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Rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson performs at Howlers this Friday

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During her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, Wanda Jackson introduced "Mean Mean Man" saying, "They weren't writing any rockabilly songs for us girls to sing back then, so I wrote my own!"

It's clear that, at 71, Jackson is still a strong-willed musical force. With all due respect to more demure ladies like Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells, Jackson was (and is) a human firecracker exploding with sass and sexual energy. Who else could have held her own on a shared bill with Elvis Presley?

Jackson was barely 6 when she was given her first guitar. At 15, after winning a talent contest, she scored a daily Oklahoma City radio show, a showcase for her already grown-up singing voice. In 1954, the program caught the ear of country singer Hank Thompson, who asked Jackson to record with his band, resulting in the national hit, "You Can't Have My Love."

Unlike many young ladies in her position, whose stories often involve wild rebellion and family rifts, Jackson's parents were supportive. Her father toured with her, and her mother made her stage outfits. "I was the first one to put some glamour in the country music -- fringe dresses, high heels, long earrings," Jackson has said. 

Both her father and Presley encouraged Jackson to sing rockabilly, and the genre may as well have been invented for her. She maneuvers through testosterone-soaked tunes like "Long Tall Sally" and "Riot in Cell Block No. 9" just as easily as she stammers lovably through "Tongue Tied" or hits that elusive high note in "Stupid Cupid."

Jackson has toured non-stop since 1995, and though she's focused on gospel for much of the last four decades, she hasn't forgotten her roots. "Now with a whole generation of rockabilly fans, I have a new career," she said as she accepted her place in rock 'n' roll history. "It doesn't get any better than that, does it?"

 

Wanda Jackson at the Rockabilly Riot with Rumble Daddy, The Legendary Hucklebucks, Lucky the Painproof Man and DJ Junior. 9 p.m. Fri., July 17 (doors at 8 p.m.). Howlers Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $15 ($20 at the door). 412-682-0320 or www.howlerscoyotecafe.com

Firecracker: Wanda Jackson
  • Firecracker: Wanda Jackson

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