Mistletoe may be Oklahoma’s state flower, but Sooner State native Wanda Jackson surely isn’t in the mood for a kiss when she’s singing such songs as “Mean Mean Man” or “Hard Headed Woman” with a feisty, raspy voice.
But behind the trademark sass is a heart of gold.
Jackson, dressed in her signature red dress and dangling earrings, played to a packed house Friday night (Nov. 27) at the Tractor Tavern, singing the classic tunes that earned her the unofficial titles Queen of Rockabilly and First Lady of Rockabilly.
She kicked off the show with “Mean, Mean Man,” and by the second song, “Rock Your Baby,” most of the crowd was singing along. It was clearly a love-a-thon, without being gushy. She is authentic, and her fans adore her for it.
The 72-year-old singer-guitarist sweetly acknowledged her “new generation of fans,” saying, “You’ve got the records, you know the songs.”
Complaining of laryngitis, Jackson sipped red wine from a plastic cup throughout the show, which included sets by the Marshall Scott Warner Band and the yodeling Petunia and the Vipers. “It’s the only thing that helps,” she said of the wine. Despite her ragged throat, Jackson was able to yodel beautifully on a couple of songs.
When she introduced Wendell Goodman, her husband of 48 years, the audience cheered. Goodman, who has served as Jackson’s manager for decades, also has to endure the nightly stories about Jackson’s fling with Elvis Presley in 1955, which she humorously calls her “greatest claim to fame.” But Goodman does so good-naturedly.
Recalling Presley, Jackson said, “They swooned for Frank Sinatra, but it was nothing like what they did for Elvis.” Her comments preceded very cool versions of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Jackson, who was backed by a four-piece band, divided her show between her own hit songs and a selection of cover tunes from the ’50s and ’60s. Her own songs included “I Gotta Know” from the 1956 album “Rockin’ With Wanda,” “In the Middle of a Heartache” from 1961’s “Wonderful Wanda” and the classic “Right Or Wrong,” also from 1961.
I especially loved the rambunctious “Fugiyama Mama,” which went to No. 1 in Japan in 1957.
Last April, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In September, Jackson’s hometown, Oklahoma City, named a street after her. More recently, Jackson has been recording with Jack White of the White Stripes. She described him as “a cool, cool cat.” Read about the collaboration here.
Watch a video of “Mean Mean Man” and “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad”: