Presenting the Awesomeness That is Wanda Jackson

Two clips from fifty years ago. If you've never heard Wanda Jackson before, better buckle up....

This segment of a PBS special about the women of rockabilly not only confirms that Rose Maddox was a big influence on Wanda Jackson (something I wondered about from listening to them both) but shows the Maddox Brothers and Rose in performance:

The Maddox Brothers and Rose were deservedly known as "America's Most Colorful Hillbilly Band," which makes it frustrating not to find any footage online of them in performance. Somebody did put together a tribute to them incorporating one of their radio appearances, though:

April 15, 2008 3:20 PM | | Comments (8)

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8 Comments

Scott,

After watching a few of your select videos, I thought: Wanda Jackson is a less-depressing, more "feminine" version of Lucinda Williams. I think your first video choice instilled that thought. Great stuff.

Educate me/us on Rose Maddox.

- TL

I don't actually know very much about the Maddox Brothers and Rose, apart from whatever was in the booklets accompanying the CDs now available. The brothers started performing during the Depression and little sister Rose joined them in the 1940s, with the act continuing into the mid-1950s or so. Rose went on to have a solo career in gospel and country.

Their recorded work is, in effect, the missing link between Western swing and rockabilly. While none of the brothers was quite good enough to have cut it with Bob Wills or Spade Cooley's bands, they made up for it with a lot of energy and a tendency to play up being hillbillies. (I sometimes think of this as almost being "in whiteface.")

For her part, Rose played at being part tomboy, part sexpot. She would act out the role of the country girl who was just a little too naive to realize she was talking dirty.

My impression is that, like some other country performers, they were very dubious about the new rockabilly sound, and they have one cut that I think is supposed to be a parody of Elvis. But oddly enough, by the late 1940s or so, some of their songs were just barely this side of rock and roll.

So that's about it for what I know. From Google, it emerges that a book about Rose was reviewed in some journal available via JSTOR. And by coincidence, it turns out today is the tenth anniversary of her death.

I love that riotous growl. Today being Tuesday, you can hear more rockabilly tonight on the Rockabilly Revue from KNON at nine Eastern from either Cowhide Cole or the Mean Eyed Cat.

A sexpot? Hmm... I suppose if you have a fancy cow-girl boot fetish. She's attractive, but Wanda Jackson has more sex appeal between the two. To each their own.

Thanks for the Maddox Bros. and Rose info.

I'm a big rockabilly fan---although I tend more toward the rock side of the divide (i.e. Uncle Tupelo, early Wilco).

- TL

Not to get too stuck on labels, but UT and Wilco are alt-country rather than rockabilly. I like alt-country too, but it's way downstream, and as time goes on I find myself going back to much earlier American popular music, more and more.

Trying to figure out how to indicate the particulars of rockabilly makes me realize the limits of my ability to describe music, but basically it's what Elvis and Carl Perkins were doing in 1956, and what Wanda is playing in the first video. Like the name suggests, it's hillbillies inventing rock and roll.

There are more recent bands that turn rockabilly into a subculture with a lot of regulation signifiers -- imitating the look of fifty years ago -- but to my ear that sort of thing doesn't hold up as well as the original.

Well, I'd never heard Wanda Jackson before. And it's safe to say that was not what I was expecting.

Scott,

Perhaps a better example of my rockabilly love, then, is 1950s-era Johnny Cash---his Sun Records recordings. You know, the "Get Rhythm," "Big River," "Rock Island Line" Johnny Cash. ...But maybe, again, I'm only touching the Rockabilly boundaries.

- TL

Wanda was in Bowling Green, OH for the free end of summer Black Swamp Arts Festival two or three years ago. She can still tear the place up. I can send photos.

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