When Wanda Jackson, the justly crowned Queen of Rockabilly, recorded “Let’s Have A Party,” a tune she made into a hit of her own in 1958 even after one-time boyfriend Elvis Presley had released a version of it, her delivery of the chorus wasn’t so much a suggestion as a command. As the title – and, more importantly, the contents -- of her latest album, The Party Ain’t Over, indicates, this feisty septuagenarian artist is as galvanizing as ever. Jackson was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honored with a long-time-coming, Early Influence accolade for her pivotal role in the evolution of popular music, especially where female artists were concerned. As a teenager in the mid-50s, the diminutive Jackson was the first woman to perform unadulterated rock and roll – and she one-upped the boys defining this new genre, Presley included, with her exhilaratingly forthright approach. The young Jackson, an Oklahoma native, came across as both gritty and glamorous; a playfully suggestive growl to her voice matched the daring, handmade outfits she wore, short skirts and fringed dresses that have inspired would-be bad girls for decades to come. A tireless touring artist for more than 50 years, Jackson continues to win over new, young fans, including guitarist-vocalist-White Stripes founder Jack White.
On this debut for Third Man/Nonesuch Records, produced and arranged by White at his Nashville studio, the spirited Jackson proves that brash rock and roll attitude need not have an age limit. Her trademark growl remains intact on rockers like “Rip It Up” and “Nervous Breakdown;” she opens the set with an echo-laden sneer on a rollicking version of “Shakin’ All Over” and ends it ten songs later with a plaintive take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Yodel #6,” along the way gamely tackling country, gospel, densely worded Bob Dylan, and a little bit of Tin Pan Alley. Jackson and White are a remarkably simpatico pairing; their collaboration came together quickly, serendipitously. One of Jackson’s colleagues had originally approached White about doing a duet with Jackson for a proposed “Wanda and Friends” disc, but White demurred. Instead, he offered something better, inviting Jackson to cut a single with him for his Third Man label, and that swiftly led this kindred spirits to put together an entire album.
Jackson remains too busy to look back – her legend looms especially large now in Europe and Japan, where she is always in demand as a concert performer – but she does allow herself a moment to reflect: “I can’t think of anyone who could be any luckier or any happier than me. I think it’s a blessing from the Lord. I had wonderful parents who gave up so much so that I could have my dreams come true. I was an only child so I had all the love and attention that anyone could ask for. My mother made my stage clothes and a lot of my street clothes too. Dad traveled with me and drove me to all those early dates so I didn’t have to be alone. You couldn’t ask for more, to make your living doing what you love to do, to sing and travel and entertain people all your life. I can’t think of any life that could be better than that.” And, as she notes, the party ain’t over.