There are legends and there is the mighty Wanda Jackson. Born in 1937 in Oklahoma, the First Lady of Rockabilly has been shimmying her tassels and shaking her fringe since the early 1950s, scoring her first record deal with Decca when she was still at high school. Her early releases were inspired by Western Swing and the electrified kind of country music that was bumping out of Bakersville, but after touring with an up-and-coming singer called Elvis Presley, Wanda decided to dabble with rock’n’roll.
It was the perfect path for Wanda’s distinctive voice – a howlin’ and twangin’ thing that was raspy and rough where many fellow female singers were smooth and sweet. The chugging guitars of the newly minted rock sound chimed with the rowdy and raunchy likes of ‘Fujiyama Mama’ and the self-penned ‘Mean Mean Man’. A star was born and thanks to some seriously impressive staying power, Wanda’s been shining ever since, putting on flashy and fabulous shows until relatively recently and becoming a sonic touchstone for everyone from The Cramps’ sleazy psychobilly to Amy Winehouse’s soulful stomps.
Wanda Jackson announced her retirement two years ago – but you can’t keep a world-beating talent down. News of her departure from music had evidently been greatly exaggerated and, post-retirement, she found herself collaborating with a host of new songwriters as well as getting into the studio with the equally iconic Joan Jett.
Now, at the age of 83, Wanda’s releasing her final farewell, the endlessly charming ‘Encore’, which marks her 32nd album. Alongside backing from Jett and blues singer Elle King, Wanda sasses her way through the perky revenge anthem ‘Two Shots’, while ‘You Drive Me Wild’ sees her in flirty form over boogie-woogie piano, offering the kind of lascivious come-on that wouldn’t seem out of place poolside in Love Island’s Casa Amor. “You make me tremble / Make me shake / Pleasing each other right until day break,” she offers in that distinctive croon as Jett’s guitar solo adds some low-down and dirty depth. ‘Treat Me Like A Lady’ is just as sublimely sleazy, as Wanda sings of the “low cut dress / hugging my hips”. Your Nanna could never.
We flashback 60 years or so with a dreamy version of 1962’s ‘It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’’ – which was also covered by Wanda’s former fella Elvis – driven by lap steel guitar and a vintage bounce, but the new songs swing every bit as hard. If this really is goodbye, then Wanda Jackson’s done it with impeccable style.
Release date: August 20
Record label: Blackheart Records