Wanda Jackson still going strong

Wanda Jackson soundchecks at the Rodeo Opry in Oklahoma City on December 31, 2016 – photo by Budd Walker

This concert review and interview is a contribution from Budd Walker and Pamm Tucker with Walkers Folk Mania Media in Oklahoma City, OK. While she is not a bluegrass artist, we feel that our readers will be interested in this conversation with Wanda Jackson, the Queen of rockabilly music who has been performing since the 1950s.

The Rodeo Opry, located in the Historic Stockyards in Oklahoma City, was the setting and host to a New Year’s Eve Eve gala, Friday, December 30, 2016.  The annual event showcases extraordinary talents from Oklahoma, and raises money for the Granville Community Music School in the upcoming year.

Cindy Scarberry, the executive director of The Opry Heritage Foundation of Oklahoma stated: “I traveled to Nashville and visited the W.O. Smith School of Music.  They were kind enough to allow us to use their framework to form Granville Community Music School. Granville provides quality musical instruction to children from low income families at the low price of 50 cents per lesson. We opened our doors in 2009 with 15 enrolled, and today we have almost 200.” This is what the New Years Eve Eve show is all about, the local community supporting Granville and making these dreams come true. Cindy is a very talented singer and accomplished songwriter herself. Growing up in the heart of Oklahoma, Cindy was a member of The Singing Roady’s and could be found performing on The Rodeo Opry stage.

Rodeo Opry founder Granville (Grant) J. Leftwich had an undying love for country music. His dream began in his own backyard, where Grant and some of his musician friends had jam sessions. As his dream flourished and grew, it wasn’t long before they had outgrown the backyard and moved to the National Armory building. In 1977, renovation began on the historic Knob Hill Theater, located in the Capital Hill district of OKC. The Oklahoma Opry debuted and dreams became reality. Although Leftwich has passed on, his dream lives on.

A complete and full roster of performers took stage on New Year’s Eve. The evening was kicked off by Kyle Earhart and OK3, doing their rendition of Ladies Night. OK3 is a local trio, who were recently awarded Greatest Group of the Year at The Grand Awards at McSwain Theater in Ada, Oklahoma. After witnessing their melodious harmonies, I can see why. MaKenna Fields, Courtney Hooker and Sierra Sikes make up OK3. “We wanted to volunteer to perform so we can help raise money so others can do what we do,” MaKenna said.

Next to entertain was Maddox Ross, an 11, almost 12, year old who is going on 20. Donning his Wanda Jackson tee shirt, Maddox enthralled  his audience with  highly spirited performance. You could tell he was having “Nothing But a Good Time.”

Emceed by local radio personality and a talented singer, Owen Pickard and his wife took the mic and sang a duet.

Other talents on stage included Steven Jeffrey, whose claim to fame can be heard on local radio commercials, singing You Are the Best Thing. Philip Bauer, world renowned Johnny Cash tribute artist, performed Release Me and Madison McCoy with her guitar singing Peter Pan. Lonely Days, a Bee Gee hit, was performed by James Hostler, and Kyle Earhart finished up the the first half with Me and Mrs. Jones and James Brown’s How Sweet It Is.

You could literally feel the hair on your arms stand up as Oklahoma native, Wanda Jackson, took her position at center stage. The rockabilly style artist, wearing her hot pink fringed jacket, captivated the audience from the moment she walked onto stage. Jackson, in an earlier interview, reminisced of her relationship with the King of Rock & Roll, none other than Elvis Presley.

“I wouldn’t say we dated, not by today’s standards. He gave me his ring and I wore it around my neck. We went and saw movies together. I owe Elvis a lot. I was singing country, and he encouraged me to try rockabilly. I told him I can’t do that, I’m a girl. He assured me that the kids were buying the records and they liked rockabilly. My daddy was traveling with me, and we talked about it. I decided to try it.”

Miss Jackson sang her tribute to Elvis, Heartbreak Hotel. While she was honorably singing his song, you could see the compassion and respect Miss Jackson has for Elvis. In 2009, Wanda Jackson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and she owes it to The King. During my face-to-face interview, I had the opportunity to ask what type of music was the foundation for her career.

“I grew up in church where I sang the old standards like Old Rugged Cross, but I was country. In 1971, I was saved and started singing Gospel music.”

All types of music seem to be important to Wanda. She discussed the role of bluegrass music as well as music genres of today. Recently, she has performed with Cyndi Lauper and Adele. I asked her if she had discussed a duet with either of these artists. “Oh no… I’m not even in their realm,” she said.

Wanda Jackson, humble, down to earth, Rock and Roll legend is something much more. She is a fireball. In her final song, Wanda brought down the house with Lets Have a Party. The outstanding house band, a complete section of horns with her friend, Steve Short, provided the music. But it was Wanda who entertained. Steve gave her the ultimate compliment, saying, “I am so proud of her, just like I would be of my Mom.”

Lets Have A Party is what summed the evening up. It was all about the kids, the students at Granville School of Music, and the dreams of Grant Leftwich, Cindy Scarberry, and each musically talented artist who participated. There was a fundraiser which consisted of an auction and raffle, which raised over $10,000 for scholarships which will provide children with low income families a chance to live out their dream, and possibly someday be an inductee into a Hall of Fame themselves. If you would like to provide financial assistance, you can help others dream big! Contact Cindy Scarberry via www.ohfo.org or by phone at 405-297-9773.

Wanda Jackson is interviewed by Pamm Tucker – photo by Budd Walker