Wanda Jackson ~

Interview by J.D. Buhl

J.D. Buhl: Tell me about your new recording with Rosie Flores.

Wanda Jackson: Yeah, she put together an album and we did two songs together. One was a song I'd written a while back called "Rock Your Baby" and then we did a song she'd written which is probably the song of the album, it's called "Rockin' Little Angel." But she doesn't know at this point which one they're gonna pull out for sure.

Buhl: So one of them would be her single?

Jackson: Yes. It's a "Rosie and Friends" type album. Janis Martin sings with her on one or two.

Buhl: How did you come together with Rosie and develop your friendship?

Jackson: Well, years ago, it's probably been ten now, I did a big country music festival for a radio station in Los Angeles; one of those really big ones with about five stages something goin' all the time. And she did back-up vocals for me, she and Jan Brown with the band I was with. So that's how we became acquainted. And she told me she'd been a big fan of mine and had recorded "I Gotta Know" already and it was one of her favorite songs. She's just a real cute rockabilly gal. Now since then, we've done the show at The Ryman together, with Pam Tillis; and when we did our recording she came here and stayed with me a couple days at my home, so we just love each other.

Buhl: So you did the recording there in Oklahoma City?

Jackson: Her band did the tracks in California, then she brought 'em here and we used my producer Don Johnson to put the voices on.

Buhl: Is that where you record the albums on your own label?

Jackson: Yes.

Buhl: What was the recording you mentioned of "Saving My Love" in Austria?

Jackson: Just a cameo appearance with a young man who's real popular in southern Germany and Austria, a rockabilly artist named Andy Lee Lang.

Buhl: I've wanted to cover that song myself; it's one of my favorites.

Jackson: Well, thank you. I always thought it was a good song. I realized it was a little bit short so I wrote a couple of more verses, to make it like today's songs, you know, a little longer.

Buhl: Did you sing it in Austrian?

Jackson: No, no, in English.

Buhl: Well, I know you had made a record in German many years ago and I wondered if you still recorded in any foreign languages.

Jackson: Um, no, I haven't been doin' it. I have eighteen titles in the German language. I had a number one song in 1965.

Buhl: That was "Santa Domingo"?

Jackson: Yes.

Buhl: Having just studied French, I know how hard it is to learn a foreign language.

Jackson: Well, I didn't learn them I had to do them phonetically. But I've recorded in Dutch and Japanese, too.

Buhl: I understand that the show I saw here in Kansas City is what you call your "country show" and that the set lists and nature of the performances actually change from place to place. What sort of shows do you do now?

Jackson: Well, they're all a bit of a mixture because I'm known for the country, the rockabilly and the gospel; sound so I kinda mix it up. If they tell me it's strictly a country concert, then I'll do more country but I'll still do "Mean Mean man," Fujiyama Mama" and close with "Let's Have A Party," because they're well-known songs, even in the country field.

Buhl: There's one particular song that I don't know if you're still doing the finest piece of white gospel cut by anybody other than Elvis.

Jackson: Oh really?

Buhl: And that's "One Day At A Time." Did you write that?

Jackson: No, no, that was written by Mary John Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson. He wrote the last verse.

Buhl: Well, I just think that's one of the best performances of your career.

Jackson: Well, thank you.

Buhl: A very moving record, and very hard to find!

Jackson: Well, England just released a CD with 17, 18 songs on it, all of my old Word gospel things, in a series called Timeless Love. I've recorded that song a number of times.

Buhl: You continue to re-cut older material?

Jackson: Yes. In fact, I recorded in Denmark a whole CD where I did some county stuff and early rock things and did some new original songs; and they called it Let's Have A Party.

Buhl: Are you still writing?

Jackson: Actually, I'm not. It seems like when you're not in the mainstream of, you know, the records and things, it kinda loses its appeal. If something pops in my mind and it's easy, I write it.

Buhl: Where do find most of your material then for the Amethyst albums and European albums?

Jackson: Well, the European ones, they have some idea of what they want, such as this Denmark album, then I also did "Blue Yodel #6" and some of their original things they'd send me I picked out from those. I found a song of Elvis's called "Like a Baby," and he just does a great job on it. So I recorded it on one of the Amethyst tapes, Classic Country.

Buhl: Did you live the wild life that was depicted in your early songs?

Jackson: No, not really. They weren't really all that wild. [Laughing] The singing was pretty raunchy and wild but....

Buhl: They can certainly set the imagination to going.

Jackson: ...Yeah, but the lyric is usually about, you know, just a girl and a boy datin' and one leavin' the other just like they are today, but they were actually, I think, pretty innocent songs.

Buhl: You didn't find any conflict then with your lifestyle and the Christian lifestyle you set out for in the early 70s?

Jackson: Well, I wasn't doing the rockabilly stuff then. And it wasn't until '84 when I was first asked to come to Sweden and do an album and concert tour. And they told me that "Mean Mean Man" and certain songs were popular over there. And yeah, in the beginning I did have a little trouble. I didn't know if I should do that, you know. But as I prayed about it, and Wendell [Goodman, her husband and manager] is a wise counsellor, he said that he felt like God had opened this door because we hadn't pursued it they'd just come to us. And he said why don't we give it a try and see how you feel about it. And that's what we did and I had perfect peace about it because the Lord can use it as a vehicle to get my testimony and His message out to places that don't hear the gospel like we have here on American on Sunday morning, on television and radio, and most of the churches you get the real gospel. But over there, they're almost in a post- Christian condition, you know. Certainly there are Christians but not very many and there's kind of an air of....When I give my personal testimony at my performances, there's just very much a hush that comes over the audience. And you know, really, I could say more than I do, and they're interested. I just keep it brief and tell them I realized something was missing in my life and I found out that it was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But I feel like God can use that whole arena, you know, television, newspapers, magazines; in fact, He has for the last twelve years that I've been touring over there. In all of the interviews they ask me about the change in my life, so it's gotten me more publicity than anything, which is not the reason I came to the Lord by any means, but... [laughing].

Buhl: Are you members of a church there in Oklahoma City?

Jackson: Yes, uh-huh.

Buhl: Do you ever go back to Maud [Oklahoma, her home town]?

Jackson: Well, we have "Wanda Jackson Day" there every year, and I try to make it. It's always the last Saturday in April, where they come from Kansas and Texas and Oklahoma and we've had 'em from California to enter the contest. I'm always one of the judges, and we have like 60, 70 entries, which makes for a long day of judging. But it's exciting to see all the young talent; a big percentage of them are very good. We narrow it down to the top ten and then they come back and do a different song for us and then we bring it down to the top five. And the top five, on Wanda Jackson Day, they ride in the parade in convertibles and they are on the show and we have a new set of judges, plus the audience applause counts. They all win something, but our top winner gets some playbacks made; they get spots on some of the shows in Branson, and some money. It's become probably the most popular talent contest in the midwest. We hold it in the school gymnasium. We have a classic car show, arts and crafts, set up a carnival there, the parade, and then I do the benefit show. All the profits go to the volunteer police and firemen in Maud. We've been able to get new streets and highways. Highway 59 is now "Wanda Jackson Boulevard." And because of [improvements in crime and fire fighting made posssible by the benefit shows] the insurance on the homes and things has come down. And it's brought the town together they work hard all year putting it on.

Buhl: What is it that makes you special?

Jackson: I think because I have Jesus Christ in my heart (laughs).

Buhl: There it is! (laughs)

Jackson: We're all special to Him. And also, all the fan mail that I still receive is interesting from all over the world. Lately, I've done two shows for TNN, Music City Tonight, and the series at the Ryman. That has brought so much fan mail and it is so encouraging when I read that people wanted to know where I was and what I was doin' and just didn't have anyway of knowin' 'til they saw those shows.

Buhl: I think your reputation has grown in the last several years.

Jackson: Yes, something's happened. Again, I feel like the Lord has just caused it to happen; more publicity than I've ever gotten in my life, the last fifteen, twenty years.

Buhl: A lot of that has to do with your work in Europe.

Jackson: And rockabilly kinda makin' a revival in certain places, even in America, but in Europe it's very big and it has been for a long time. Even new generations of fans, which is exciting too.

Buhl: Yeah, if I had little children, they'd be boppin' around the house to "Honey Bop" too!

Jackson: So many of 'em, their kids are being brought up on 50s rock. It'll do 'em a lot more good than this new stuff, I'll tell ya.

Buhl: Well, I'll let you go. Maybe I'll join you at the judges stand in Maud next year. I'm not much of a guitar player but I know a talented person when I see one.

Jackson: Well, we have these sheets that we judge performances by; certain things we look for. And what's neat is that the winners as well as the losers come around and ask for all the critique sheets so that they can better themselves.

Buhl: There's times in my career when I could've used that...

Jackson: Oh yeah! I would've loved to have something like that! (laughing)

Buhl: You had to learn it the hard way.

Jackson: That's the best way, though trial and error. Just get out there amongst 'em. I'm still learnin'. I pick up something from every performer I watch...

Buhl: They all get something from you too, Wanda.

Jackson: I know Rosie made me feel real good. She said, "I learned so much about recording just by doing two songs with you." I don't know what it could've been, but whatever it was, it helped her, and that's a good feelin'."

J.D. Buhl is a Kansas City musician and journalist.

Copyright 1996 J.D. Buhl

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