The most under-rated chick singer of the 20th century gets the last laugh


Something that’s never been talked about enough is the courage it must have taken for Elvis Pressley to embrace black music and culture as he did back in the early 1950’s. Especially in the south! In a time when black music had to be “covered” by the likes of Pat Boone for any chance of major commercial success, Elvis emulated the more soulful and emotion filled style of black singers just as Jerry Lee Lewis did. Undoubtedly, the king of Rock & Roll’s stage persona was influenced by the passionate, sexy and unapologetic performing styles of black artists of the day. As a male, Elvis the Pelvis was the target of a lot of criticism and scorn. He was performing that pulsating devil’s music while obscenely thrusting and gyrating and shamelessly offending the sensibilities of conservative white society.


Enter Wanda Jackson, a young, up-and-coming country singer with a liltingly sweet and clear voice. With a little persuasion from her friend Elvis, she jumped on the rockin-hillbilly band wagon and made it her own. If Bible belt bigots got their BVD’s in a bunch over Elvis’ showmanship, imagine the conniption fits they must have thrown when this sweet, petite little gal started belting out growling rockers like “mean, mean man” and shakin them hips to the obscene jungle beat of Rock & Roll and Negro Blues! It was disgraceful I tell ya, a mother’s worst nightmare!


Wanda Jackson, in my opinion the greatest female rock vocalist of the 20th century, never became the household word she deserved to be. Maybe it’s because she was ahead of her time. White folk were used to men singing about evil women spending all their money, cheating on them and generally making them miserable. In the early 50’s, white society (except teenagers) weren’t ready to hear women sing their lamentations about lying, cheating, shiftless men. The big, tall and imposing “Big Mama Thornton” did have a hit with Lieber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” in 1953 but on a black record label and a largely black audience. Elvis hit it out of the park with the song a couple years later and most still associate it with him.


Wanda may have never received the fame and recognition in America that was her due but she achieved “super star” status in Europe and Asia. Now in her 70’s and recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, she’s still touring and belting out those gravel voiced rockers with only a tad less hip shakin. She has been a major influence for the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, Courtney Love, Rosie Flores, Adele and others too numerous to list. She also managed along the way to have a country singing career with several top 40 hits through the 60’s and 70’s, and a couple Grammy nominations. Did I mention Wanda’s gospel albums?


I had read that Wanda was featured in Rolling Stone Magazines “Women in Rock” but I looked up the song list and she was nowhere to be found in spite of the fact she influenced so many singers that made the cut. Maybe the biggest disappointment for me was the Johnny Cash bio-pic “Walk the Line”. Wanda had toured with Elvis and Johnny on the Louisiana Hay-Ride tour during the mid-50’s.  There was a scene in the dressing room during the show and Wanda’s “Fujiyama Mama” could be heard in the background as though she was on stage at that moment. I think it was chronologically incorrect but what really frosted my onions was the fact they never even mentioned her at all during the entire flick.


Wanda has never complained and she just keeps plugging away to the delight of her fans all across the globe. You go girl! You showed them how it’s done and you keep showing them every time you grace the stage. You have some of the world’s most loyal and adoring fans plus the perseverance and humility of a true legend in your own time! You are an Icon by any definition and history will never forget your myriad contributions to pop music and culture.

Published by Bill Hoover