NEW YORK (Reuters) - Known as the “Queen of Rockabilly,” country legend Wanda Jackson recently found herself in the company of a new prince.
For her new studio album “The Party Ain’t Over,” due out January 25, Jackson, 73, teamed with the White Stripes/Raconteurs frontman Jack White, 35, for a fresh approach to her patented brand of rockabilly.
“I hadn’t heard his music, but I’d heard of him,” Jackson told Reuters.
White first appeared on Jackson’s musical radar, when she heard he was a fan. At the time, she was considering how to make a duets record, and she thought White might be interested.
“I was told to be sure to call Jack White, that he was a big fan,” Jackson said. “He said “No, I wouldn’t be interested in that (a duets project), but I would be interested in recording you. I have been for a long time now.”
White assembled a band for Jackson and arranged 11 cover songs, from country ballads to Amy Winehouse and Bob Dylan. The result finds Jackson’s screeching vocals paired with White’s signature blend of contemporary blues rock.
But Jackson’s album isn’t like the high energy rock ‘n’ roll of White’s current bands.
Popular calypso song “Rum and Coca Cola” as well as the Harlan Howard country classic “Busted” captures Jackson in a playful, breezy state, while album opener “Shakin’ All Over” recalls the late 1950s rockabilly era, when Jackson first made her mark as a touring partner of Elvis Presley.
“I was getting a bit anxious about this,” she said. “I didn’t know if he was going to try and change my style, but once I found out that he wanted to give me a fresh sound and fresh new material, then I relaxed.”
Jackson’s career began in the mid 1950s, when she started touring right after graduating high school, a rare feat for a woman in those days. In 1960, she had a Top 40 hit with the song “Let’s Have a Party,” of which her new album’s title is a direct reference to.
Over the course of her career, she’s dabbled in more straight forward country and gospel songs, but recently has been recognized for her early work. In 2009, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and soon after, cut her first single with White.
“I decided along the way that this young man knew what he was talking about,” Jackson said. “He was up to date with what is happening now with the young people. I decided to take my hands off the project because I didn’t know anything about today’s market and marketing for today’s public.”
At her age, Jackson’s studio output has understandably slowed, although she still continues to tour, with many trips to Europe where she said she’s thrived since the mid-1980s.
Yet her new music could certainly find a new audience in the United States, much like country icon Loretta Lynn did in 2004, when White produced “Van Lear Rose,” an album that won two Grammy’s for Lynn, including “Best Country Album.”
Even though the duets record never materialized, Jackson is happy with “The Party Ain’t Over,” even if she was uncertain in its early stages.
“We didn’t have a rocky start; it was unsure and unsettled,” she said. “(But) it’s worked out great. I said (to him) ‘I’d do my best to sing every song the way you’re hearing it in your head.’”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte