Dating Elvis isn’t the (only) reason for Wanda Jackson’s rock royalty status

“Queen of Rockabilly’ muses on her lengthy career, the touring life and dating Elvis

Keri Carlson

I wore Elvis’ ring,” Wanda Jackson declares on her newest record, “I Remember Elvis.”

It’s a claim not many can make, to have dated the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“My husband had this idea to do a tribute album (to Elvis) a while ago, and my fans kept asking for it,” Jackson said. “But I didn’t think anyone should bother Elvis’ songs.”

Eventually, though, Jackson came around to the idea.

“After all, he got me into rock,” she said.

Regardless of whether you give Elvis credit for the innovation of early rock ‘n’ roll, one of his greatest accomplishments was to convince Jackson to move from country music to the rockabilly and rock genre.

And although Jackson might always be famous for dating Elvis, and some speculate she only received her “Queen of Rockabilly” title because of that association, Jackson has proved she’s an important figure in women’s rock history ” in her own right.

In the mid-1950s, when it was barely acceptable for young men to wiggle their hips and sing of lust and desire, it was even more scandalous for a woman to do the same.

“I was the first and only girl in rock for a while,” Jackson said, “on shows there were never any other girls; I was the only one.”

Jackson was an anomaly; she had only a couple of minor radio hits and sadly is still left out of history books and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“I knew that there were rules because I chose to break them,” Jackson said. She said that though she “loved” country music, but the mass appeal of rock ‘n’ roll to a teenage audience made her want to switch over.

“I realized, though, that it was strange for a girl to be wild and vivacious on stage, and that was why I wasn’t being accepted.”

Even now Jackson still seems wild. She wore flashy fringe dresses that enhanced every movement of her body.

But more importantly, Jackson has a menacing growl in her voice ” a kind of devilish snarl that’s definitely not from the girl next door. And when she sings lyrics such as, “I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb” on “Fujiyama Mama,” it’s just as powerful as anything from Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney.

Since the mid-’50s, Jackson has not stopped touring and making albums. “I went on a little hiatus in the late ’70s,” Jackson said, recalling that a broken leg kept her from traveling.

“After that, though, I said to my husband, Please put me back on the road! I wasn’t happy ‘cuz I wasn’t singing. I’ve lived out of a suitcase my whole life; it’s all I’ve ever known.”

Her show has changed slightly from when she began performing, as Jackson now includes more gospel songs along with a brief testimony to Jesus.

But she still makes sure her fans hear their favorite rockabilly tunes, especially after a recent resurgence of interest in her music. The revival, which began in Europe, has resulted in the reissue of several of her records on compact disc.

“I can play “Hot Dog That Made Him Mad’ and everyone will know the words now,” Jackson said.