She started early, around 1949 or so, winning a talent contest at the age of 12. This led to a daily show on a local radio station, KLPR. She was heard by Hank Thompson, and after graduating high school (which she insisted upon doing) soon was on tour, with a bill that included folks like – oh…Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly – all in the earliest stages of their career.
Did I mention Elvis? She toured frequently with him, and it was he that encouraged her to sing rockabilly. She was also a cast member on ABC-TV’s Ozark Jubilee, in Springfield Missouri from 1955 to 1960. Here, credited as being the first to put glamour into country and western – the fringe, long earrings, etc. She was also innovative in recording – placing, say, a country song on one side of a 45, and a rockabilly number on the other.
It's easy enough to find video of Wanda. You’ll find classic country, with "Queen for a Day"; blues-based rock with "Riot in Cell Block #9"; rockabilly, jump blues, and boogie woogie rhythms, with "Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On" and "Long Tall Sally" (to name a few). She’ll introduce “…the most beautiful love song ever written, a love song, dedicated to all y’all…”, then launch into "Hard-Headed Woman". Nice!
Jumping ahead some 48 years, and leaving out a few details, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame only last year and also received a lifetime achievement award. Also – very recently - Jack White – of The White Stripes contacted her for a recording project. She said she didn’t listen to his stuff, but that didn’t matter. She was soon recording at his place in Nashville. "You Know I’m No Good" (ala Amy Winehouse) among other tunes was released on her newest album, The Party Ain't Over, released in January 2011.
Wanda Jackson is 73 – and still amazes audiences with her fierce musicality.