Cordell Jackson

"If I want to wang dang rock 'n' roll at 69 years old dressed up in an antebellum dress, it ain't nobody's business but mine."

In Memphis, her stomping grounds of 40 years, Cordell Jackson is a local icon and treasure. Check out a cool photo at Memphis Mojo.

Jackson has a small Web page at Pravda Music

Read a review of a live show at Barrister's (Memphis, TN) in No Depression magazine.

Or a review of Live in Chicago in The Memphis Flyer

Jackson is listed in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Cornfed magazine recently interviewed a lively and effervescent Cordell Jackson -- just reading the interview made me breathless! She had some pretty starchy things to say about the way men treat women musicians. Here's a sample:

"They don't trust a woman... well, when I first started playing the guitar at twelve [I was told] 'Young girls don't play guitars...' And I says 'Well I do.' I looked 'em straight down and says 'I do.'"

"You get no breaks, I promise you. And I've got news for you -- it's not getting better. You just have to forge your own way, and go to the bank with what you can."

For the full interview, write to Cornfed, PO Box 220135, Brooklyn, NY 11222. Enclose $3.00 and ask for issue #8.

Moon Records Discography

Cordell Jackson
Bebopper's Christmas / Rock & Roll Christmas
Moon 9, 1956

Barney Burcham
Chain of Hearts / I Fell
Moon 37, 1957

Johnny Tate
Kind and Gentle / Keeping Your Memories
Moon 300, 1957

Allen Page
High School Sweater / Honeysuckle
Moon 301, 1957

Allen Page
Dateles Night / I Wish You Were Wishing
Moon 302, 1958

Allen Page
She's the One That's Got It / Sugar Tree
Moon 303, 1958

Joe Wallace
Leopard Man / My Teenage Dream
Moon 304, 1959

Earl Patterson
Nightmare Hop / Ready For Love
Moon 305, 1959

Big Four
All Keyed Up / Outa Tune
Moon 306, 1959

Allen Page
Oh Baby / I Wish You Were Wishing
Moon 307, 1959?

Sources for this article

Kicks Magazine #5, "Rock on the Moon," by James Marshall. Cornfed #8, Interview by Susan M. Clarke. Go Cat Go! Rockabilly Music and Its Makers. By Craig Morrison. University of Illinois Press, 1996. She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. By Gillian G. Garr. Seal Press, 1992. Liner notes to Cordell Jackson: Live In Chicago by Miriam Linna.

Cordell Jackson is best known as the rockin' grandma who plays rings around rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer in a 1991 Budweiser ad. But to rockabilly and roots-music aficionados, she's better known as an early rockabilly pioneer, the first woman recording engineer in the U.S., an early woman record label owner, the first woman to write, sing, accompany, record, engineer, produce and manufacture her first record, and of course, the rockin' grandma who can play rings around Brian Setzer.

Originally from Pontotoc, Mississippi, she was born Cordell Miller on July 15, 1923. Her father, a fiddler, lead a popular local string band called the Pontotoc Ridge Runners. He encouraged the young Cordell to play music; she learned guitar, piano, and upright bass, and at age twelve she was performing with her father's band on his radio show in Tupelo. Later she added mandolin, banjo, and harmonica to her repertoire, but she's best known for electric guitar -- her trademark Hagstrom.

In 1943, she married William Jackson, and settled in Memphis. According to Kicks magazine, "It was either marry a country dude or a city dude, and I chose a city dude." In Memphis she joined the Fisher Air Craft Band, and wrote songs (she almost won a Hillbilly Song contest sponsored by Tex Ritter). But her entrance into rockabilly legend -- as well as into the lists of woman "firsts" -- began in 1947 with her purchase of recording equipment from Kabakoff Radio and Appliance in Memphis. With this installed in her living room, Miriam Linna writes in the liner notes to Cordell Jackson: Live In Chicago, she "took off taping songs and sing-alongs, and experimenting with local musician pals." She also wrote songs and recorded demos for other acts for Sam Phillips's Memphis Recording Studio before he started Sun Records.

Jackson created Moon Records in 1956, to record her own single, "Beboppers Christmas" b/w "Rock and Roll Christmas. She was soon in the business of releasing rockabilly singles by others. The best-known Moon act, Allen Page and the Big Four, originally came to Memphis to audition for Sun. Jackson says, "They aimed for the Sun and ended up on the Moon!" [Kicks magazine] Allen is best known for the moderately popular single, "Dateless Night," written by Jackson, and "She's the One That's Got It." The Big Four enter rock & roll history, at least as a footnote, as an early favorite and small influence on the Fab Four.

Locally active in Memphis through the 70s and 80s, Jackson worked up a humorous persona called Maxie Pearl, the alter-ego of Minnie Pearl, who chased money instead of men; recorded a novelty song called "Football Widow" which still gets local airplay in Memphis during the football season, and produced a Contemporary Christian radio show. But she received more national attention -- and international attention, within the European rockabilly scene --when the 80s rockabilly and roots rock revival caught up with her. Alex Chilton and Tav Falco got her playing to a new generation of rockabilly audiences . Tav Falco's Panther Burns covered "Dateless Night" and "She's the One That's Got It" and invited her to play with members of the bands between sets. In 1983 she released a 4-song EP if instrumentals on Moon, "Knockin' 60."

Discovering the Moon singles were collector's items, Jackson revived Moon Records in 1980 to release a compilation album, The 50's Rock on the Moon of Memphis Tennessee: An Oddity. The record itself is now a collector's item.

Most recently, Jackson released Cordell Jackson: Live in Chicago," on Bughouse Records. Recorded on November 16, 1995 at Schubas in Chicago, the CD showcases Jackson's growly guitar style and her boundless sense of fun.

Jackson remains something of an icon; a cherished and colorful character on the Memphis music scene, she opens her house for tours every August. She made a cameo appearance in the film Great Balls of Fire, and continues to flout conventions. Says Cordell: "If I want to wang dang rock 'n' roll at 69 years old dressed up in an antebellum dress, it ain't nobody's business but mine."

--Cheryl Cline

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