Wanda Jackson, 80, is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who was one of the first female rockabilly recording artists. She is the author, with Scott B. Bomar, of the memoir “Every Night Is Saturday Night” (BMG). She spoke with Marc Myers of The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few excerpts from their conversation.
• I always had a beautiful relationship with my parents. I know that sounds strange for someone who toured with Elvis Presley in 1955 and ’56 and recorded rock ’n’ roll. But I really didn’t have a rebellious streak.
• Whenever my parents went out to hear country music and to dance, they took me along. Babysitters didn’t exist then. They loved Western swing, and I saw artists like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and Tex Williams.
Western swing combined country with jazz and big-band swing. It was pretty popular in L.A. then, especially among people like us—Okies who had moved there from the Southwest.
Daddy played guitar and fiddle. While mother cleaned up after dinner, we played and sang together. I was crazy about rhythm, and horns and fiddles. When I was 6, daddy bought me a little Kay guitar from the Sears catalog and taught me basic chords. As soon as I held that Kay, I knew what I wanted to be—a girl singer. I never did plan for anything else.
Daddy’s favorite singer was Jimmie Rodgers. One of the first songs I learned was his “Blue Yodel No. 6.” If I was going to be a girl singer, I had to learn to yodel. I worked at it and figured it out.
• When I was 14, church friends convinced me to take my guitar to KLPR and audition for their talent show. I sang “Blue Yodel No. 6” and won. They gave me my own show.
In 1955, I began recording for Decca and bought a Martin D-18 guitar at a pawnshop. I also toured a little with Hank Thompson and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry .
I was one of the first female country singers to wear sexy clothes. Back then, that meant glamorous dresses with spaghetti straps rather than the typical fringe-covered Western pantsuits.
I idolized how Marilyn Monroe looked in magazines. Mother made all of my clothes. She sewed for me until she was 90.
In July ’55, I visited a radio station in Missouri to promote my records. A boy named Elvis was there, too. He asked me to tour with him, and after our first run in ’55, he asked me over his house.
He put on R&B records and taught me how to play rock ’n’ roll. He had just figured it out and encouraged me to loosen up. He also showed me how to strum the strings rather than pick them.