The Queen of Rockabilly

Words and the couple crappy pictures I snapped can’t do this experience justice. Bottom line:  If you get a chance to catch Wanda Jackson while she’s still touring (she’s in her 70’s), just do it. This is about the Wanda Jackson show at The Granada in downtown Lawrence Wednesday night, May 17.

I got there just before the opening duo of Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave took the stage and I must admit it was probably the fact that they were opening that got me out of the house. While I’d seen Wanda when she first started touring again around ten years ago (at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City – wonderful show) , the combination of thinking I may not have another chance to catch Wanda plus a chance to see Holly live for the first time did the trick even after a long day of work.

I dug their gritty trancey-melodic set and the irresistible humor of their banter and lyrical content – I was laughing out loud at “Junkpile Joyce”, “Get Out of My House”, and the one about packing lots of cans and guns into a hole in honor of the coming Endtimes this Saturday (seriously, the Endtimes are actually really believed to be coming in two days now, which makes me wonder if there will be a spike in ironic church attendance on Sunday). A note about his drum set up – two pedals that look like they have independent front and back parts that allow his socked feet to operate a stick on a high-hat in tandem with a tom snare beater, a tambourine, and a deep boomy kick drum, which frees his hands up to play nasty sludgy hillbilly-ey slide guitar.

Holly Golightly & Lawyer Dave

Typically crappy phone shot of Holly Golightly & Lawyer Dave

They sing a lot of unison vox and little harmony and it sounds just right. I really like the “just so” delivery in most of the songs, and the near-goofiness at times (the “get outta my house” mantra at the end of that song for example). The set was way too short but they were truly playing the role of the quick opener – I’ve got to check them out next time they hit the Jackpot – the Granada didn’t really feel quite right for them and not that many people were there for them, though it began filling near the end. I bought a cd because this is the kind of non-corporate musical pleasure I like to see proliferating.

The backing band from Nashville took the stage and while not as lo-fi as I would have liked, they were very solid and in retrospect an ideal backing band for Wanda – my friend Derek pointed out that Jack White’s huge gesture to her probably allowed her to have this traveling band with her now rather than the local setups she used to rely on (Google for the album Jack did with her after her long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the promotion and subsequent touring) . They got the suddenly much fuller crowd engaged and primed with a hint of rockabilly followed by a quasi-Chuck Berry-ish steady rock texture and then there she was.

I suddenly remembered her last appearance, where she is just downright charming and vivacious, humble and daring, a graceful link to a now-distant past in American music, a beautiful voice that does everything from shouting to caressing to yodeling to crooning and all of a sudden up comes that cross-cut saw blade ripping through the sonic layers.

And once I was mesmerized, I caught many, many glimpses of the intense young Rockabilly Queen that we can barely make out in the archival footage as we squint through the YouTube lens of the past. But her voice and incredible sense of delivery was the real solid sender that tied it all together.

Wanda Jackson on stage at The Granda in Lawrence, Kansas

Typically crappy phone pic of the still smokin' Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson on stage at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas

Her stories are fascinating glimpses into a by-gone era and her many facial mugs to the audience and subtle hand gestures while she moves and sings range from nearly-lewd to comical and innocent, and even these hint back to her time with Elvis and feel like clues to a lost era. At a couple points she did some audience hand grabbing and in the initial pass I was surprised when she actually grabbed my hand and held on for quite a bit, singing all the while with those piercing dark eyes. I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say her touch was soft and yeah, sexy – don’t know what I expected but it was an electric moment and the young man next to me had an amped look of wonderment in his eyes when he shook his head and glanced at me once she moved on.

Well, having my hand touched by the first woman ever to record a rock and roll song (and subsequently having her throw water on me) was truly great, but the takeaway if there is one at all is that I just felt consistently good throughout her performance.  There were standout moments, a goose-bump experience or two, but generally I just felt unadulterated GOOD. Twin Peaks without the dark undercurrents in some sense. And when I looked around me, I saw that same feeling in everyone around me, from young to old, hipsters to hippies to clean-cuts. People moving, shouting, clapping, exchanging knowing looks. Did the better part of a simpler time rub off on us through this direct connection? I don’t know.  But I’m glad I went.

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About stevedahlberg

Moderate extremist, technology-obsessed Luddite.
This entry was posted in Musicalality, Danzisch, Artte, Beauty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Queen of Rockabilly

  1. doyle leon whisenhunt says:

    Hello to the Jackson Family. According to what my mother told me many times when I was a young boy(early teens) and when Mrs. Jackson was just getting heavy into the business, we are supposidly cousins. She told me once long ago how but I don”t remember now. She, my mother was a Parks, her father was Charles Parks, born in Fort Scott Kansas in the 1800s. Her mother was Susan Bumgarner born in Tennessee. My Mother was a Bertha Leona Parks born in Oklahoma, I think in Pauls Vally Okla. in 1915. We was forced to leave Eufaula in 1953 because the Eufaula Lake covered up our property.That was about the first time I had heard your music in the radio. I was in Germany in the Army when you did a USO show there but I couldn’t get off to see the show and I have never forgot that because I was bragging to all the guys that we were country cousins.
    I was born 1n 1940 at EUFAULA , Okla. and as I said we had to move away and we came to California. I finished High school at Sutter Calif. in 58 and went into the service in Dec. 58 and to Germany in 59,60, and 61. My wife is into Geneology and is trying to come up with some sort of connection to you since my mom passed a few years ago. I wish I had payed attention now buy you know how young people are.
    We found for shure that Goldie Hahn is a way far cousin , So is James Garner. His real name is also BUMGARNER same as my Grand mother. So as he is related to us then he probably is some relation to you ,if we are actually related. Any enough rambleing , I saw you cite and thought it wauld be interesting to ask if you would have any info. as to the Parks connection. We just vivited Denmark last year for a family reunion because my wife found a bunch on cousins on her side there.What a small world . Always a big fan Doyle Whisenhunt.

  2. Doyle, that is fascinating. I think I can relay this information to Wanda’s manager. If you have an email address to include so she can respond, that would be helpful – I’ll keep an eye out for a response here.

    -Steve

  3. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation however I find this topic
    to be actually one thing which I think I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me. I’m looking forward to your subsequent publish,
    I’ll try to get the cling of it!

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