She’s known as the Queen of Rockabilly, and she deserves the title. Wanda Jackson is one of the pioneers. She played with Elvis. She was even his girlfriend for a while. She may not have been as famous as the other folks (mostly guys) who blended together country, blues and folk to create the stuff known as rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly, but her songs — like “Mean Mean Man” — still sound great all these years later. And Ms. Jackson still sounds pretty great, too.
She’s in her 70s, but she’s still touring, and she made a stop Friday night at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackson in 2007 by phone, but this was the first time I’d ever seen her perform in concert. She was sassy, funny and spirited throughout a good long set, playing all of her oldies plus a couple of songs she just recorded for a seven-inch single with Jack White producing: Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over.” After the show, I bought the single at the merch table, where Jackson was up past 1:30 a.m. signing autographs. She told me the full album produced by White will be coming out in January.
Jackson spent some years playing Christian music before she went back to her early rockabilly tunes, so it wasn’t surprising that she included at least one song in her set with a gospel message — but what a song. She played one of my favorite classic country songs with a religious theme, Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.” Jackson’s backup band was the Lustre Kings, who played a fine opening set of their own, including some Elvis songs they were practicing for an Elvis festival the following night in Green Bay. Oh, and did I mention that Wanda Jackson threw some water at me during her set? She was saying, “Boy, it sure is hot in here, isn’t it?” and then she splashed some water from her bottle at a few people, including me. Fun times.