Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson has been in the music business for almost six decades. She released her first country singles in 1954, toured with and dated Elvis in the mid-1950s, and has had albums produced by Jack White and Justin Townes Earle in the past few years.
Never a huge singles artists, although “Fujiyama Mama” topped the charts in Japan in the late 50s, the Queen of Rockabilly has toured steadily her entire career and maintains an international fanbase. Jackson’s Friday night performance in Dallas started as well as any septuagenarian rockabilly set could. Wanda’s calling card has always been her vocal personality and she kicked off “Riot in Cell Block #9” with her trademark growl, then amazed the audience with a ferocious banshee wail on “Rock Your Baby.” Danny B. Harvey, her lead guitarist, managed to balance using a contemporary guitar sound while still being true to her traditional rock roots. With Harvey setting the pace, the band didn’t sound like an antiquated novelty act.
Wanda absolutely nailed “Funnel of Love,” with an arrangement that is much better than the original recording. Jackson talked extensively throughout the set, with her longest stories being about her personal relationships with America’s two predominant spiritual icons – Elvis Presley and Jesus Christ. Elvis convinced Wanda to transition from country music to rock ‘n’ roll. And, “Yes, he was a good kisser.”
Later in the show, Wanda gave her personal religious/Christian testimony. I’m not saying it was long winded, but I started scanning the rows for collection plates more than once. Unfortunately, after about thirty minutes, her voice started fading away. It was like watching an ace pitcher struggling to throw a strike. Wanda made references to her vocal challenges a few times, but gave it her all like the true pro that she is – dancing, smiling, and working the crowd. So, let’s give the first half of the show an A, the second half a C, and wrap it together for a solid B. There are much, much worse ways to spend a Friday night than watching the legendary Wanda Jackson perform “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Setlist: Band Intro – Link Wray’s “Rumble”Riot in Cell Block #9Rock Your BabyI Gotta KnowFunnel of LoveBig Iron SkilletI Betcha My Heart I Love YouHeartbreak HotelShakin’ All OverYou Know I’m No Good Tore DownIt’s All Over NowFujiyama MamaMean, Mean ManI Saw The LightLet’s Have a Party Encore: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On/Rip It Up/Let’s Have a Party
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