Wanda Jackson might be 80, but one would not guess it just by speaking to her.
The Maud native and longtime resident of Oklahoma City responsible for bringing femininity to the world of rock ’n’ roll celebrated her eighth decade in the same way she has lived much the rest of her life: in front of a full, highly entertained audience. Jackson performed two sold-out shows on Oct. 20, the night of her 80th birthday, at Cadillac Lounge in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
But the celebrating does not stop there. Jackson’s autobiography Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, co-authored by Scott B. Bomar with a foreword by English songsmith Elvis Costello, is due for a nationwide release Tuesday.
In a recent interview with Oklahoma Gazette, Jackson sharply recalled several stories from the book, which does a great job of preserving the Queen of Rockabilly’s trademark wit in its prose. The 2009 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee known for hits like “Let’s Have a Party,” “Right or Wrong” and “Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine” spoke freely on her teenage romance with Elvis Presley, transitioning to rock ’n’ roll from country music and her experiences with the Party Timers, her famous, racially integrated backing band that included pianist Big Al Downing and a young Roy Clark on guitar.
And while it has been an eventful year for Jackson, 2017 has come with some sadness. In May, her husband of 55 years, Wendell Goodman (who also acted as her manager throughout their marriage), died at age 81 in Alabama shortly after one of Jackson’s scheduled shows.
Still, do not count on Jackson slowing down anytime soon. Aside from performing on an occasional basis, Jackson’s recent career has featured highlights like teaming up with producer Jack White on her 2011 album The Party Ain’t Over and an album currently being produced by Joan Jett.
Jackson spoke with the Gazette from her Oklahoma City home.
Oklahoma Gazette: Had you wanted to have a book like this out for a while? Why was now the right time for an autobiography?
Wanda Jackson: Well, I had tried a couple of other times with some co-authors and they just didn’t come out well. I didn’t want something that would not sound like me. Scott Bomar is a wonderful writer, and he really shines in my book. I think he’s great. But this is the third time [I’ve attempted to write an autobiography]. I said, “Now, if this doesn’t get published, then I’m through trying.” But we’ve finally got a book out, and I’m very proud of it.
OKG: What was it like working with Bomar?
Jackson: He’s a very pleasant young man and very intelligent. He’s just fun to hang out with.
OKG: Did you feel like you could relate your stories really well with him?
Jackson: Oh yeah. I took him around to see the first place where I lived and the house that Mother and Daddy built and the church that I went to and the high school that I graduated from and the radio station — all those key places, and he really got the feel for what it was like to live in Oklahoma.
OKG: A lot of people, whenever Wanda Jackson gets brought up, think about your past relationship with Elvis Presley. In the book, you talk about how at some point, you eventually got tired of that association and how there was so much more to your career than knowing Elvis. But then, later on in life, you came to peace with that association.
Jackson: Yes; I enjoy answering questions about Elvis and back in the day. I’m proud of the fact that we were friends. I consider it a real blessing. He was very instrumental in having me sing rock ’n’ roll. I didn’t think that I could, and I told him so. I said, “I’m a country singer and a girl; I can’t sing the songs that you do,” and he said, “Sure you can; I know you can.” So at that point, I had left Decca Records and had signed with Capitol and thought that would be a good time to try my wings at rock ’n’ roll. I brought out a couple of songs, and I thought when I did them, “Gosh, I think I found a home. I like this stuff.” So it proved that a girl could sing it. And when I got a hold of “Fujiyama Mama,” that sealed the deal. That just unleashed something in me, and I sang it gung-ho. But Elvis was responsible for all of that.
In 2009, when I was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, my heart was just full of thanks for Elvis because I never expected to be there. My husband said, “Well, certainly you need to be in there; you were the first woman.” Elvis Costello had jumped on the bandwagon and wrote to those people a pretty stinging letter [about why I should be inducted]. And Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper and all of these people have told me that my music has helped them and encouraged them.
OKG: Elvis Costello wrote the foreword to the book. He performed in Oklahoma City about a year ago. Did you get out to see him then?
Jackson: I saw him recently in Tulsa. We teamed up on a recording for one of my albums. Now people are asking me about Elvis Costello. Not too long ago, my husband said, “This was all I needed, another Elvis in my life!”
OKG: In the book, you talk about your husband Wendell, too. Explain how you met Wendell for the first time.
Jackson: Well, he was dating my friend [Oklahoma-born country music star Norma Jean]. They came by the house so I could meet him. She introduced him to me. I think I fell in love right then and there. One night, I called my friend Norma to see if she was touring or anything and to see if she could go out Saturday night. And she said, “Well, I have a date with Wendell.” And I said, “Well, ask him if I can come along with you!” So I did, and then she got an opportunity to sing regularly on a national TV show (Porter Wagoner’s Ozark Jubilee), so she had to move to [Springfield, Missouri]. When she left, she said, “Well, you take care of Wendell; I don’t think he has a lot of friends.” I thought, “Oh, honey, I think he’s got you snowed.” About eight months later, I called her and said, “You told me to take care of him, but I can’t do that unless I marry him because we’re getting married.” So that’s that little story. But I traveled all over the world; then the man of my dreams walks right into my house.
OKG: You didn’t even have to go looking for him; he came right to you.
Jackson: Right. I didn’t have any boyfriends. I worked all the time; I carried a band. I had to stay busy to pay the band so they could make a living.
OKG: When you talk about the band, you’re talking about the Party Timers, right?
OKG: The Party Timers was an integrated band. In the book, you talk about how you ran into some challenges with that, right?
Jackson: Yeah, at this one place, I did. I had forgotten this little story. Of course, [Party Timers pianist] Big Al Downing has died since then. But he remembered a story that said it all very well. He remembered when we worked at a club up in Wyoming or someplace. So one of the bands came on and played their set. Then I came on, and one of the club owners or operators hadn’t noticed our band until I got up there. And, boy, there he comes, right down there to the front of the bandstand, and he called me over. He said, “Wanda, we don’t allow negroes here in the place or on the bandstand.” And I thought, “Well, how silly.” So I turned around and said, “Guys, pack up your stuff; we’re leaving.” And he said, “No, no, no! I didn’t mean the band had to leave or you; just the black guy!” I said, “Well, he’s in my band, and if he isn’t welcome, then I’m not either.” Then he said, “OK, well then, go ahead.” He had a really big crowd, so he had to provide some entertainment, and here I was leaving.
OKG: For people who have read the book, is there a message or anything you want them to take away from reading it?
Jackson: Well, I want them to be entertained. If they’re interested in a person like me — a rockabilly queen — I want them to have an enjoyable read. I’ve got about 80 different photos in there, and every chapter has a different photo. One of my songs is the title of each chapter. It’s just done very well. Scott Bomar did an excellent job.
Print headline: Party booked; Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson readies her new autobiography Every Night Is Saturday Night.