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Rockabilly's Wanda Jackson Hits Hall Of Fame

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Rockabilly's Wanda Jackson Hits Hall Of Fame

Rockabilly's Wanda Jackson Hits Hall Of Fame

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Listen to this woman sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD HEADED WOMAN")

WANDA JACKSON: (Singing) Well, a hard headed woman, soft hearted man, been the cause of trouble ever since the world began. Oh yeah, ever since the world began.

HANSEN: Wanda Jackson recorded that in 1960. She rerecorded it in 2003.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD HEADED WOMAN")

JACKSON: (Singing) Well, a hard headed woman, soft hearted man, been the cause of trouble ever since the world began. Oh yeah, ever since the world began. Hard headed woman is a thorn in the side of a man.

HANSEN: Perhaps it is her hard head in the music business that makes her both a pioneer and a survivor. On April 4th, Wanda Jackson will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early influence category, and boy, does she deserve it. Wanda Jackson is in the studios of KATT in Oklahoma City. Ms. Jackson, it's a treat to talk to you.

JACKSON: Well, thank you, Liane.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKABILLY FEVER")

JACKSON: (Singing) Well, it came rolling out of Memphis like a hurricane or a Texas tornado.

HANSEN: When I hear your tune, "Rockabilly Fever," do you think the lyrics of that tune explain why exactly you are getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: Well, that's very possible, isn't it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKABILLY FEVER")

JACKSON: (Singing) And we called it rockabilly long before they called it rock and roll.

HANSEN: Rockabilly was the precursor to rock and roll.

JACKSON: Well, it was '50s rock would be actually a better definition of it. It was rock and roll, and rock and roll began to change in the '60s somewhere. And as everything changes, you know, it evolves from something, and we were the beginning of it.

HANSEN: You grew up wanting to sing country music?

JACKSON: That's all that I had ever sang, yes, and was kind of reared on country music.

HANSEN: Is it true that Elvis changed your mind?

JACKSON: Yes, that's very true. I'm just so grateful to him for just believing in me and encouraging me to stretch myself. Because I kept saying, yeah, but Elvis, I'm just a country singer. I can't sing like you. He said, sure you can, and you need to be doing it. And he took the time even to explain to my father and I about some things about the business. I was brand new. I was just out of high school.

And he said, in the past, we've always aimed our music at an adult audience because they bought the records. But he said, you can see now - 'cause I'd been working with him a while then - you can see that the kids are the ones coming. They're the ones buying the records. So you need to aim your music at what the kids like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9")

JACKSON: (Singing) On July the second, 1953, I was serving time in Tehachapi. Four o'clock in the morning, I was sleeping in my cell. I heard a whistle blow and I heard somebody yell, there's a riot going on, there's a riot...

HANSEN: You know, every time I hear your versions - and you did two - of "Riot in Cell Block #9," I think of "Jailhouse Rock." Did Elvis do this tune in the movie?

JACKSON: Well, not to my knowledge. I think it's mostly a girl's song.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: Well, the original lyric was, on July the second 1953, I was doing time in Tehachapi. Well, Tehachapi is where a women's prison is in California.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9")

JACKSON: (Singing) I'm gonna tell you a story about what happened one night in a women's prison. I wasn't there, but the story goes like this: on July the second 1953, I was serving time for armed robbery, four o'clock in the morning I was sleeping in my cell, heard a whistle blow and I heard somebody yell, there's a riot going on.

Unidentified People: (Singing) There's a riot going on.

JACKSON: (Singing) There's a riot going on.

People: (Singing) There's a riot going on.

JACKSON: (Singing) There's a riot going on up in cell block number nine.

HANSEN: You recorded it again for the album that you did in 2003. And, you know, first of all, it begins with sirens, but then you go on to explain, oh, it was a story I heard. It wasn't me who was in prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: Did you feel you had to explain it later?

JACKSON: Well, I think nowadays with the reputation they've given me, I might should explain it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: What's that? What do you mean?

JACKSON: Well, just kind of wild and a rebel and all those things, which I never thought of myself as, but my music was that way. So maybe my alter ego, huh?

HANSEN: Yeah. It's interesting that Elvis was telling you that you had to aim your music at the young people. When you rerecorded "Riot in Cell Block #9," you worked with a group called The Cramps. I mean, this is a contemporary punk, I mean, talk about aiming at the new kids. What was it like working with this kind of band?

JACKSON: I'm sorry to say that I didn't get to meet them personally because they had to come in at a different time than I could be there, and all the musicians.

HANSEN: Did you meet Elvis Costello when you did the duet, "Crying Time?"

JACKSON: Yes.

HANSEN: You did?

JACKSON: Yes, I got to do that. In fact, he was very adamant about the only pay that he wanted was just to be in studio with me, not to have to do it at a separate time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRYING TIME")

JACKSON: (Singing) I can see that far away look in your eyes. I can tell by the way you hold me, darling, that it won't be long before it's crying time. That it won't be long before it's crying time.

ELVIS COSTELLO: (Singing) I can see that far away look in your eyes. I can tell by the way you hold me, darling, that it won't be long before it's crying time. That it won't be long before it's crying time.

JACKSON: We sang together like we had done it all of our lives. I mean, we could've taken one take on it, but we were enjoying it so much, we took about four.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: How have you kept your voice in such good shape? I mean, the harmonies on "Crying Time" are wonderful. Have you had to adjust yourself for pitch reasons or - given the notes that you can hit?

JACKSON: Well, that's kind of unusual. Some I still do in the original key, and there's a few that I've had to lower either a half step or a full step. And as far as preserving my voice, I really didn't take care of it at all. But I do sing a lot. I sing when I'm at home even. And I think that's the key to keeping your voice. As long as you keep exercising it, it'll work for you.

HANSEN: I have to admit, Ms. Jackson, when I'm listening to your tunes, for some reason the ones about heartbreak and the man doing you wrong and I'm going to get you and I'm looking for you...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: I like those kind.

HANSEN: Yeah? Why do you like them so much?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: Well, they're fun to sing and kind of believable. I've got to take up for us gals, you know?

HANSEN: Oh yeah. But you've been sticking up for us gals, you know, for more than 50 years now, you know.

JACKSON: Yeah. You know, the first rock and roll song that I wrote, as best I can remember, was "Mean, Mean Man." But you notice I talk about him being mean to me but in the last verse I say, but I'm going to love him anyway. I wasn't always real bad.

HANSEN: Wanda Jackson will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland this coming Saturday night, April 4th. She joined us from the studios of the KATT, K-A-T-T, in Oklahoma City. Thank you and congratulations.

JACKSON: Thank you very much. I've enjoyed talking to you, Liane.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEAN, MEAN MAN")

JACKSON: (Singing) He's a mean, mean man, but I've loved him all I can.

HANSEN: You can compare Wanda Jackson's old and new versions of "Hard Headed Woman" and "Riot in Cell Block #9" at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEAN, MEAN MAN")

JACKSON: (Singing) He's a mean, mean man, but I've loved him all I can.

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