For over 60 years, the upbeat songs and high-energy stage show of rock and country legend Wanda Jackson have compelled audience members to party like they don’t have to work the next day.
“I feel like it’s my job to see that people have a good time when they come out to a concert,” Jackson tells Wide Open Country. “They start laughing and applauding and it just seems like Saturday night every night that I work.”
That’s why Jackson’s life story, highlighted by numerous hits and a stint dating Elvis Presley, is best summed up as Every Night is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, out Nov. 14 via BMG Publishing.
This endless weekend spanned early rock music, shifted toward the country spectrum in the ‘60s as the Nashville Sound developed and even took a gospel detour in the ‘70s, when that genre went contemporary. In the decades since, Jackson has been lauded as a legend through her working relationships with Rosie Flores, Jack White and Justin Townes Earle.
BMG paired Jackson with co-author Scott B. Bomar, an accomplished writer and podcaster, for what she’d decided was a last-gasp effort at a memoir. “I had tried getting my story out sooner a couple of times with other writers,” she says. “One was just a young guy. He was a newspaper man. It didn’t flow. It didn’t read well. I tried a second time with a feller who it turned out he was an alcoholic, and he fell off the wagon. That was the end of that one. So when BMG said they’d like to publish an autobiography for me, I thought I’d try one more time. If this doesn’t work, I give up.”
By working closely with Bomar, who spent a week at Jackson’s Oklahoma City home, Jackson got the chance to fully reflect on an eventful, and ongoing, career.
“I lived a Cinderella life,” she says. “I’ve always had wonderful people around me. I’ve been able to make my living doing what I love to do, travel and sing. If you change one little thing, it can change your whole life. I suppose if I had it to do over, I’d do it the same way.”
Although memory lane mainly passed through positive memories, the undisputed Queen of Rockabilly has at least one regret.
“I wish that I could have been home more when my children were small, but I was really having to work hard because I carried a four-piece band,” she says. “A lot of times, I had to work even when I hardly made anything but enough to pay the band and keep food on their tables. I know my kids wanted their daddy and I home, but we couldn’t do both.”
At one point, Jackson’s band included a fellow country legend to-be and a certified superpicker, Roy Clark.
“When I started working at the Golden Nugget in Vegas, I had a really good band but none of them were really good singers,” Jackson says. “They could harmonize with me and things like that. In Vegas, you worked five 45 minute sets in your shift. You were working 45, and you were off 15. I knew I was going to need some help with the singing and things.”
“I remember that I worked for a club in I think it was Virginia. It was in the Washington D.C. area, anyways. There was this young man (Clark) that played fantastic guitar, he was funny and he sang alright. People really liked him. He had a lot of charisma. I asked him if he’d front my band, and he jumped at the opportunity. Funny enough, it was there that Capitol Records first saw him and heard him.”
Jackson’s husband Wendell Goodman died on May 21. Goodman left a job at IBM in 1961 to become his wife’s manager, a job he retained until his dying day.
“He did the booking and everything,” Jackson says. “He was the one-man office. Once in a while, he’d have a secretary come in to pay bills or help with fan mail, but he did all the work. He said in the next life, he’s going to be the singer, and I’m going to be the go-fer!”
Jackson signed to Blackheart Records around three years ago for a Joan Jett-produced album that, due to health setbacks and logistical issues for both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, remains unrecorded.
The songs lined up for the record include co-writes with some of Nashville’s most talented women, including Nikki Lane and Angaleena Presley. “Good Girl Down,” from Presley’s recent album Wrangled, was first written with Jackson’s next album in mind.
“The songs that I wrote, I just always wrote them myself,” Jackson says. “Wendell helped me a lot with some lyrics and maybe some ideas. I had an opportunity for a new album almost three years ago. That’s why I was going into Nashville a lot. My granddaughter Jordan (Simpson) set me up with all these different writers to work with. I found it was a really good way to write songs. You get three people’s input.”
Through cultural changes and personal loss, one constant remains as Jackson nears her 80th birthday. When she’s out promoting her book, fans can cast cares aside as if the weekend is in full swing.