John DeFore: Where did that fire in your voice come from?
Wanda Jackson: I guess from my voice box! I've always been a belter. Even when I sing a ballad, I belt it out. Back when this music was new to me, I wasn't sure how to handle it. But my Dad, who was very instrumental in my career, said "Just rear back and do it like the guys do it!" So I tried, and that's what came out. JD: Are you saying you were trying to imitate the way the guys sang?
WJ: Well, no, I didn't want to do that; I wanted my own style. When I started recording rockabilly, in '56, all the material I had to choose from was guys' songs - so it probably looked as if I was trying to copy them, because you can only do so much with a song. So I was happy when I found songs like "Fujiyama Mama" and "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad," and began writing my own.
JD: At the time, did you feel you had a rare situation, to have a lot of control over what you did?
WJ: Well, no, I didn't think much about it. To me, that's the way it would have had to be. If other artists didn't have that kind of control, I didn't know about it.
JD: Did people treat you differently because you were a woman?
WJ: Well, I have always worked with men. If there was a big package tour, like we used to do back then, with five or six artists and their bands - a big caravan of people - I was always the only girl. So my father travelled with me, and kept my reputation intact. I was always treated like a lady. I feel like you'll be treated however you allow folks to treat you, and my dad made sure that I never rode with any of the men we were working with, that I'd never sit on somebody's lap to have my picture made, things like that. Other than that, I don't know that I was treated any differently. I don't think I was - mainly because I believed that anybody in the entertainment field, man or woman, if you have a talent, people respect you.
JD: What was your relationship with Elvis like?
WJ: Well I toured with him, on quite a few long tours over a couple of years. And we dated during that time. If we'd get into a town early, we'd go catch a matinee, or we'd go out to eat afterwards, or drive around, act silly, you know. We were both just young kids enjoying what was happening to our careers. We had a lot in common, and he and my daddy got along fabulously, they liked each other. It worked real well, and we just became real good friends.
JD: As a former teen music star, what do you think of the current crop of teen stars?
WJ: Oh, I think they're getting way too much way too soon, probably. Some of them will be able to handle it, but others won't. I think their way of dress is outrageous, just absolutely too sexual for young girls - for any woman - to be dressed that way in public, I have a lot of trouble with all that. And their singing - to me, they're not stylists. Britney Spears might be one exception - you know her voice when she starts singing. In our day, that was very important, that you had a sound, and didn't want to sound like everyone else. Nowdays, I can't tell one from the other, hardly.
JD: You talk about the way they dress, but you got a little grief for that too, didn't you?
WJ: Yeah, here and there -
JD: You were a little too sexy for the Grand Ole Opry, for instance.
WJ: Yeah, I had to put on a coat before they'd let me out to sing. I'd never been on the Opry before, but they had a rule nobody bothered to tell me, that a woman couldn't show her bare shoulders. That's why I was told I'd have to put a coat on if I wanted to go onstage. I think everyone everywhere else really liked that look; I had changed the look of clothes for Country & Western girl singers. It was new, and people really liked it.
JD: You were designing the clothes, right?
WJ: Yeah, I designed all them, and my mother made them. She's a professional seamstress. Even to this day, she makes some of them.
JD: When you became a Christian, you stopped performing in clubs. How did you make that decision?
WJ: I began to get very uncomfortable in those places. My life had turned around, and I was so happy, I just didn't want to be in those places anymore. The Lord began giving my husband and me a ministry; as churches around the country got word that I'd been saved and was singing gospel, they began contacting us to perform. For about 15 years, we were happy doing just that. The only reason it changed back, it just kind of evolved that most of the churches that wanted us, I had been to a couple of times. The requests tapered off. At the same moment, things started opening up in Europe to get back in the country and rockabilly scene. We finally realized that the Lord had opened those doors. So now I was getting more press, because I had been out of the music and come back, and everyone wanted to know what had happened. So here was my testimony, spread all over Europe. Long articles, with every detail of my testimony, because they were interested.
JD: Are there any songs of yours that people want to hear, that you're uncomfortable with now, because of connotations of the lyrics?
WJ: At first, I have to admit I kind of was. I wasn't sure how all this was gonna set with me. But when I saw the reaction people had, my mind changed. I thought, "This is okay. This is innocent music" - you know, for the most part. There's always insinuations and things, but compared to the music I was hearing on the radio in those days (the '80s) it was very innocent, fun music. I thought, if I can do it with that attitude, like I used to have, just have fun with it and make everybody have fun, then I can do it. And that's all we do.