There’s something disarmingly girlish about the 73-year-old Wanda Jackson.
Often referred to as the “Queen of Rockabilly,” the spry Jackson still seems more like a naughty princess than an elder stateswoman of rock. Decked in white fringe and rhinestones with a coal-black lacquered bouffant, Jackson was alternately flirty and confessional as she guided the happy, age-diverse crowd through a musical history of her 56 years in rock music. Backed by Seattle’s the Dusty 45’s, Jackson’s 90-minute set on Friday at the Boulder Theater included rockabilly classics like “Rock your Baby,” “Riot in Cell Block #9” and her 1957
number-one single in Japan, “Fujiyama Mama.”
Jackson’s voice was in fine form (despite her complaints about the dry Colorado air) and her signature
rock ‘n’ roll bad girl growl sounds just as sexy at 73 as it must have at 17. During Friday’s show, Jackson talked about three different men who had a major influence on her life, in this order: Elvis Presley, Jesus Christ and Jack White. Her first major tour was with The King, himself, where she opened as a country singer. She shared the sweet story of herself at 17, sitting in Elvis’ bedroom, listening to records and learning how to play rockabilly songs. Jackson performed an Elvis medley in honor of her late friend.
The 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee also hit a highly personal note, sharing the story of finding Jesus and healing a long-standing emptiness in her life in the early ’70s. The Boulder crowd may have been a bit cool to her proselytizing, but they warmed quickly to her joyful version of the Gospel classic “I Saw the Light.”
Some of the funniest moments and best music arrived near the end of Jackson’s set as she saved her Jack White stories and much of the music from her new album he produced, “The Party Ain’t Over,” for late in the show. She spoke affectionately of the alt-rock icon, and shared her nickname for him — “the velvet brick” — explaining that his charm and polite demeanor work as the perfect front for his iron will. She thanked White for producing and promoting her new record; and she also indicated moments of conflict between them — mainly over his
insistence that she cover Amy Winehouse’s confessional (and raunchy) “You Know I’m No Good.” White rewrote some of the lines that Jackson objected to, and got his way — which is lucky for us, because the track is a stand-out on the album and was a blast to hear live. Jackson ended the night with a celebratory “Let’s Have a Party,” her 1960 hit, and left the stage for a few minutes before returning to greet, wink at and sign autographs for her Boulder fans.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.