Hurricane Wanda Hits Brooklyn

Wanda Jackson has the kind of career that makes the rest of us look bad. By the time she was 17 years old, Jackson had already hosted her own radio show and cut a hit country record. Fresh out of high school, she started going on tours with the likes of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Jackson even toured with–and briefly dated–Elvis Presley back when he was best known as “the Hillbilly Cat” and drove a pink car. In fact, Presley persuaded Jackson to stray from her country roots and try her hand at rock’n’roll.  “I didn’t think I could do it. I just thought this was a man’s thing,” Jackson says. “But after Elvis’s encouragement I talked to my producer and he decided to let me [sing rockabilly]. I was the first girl to do it.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF WANDA JACKSON)


Jackson’s raucous voice, riotous performances, and pioneering look–short, tight fringe dresses and long sparkly earrings in an age when demure, button-down shirt-dresses were the norm–won her a place in the boys’ club and a die-hard international fan base, including Bob Dylan (who once described her as “an atomic bomb in lipstick.”) It also earned her a few nicknames. “In France they called me Hurricane Wanda,” Jackson says. “When I’d come to tour there they’d say ‘Hurricane Wanda has hit the West Coast!'”


At 72 years old, Jackson is still rocking, mixing rockabilly with country and gospel tunes at her live performances. (An hour-and-a-half late to last night’s Knitting Factory gig in Brooklyn due to weather, she went straight from the airport to the stage with no rehearsal and still managed to bring down the house.) Last year, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence, and began working with Jack White on a handful of new recordings. The first single, released last month, included a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” which Jackson hadn’t heard before White presented an arrangement to her to sing. “I was a little leery at first, but now I really love it. I listen to it at least once a day. Recording with Jack was a very good experience, but he did stretch me a whole lot,” Jackson luaghed. “And he said I came through like gangbusters.”

Wanda Jackson tour information is available here.