Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann
Wanda Jackson :: 01.24.11 :: El Rey Theater :: Los Angeles, CA
Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly, played a pair of sold out shows at the El Rey theater, January 23rd and 24th. The showcase concerts featured the Third Man Band, led by Jack White, in support of their new album with Jackson, The Party Ain't Over.
|Wanda Jackson & Jack White by L. Paul Mann|
From the first minute he stepped onstage, to the last moment he left, there was no question that White was the master maestro, molding the sound of the Third Man Band into a musical powerhouse. The mercurial musician has reinvented himself time and again, in a vast array of collaborations, but this new endeavor suits him perfectly, showcasing his strongest skills as a masterful and innovative lead guitarist. The immensely talented 11-piece band, featuring local drummer Joey Waronker from San Luis Obispo, Ca., and phenomenal pedal steel guitaristst Rich Gilbert, as well as a complete horn section and backup singers that Miss Jackson called her cupcakes.
But even with this impressive thundering wall of sound behind her the 73-year-old Jackson had no problem holding her own as the lead singer, living up to her legacy as the first woman to sing rock ‘n’ roll. The charismatic singer belted out country, gospel and rockabilly tunes from her more than 50 year career. Although she joked about a senior moment when she forgot a few lines of a song, there was nothing stodgy about her feisty performance or memories that she shared between songs.
“If the King of Rock can have notes then so can the Queen,” she quipped.
In fact one of her first tours was as an opening act for Elvis Presley, and the two were briefly linked romantically at the time. But Jackson does not linger very long in the past, and embraces her new mentor Jack White with equal feisty passion. Under White's tutelage, the band has reworked many of Jackson’s songs into a more contemporary, relevant sound. Elvis was actually credited as dubbing Wanda Jackson the “First Lady of Rockabilly.” After a string of hits in the 50s and 60s, Jackson moved into country music when rockabilly fell out of favor in popular American music. In the seventies she produced another slew of hits, this time in the country and gospel worlds. But in the eighties, with the reemergence of rockabilly, Jackson began returning to her roots. In 2009, Wanda Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then she met Jack White and a whole new chapter of her life evolved.
The El Rey concert featured many of the songs on her new album, with reworked hits coming from all phases of her career, as well as some classic covers. The chemistry between Jackson and White was remarkable, sort of like Hugh Hefner embracing Viagra for the first time. The tiny septuagenarian would bounce, physically and mentally, off of the tall, lanky guitar hero.
| Wanda Jackson by L. Paul Mann|
“He's a velvet covered brick,” Jackson quipped about White. “He's going to get his way, but he does it so sweetly.”
Then the band launched into a raunchy version of “Busted.” The classic “Fujiyama Mama” followed, her first Number One hit in Japan in 1959. The first role model of a strong, independent woman in the male dominated world of rock and roll, Jackson became an international star early in her career. Jackson's mother was credited with developing her fashion sense, hand making her trademark white fringed, rhinestone-encrusted jackets and short skirts.
When the bad launched into Little Richard classic “Rip It Up,” she let her fringe fly while nailing the gritty lyrics. As the non-stop 75-minute set came to a close it was evident that there were three distinctive elements on display during the evening's rock and roll frenzy: first, there was the rebirth of the rockabilly career of Wanda Jackson; second, the genius of producer and rock phenom Jack White; and finally and most importantly, there was a good old fashioned rock and roll road show, encapsulated in Wanda Jackson with The Third Man Band.
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