvis in my life!" (laughing) I was so delighted to find out he was a fan and wanted to sing with me, you know, no charge, he even brought his band, and he told the producer, he said, "The only thing I ask for is that we'd be in studio together." Because a lot of times, they send a DAT out and you... I've done my part here in Oklahoma City and somebody else does theirs, and they put them together. He said, "No, I want to be in the studio with her." And we sang together like we'd done it all of our lives. We recorded "Crying Time." I had to make a special trip back to California, but it was well worth it to get to sing with him.
Dick: Great harmony and chemistry on that song, especially.
Wanda: Thank you. That was a great song.
Dick: That was from 2003's "Heart Trouble."
Wanda: Yes, yes.
Dick: You didn't want to do duets back in the ‘50s, but you did duets in 2003.
Wanda: Well, you know, people change. (laughing) I'd been doing quite a few things like that in Europe, and the way this happened with the "Heart Troubles" album, to me was just amazing! We were going to do it for C & H Records in Hollywood, so we were recording there in Hollywood. Well, word got out, you know, Wanda's coming here to record, recording with John Wooler, and so forth. So the people started calling them-- Aretha, a lady who worked for the record company and John-- so they'd call me and say, "Hey! The Cramps just called, and they'd love to be on this album-- picking or singing or whatever you wanted." And they said, "Do you want them?" I said, "Well, yeah, love to have them!" Then Lee Rocker, let's see, Lee Rocker was bass then with the Blasters, or one of those... no it was the Stray Cats, I think, and Dave Alvin, guitar player-- great one-- and they were just coming from everywhere. Then Elvis Costello and... So it wasn't something like I'd planned to have all these people join me to make my first album in a long time-- in-studio album-- more up-to-date. Because I really hadn't even thought of that aspect of it, and my producer hadn't either. But we were delighted when these people were volunteering to come and record with me. And one guy, James Infeld, even wrote a special song--a gospel song-- for that album. And he said he wanted to write a song like Elvis Presley would sing gospel songs, and he wrote a beautiful one called "Walk With Me," and I did that song in the album. So it was just very special from the word go.
Dick: The first time you were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you were not voted in, but you did get some high-powered support the next time.
Wanda: Yeah. Well, Wendell got real serious about it. You know, he could not understand why I hadn't been inducted a long time ago because I was the first girl to record it. And no one argued that point, but they just overlooked me and because... and I think because I hadn't had all those big smash hits. But the influence I was on the music, you know, was great. So he just wanted me in there. He said, "You belong in there!" and Elvis Costello found, when he was inducted, he realized I wasn't in there and you know, he said, "I can't believe this!" He wrote a stinging letter to the hall and said there is a certain guitar of mine you are asking for. You will not get it until it can hang by Wanda Jackson's. So he really took a stand for me, and Bruce did too, I understand some way. Wendell talked it up with all my fans and gave them a letter that they could just sign and mail in or an idea-- kind of have it-- what to say. And boy, my fans at the jobs were grabbing those up and mailing them in so, you know, he made it happen actually, my husband did.
Dick: Bob Dylan also supported you, I understand.
Wanda: Yeah, he called me what... "Oklahoma tornado with lipstick" or something.
Dick: "Hurricane with lipstick."
Wanda: Hurricane! Well, it wouldn't be Oklahoma then, but "hurricane with lipstick." Yeah, he was quite a character. But he plays my records on his satellite radio show, you know, a lot. And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put me in the greatest category, I think, because it fits me so well-- the early influence category. And they hadn't had anyone inducted in that category for nine years, so there's not that many. That tells you there's not that many out there. And I was really pleased at that, because that's what I had been hearing-- you influenced me. Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee's sister, said "I wanted to sing the stuff like Jerry Lee," but she said, "I didn't think a girl could." But she went on tour with Jerry and I was on it, and she said the first time I saw you I said, "I can do that too!" I kind of broke down the doors for them, the stigma, you know, so I was happy with that.
Dick: What did you think about that night in April in Cleveland, 2009, when you were on stage being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Wanda: Well, it's kind of mixed emotions. I was so thrilled to be there, naturally, but when Roseanne Cash, and she did such a great job, didn't she, on that introduction of me. While she was on, I realized I was getting really nervous, because speaking is not something I normally do. I can, and have, but I'm out of my comfort zone somewhat, so I found myself getting really nervous, and I just closed my eyes and gave it to the Lord, and I said, "I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to do this at all, so I'm just going to put it in your hands. You've go to help me through it... or do it for me." By the time I got up on stage-- God is so good-- I was just as relaxed as I am here with you, and I was having the best time of my life! (laughing) And so, after it was over, I'm "Thank you, Lord! Thank you! You did it for me," and the singing part was so much fun with Paul Shaffer--his band, you know. It was a great evening. In fact, we were all so happy about it that my husband and I brought all of our family up there-- grandkids, our kids, our assistant, her husband, and brought them all up there so they could enjoy that moment. And at first we weren't going to bring grandkids. We had four. But flying is really expensive these days, as everybody knows, so our second oldest granddaughter called, and she said, "Granddad, if I saved my own money, could I go up there with you?" And he said, "You would do that, honey?" "Oh, yeah," she said. So naturally, that's all it took. Granddad said, "Well, certainly you can come! You don't have to pay for it!" And then my third oldest granddaughter- my son's daughter-- she gave up her Junior-Senior Prom to be there and I can't believe a young girl would do that. She said, "Oh, I'll have another prom next year, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime event." You know, for them, so it was very, very special.
Dick: How does it make you feel when younger artists and younger generations of fans show the appreciation for you and your music that they are now?
Wanda: It's a bit overwhelming. It truly is, because I think I was just a kid, all of us, we were just kids and doing what we wanted to do and not realizing we were causing all this stir and what all it was going to affect. Young people, I don't think, think that far ahead, for the most part. Maybe they do these days. They're all so smart! (laughing) But, you know, I just looked forward to the next job-- where I was going to sing-- and those things didn't enter my mind, so it's... I don't know what adjective to use, you know, it's exciting and overwhelming and kind of heady for me, but I'm trying to keep it so I can buy a hat that fits me. I don't want my head to get big! (laughing)
Dick: In the summer of 2009, you performed at Summer Breeze in Norman, and you were joined on stage by two granddaughters who played guitar and a young woman from the Oklahoma City area that sings Wanda Jackson songs.
Wanda: ...and doesn't she sing Wanda Jackson songs!
Dick: She's great!
Wanda: Oh, yeah! Thirteen years old!
Dick: That must have been a thrill for you.
Wanda: It was! First time I saw that little darling, you know, I was busting my buttons. I was so proud! And she's a doll, and so when that concert came up I asked her to go on it, and being at home, you know, I can do that. And my two granddaughters, their first time on stage, and we paid them something. We said, "Now, don't forget, you are now professionals! As soon as you get money for playing, you're a professional." (laughing) So, we had a lot of fun with it. I was very proud of them!
Dick: That was Kaylea Harris that joined you on stage. Did you think about paying it forward when you brought her up and introduced her to the crowd?
Wanda: How about that! No, I didn't, but if I don't say my granddaughters' names here, I'll never live it down, so I have to tell you the dark haired girl is Jordan Simpson, and she graduated this year and she's going to OSU in August of this year. And the blonde girl was Jillian Goodman, and she wants to be a singer. She has a good voice and played the guitar. I was very proud of them.
Dick: You paid it forward early in the ‘60s with Roy Clark.
Wanda: Um hmm.
Dick: How did you find Roy Clark? He joined you for awhile.
Wanda: Yeah, I had worked in New Jersey or Maryland, maybe it's Maryland...right there where they all join together-- D.C. area-- and he had the house band there and performed before me or after me or something. Someone said, "You ought to watch this guy. He's funny and plays guitar so good." So, I did, and I was very impressed with him. Well, shortly after that I went to the Golden Nugget, had my own show there. I'd been at the Show Boat before, and so I was forming a band that I could call the Party Timers, you know, and the shows in Vegas... very, very hard work. It was just a lounge act. The Golden Nugget didn't have a theater at that time, so I had to work five shows a night-- 45 on, 15 off-- back-to-back. And none of my guys sang. They might could do a little harmony with me or something, but they weren't solo singers. And I said, "My gosh, I've got to have some help!" You know, I love to sing, but that's a bit over the top, and I said, "That guy from Washington, D.C. area-- he would be a big help, because he's funny. He also plays a lot of guitar, he sings. So we called him and naturally he jumped at the opportunity. And so on our opening night, the men with Capitol Records-- my producer and whoever else-- came to our opening and they saw him and they were interested in him, and at my next session he played a song. I paid for his first session, as it turned out, but they signed him right there at that session on the spot. So yeah, I got to pay it forward then, and I hope I can do the same for Kaylea.
Dick: Your hometown of Oklahoma City has named an alley in Bricktown in your honor-- Wanda Jackson Way.
Wanda: Yeah! That's pretty cute.
Dick: Like that?
Wanda: It's got a little play on words.
Dick: What do you think about that?
Wanda: Well, it's really thrilling! You know, Oklahoma City has been honoring me-- well, all of Oklahoma, too-- in so many ways. It's just incredible to me, and I'm so very pleased. They've just done so much for me-- articles in the Oklahoma magazines that's been in Tulsa and here. Mayor...
Wanda: Mick Cornett had "Wanda Jackson Day,' and then it was "Oklahoma County Wanda Jackson Day," and then Governor Henry had "Wanda Jackson Day" in the whole state. And, you know, you can't do more than that for your native daughter. So, I was just floored and very happy, and I like the name "Way"-- "Wanda Jackson Way." In Maud, Oklahoma, my hometown, they did a "Wanda Jackson Day" yearly there for about 13 years, which my husband and I helped a lot on, but they named their main street through there "Wanda Jackson Boulevard," and I liked that. That was very nice. But in Bricktown, in Oklahoma City, that's a pretty big deal! I'm happy!
Dick: You've been a start for decades. You've seen the world, but you've remained in Oklahoma City. Why do you stay here?
Wanda: I love it! I've just never seen the need to move. It probably would have been better career-wise back in the ‘60s had I moved to Nashville. I would have had first chance at some of these big songs, I mean, that other girls did and had the hits on. At least I would have had a chance to sing them, which living in Oklahoma, I didn't. But our children were most important, and we had our priorities right. And my folks and Wendell's folks lived here and very close to us-- five minutes on both sides of us. So we had to have governesses and nannies living with us, because when I traveled, we both traveled. And it was just important to us that our kids had family around them, and it was helpful to the ladies that worked for us, because our mothers would take them for a weekend and the lady could have free time, you know, and because of that, mother had our children in church, and that brought Wendell and I to church, and then our lives were so beautifully changed, so I'm sure glad that I stayed in Oklahoma City.
Dick: Do you like the description "the sweet lady with the nasty voice?"
Wanda: (laughing) That's pretty catchy, isn't it?
Dick: It is!
Wanda: I never thought of that growl as being nasty, but I think they just wanted... a guy in California that had met me and interviewed me, that's the way he ended an article. He said, "After meeting Wanda, I realize that she's really a sweet lady," but with a nasty voice, you know, and so they liked that-- the producers-- and I said, "Well, it's okay." Do you remember what I said at the Rock and Roll Hall for Fame around that for your viewers that hasn't seen that? But I said, "Well, I think the name is kind of catchy. It's all right, but I'm just not quite sure that it's factual, because I'm not at all sure I'm a sweet lady." (laughing)
Dick: What do you see as your impact on music?
Wanda: Hmm, I don't know really how to answer that. Just being the first in a lot-- not a lot, but several different things-- first gal to do rock and roll, the CMT Television, the Nashville Country Music Television, they had a deal of the 40 greatest women in country music, and then they had the 40 greatest firsts-- like the first one to do this and that-- so on the greatest ladies-- or women-- I came in number 35 and you know, just for my, I guess, style of singing, and then on their 40 firsts, they voted me "Country music's first sex symbol." (laughing) because I did change the way of dressing for girls in country music. I was already kind of doing rock and roll, but I was still doing more country when I changed that dress and got some glamour into it. So, you know, and my music for whatever it was worth, it did influence a lot of people, so did that answer your question? I'm not sure it did!
Dick: It did! What does the future hold for Wanda Jackson?
Wanda: None of us know, do we? That's what makes life exciting. Wake up to a new world everyday. I hardly have two days alike, you know, anymore-- never did. So I don't really know. I'm hoping on my part that my husband and my health will stay good because we love traveling. We're just gypsies at heart, I guess and that doesn't bother us at all, touring non-stop. So I'm hoping that our health will hold up and we'll be able to do that at least as long as we want to, or until I don't draw crowds anymore, and then I will bow out gracefully. So, whichever one comes first. (laughing)
Dick: That's likely to be a long time.
Wanda: Well, I likely won't be able to keep touring either, but I tell you, I'm enjoying the ride right now!
Dick: Wanda Jackson, thanks for being a great Oklahoman, and a sweet lady with a nasty voice!
Wanda: (laughing) Thank you, Dick. I've enjoyed talking with you.
Dick: It's been a real pleasure.
Wanda: Thank you.
Updated on Tuesday May 21, 2013 at 11:22pm