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Having a Party

[whitespace] Wanda Jackson Bopping Honey: Wanda Jackson influenced a generation of female rock wailers.

Elvis started a riot when he discovered rockabilly sensation Wanda Jackson

By William Crain

WANDA JACKSON was a moderately successful teenage country singer from Oklahoma when she met up with another young performer by the name of Elvis Presley. The two dated briefly, and he convinced her to take up the faster, R&B-influenced style of country music that was quickly making him a star. Now, whatever you may say about the Jungle Room, that simple act of career counseling proves that Elvis was capable of very good taste. As it turned out, Jackson's distinctive screech is one of the most thrilling sounds to come out of the rockabilly era.

Although Jackson's biggest hit, "Let's Have a Party," reached only number 37 on Billboard's pop charts, her late-'50s recordings are treasured by today's rockabilly fanatics. Artists as different as alternative country star Rosie Flores and the Cramps' Poison Ivy cite Jackson as an influence. In Jackson's version of "Riot in Cell Block #9," her tough snarl and tender twang make the prison riot sound both more dangerous and more fun than the Clovers did in their hit version of the same song. In "Honey Bop," her hiccuping style outdoes Gene Vincent at his own game. And "Let's Have a Party" was just another schlocky song from one of Elvis' movie soundtracks until Jackson turned it into an invitation to the kind of party everyone wishes they'd get invited to.

Later in her career, Jackson returned to country music and gospel, but she never stopped performing her very secular rock & roll for European audiences. In the last three years, she has started performing in the U.S. again. Reports say her voice has lost some of its range, but what does that matter, when she's the cosmic grandmother of Janis Joplin, Courtney Love and every other woman who ever shredded her tonsils in a moment of rock abandon?

Wanda Jackson performs with the Cadillac Angels, Chicken Coupe DeVille and the Kuntry Ks on Thursday (Sept. 3) at the Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto. Doors at 7pm; $10 adv.; 650/324-EDGE.

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From the September 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro.

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