Wanda Jackson is known as rock 'n' roll's founding mother.
But even as she helped invent that musical genre, she'd been a professional singer nearly a decade, since the tender age of 17. And Jackson had known all her life it was what she was destined to do.
"Even when I was little, 6 or so, when people asked me, I said, 'I'm going to be a girl singer,' " said Jackson, speaking from her home in Oklahoma. "I didn't even ever prepare for anything else. The only thing in the business side in high school was I took typing -- but I knew I could use that for trying out lyrics to songs. I had to make it or be a soda jerk, or wash dishes."
Jackson, who is 73, has not taken more than a year off since she started in her teens, with hits like "Havin' a Party" and "Fujiyama Mama." And now, the queen of rockabilly is back with a new CD, "The Party Ain't Over" -- a collaboration with Jack White, rock impresario and former White Stripes frontman.
She stops off at Salt Lake City's The State Room for a performance (sans White) on Wednesday.
Early last year, Jackson was thinking of doing some sort of album, and her manager, who is 27 and a fan of White's, encouraged her to consider approaching him.
"I was thinking about doing a 'Wanda Jackson and Friends' thing," Jackson said. "A lot of artists have done these. I don't ever think they are the best, but I was willing to try it out."
White was not interested in being on the "... and Friends" project. Instead, he wanted to record his own single with Jackson, and if that went well, an entire album.
"I knew of him, knew he was one of the most popular rock stars on the planet," Jackson said. "I was like, 'He wants to record me? What does this young man have in mind for me?' My first reaction? I was scared. When it comes to singing, I don't get scared very often."
Jackson wondered if her fan base would even respond to such a record.
"Man, does my public even want anything new on me? They like this old stuff from the '50s, and I had been working with that in mind -- the rockabilly revival. I work all that I need to. But then when Jack called, he was just such a soft-spoken gentleman. He got my curiosity up."
Jackson and White stated exchanging ideas for the album via e-mail. One of the songs White sent Jackson was Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good,' a torchy soul tune sung from a jaded party girl's viewpoint.
"I thought, 'What in the world is it that he wanted me to do with that?' I didn't think I could sing it convincingly. It's a bit young, for one thing. Everyone knows my age."
At their initial session, to ease her in, said Jackson, White first had her lay down one of her show mainstays -- Little Richard's "Rip It Up."
"Then when I was selecting the next song to try, he said, 'Let's try this Amy Winehouse song.' "
She admitted to White she had not really worked on it, in part because she could not see herself singing the song's risquA(c) second verse. Not a problem -- sensing a lady like Jackson, who for many years ran a Christian ministry with her husband, would not want to sing such lyrics, White had already rewritten and toned down the naughty verse for her.
"So, seeing as he did that, we went about learning it, him singing the melody into my headphones. It was a little different style for me. Jack had me do a number of takes, encouraging me to push it. That was the phrase he would use -- 'Let's do that again -- just push a little bit for me.' "
"I couldn't figure out what that meant for a little while, but then it hit me. He was trying to pull out that feisty 18-year-old I had been. And that made it fun. He was very patient and helped me do it."
Jackson told White that all of that pushing they'd done in the sessions had moved her clear into the 21st century.
"He said, 'That's exactly what I wanted to do.' He is so generous with his talent and creativity. He has taken the back seat to me for this project. It is staggering my mind."
Another fan of Jackson's is Adele, the red-hot British songstress. After discovering Jackson's classic tunes on her first trip to America, Adele signed Jackson on to open for her summer tour.
Jackson admits to being both humbled and inspired by the fact that these young stars are her fans.
"These young kids today, they are so big and popular -- yet they are willing to be in the background and push and stretch me, and bring me right up to date. I just love that."
- WHO: Wanda Jackson
- WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- WHERE: The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City. Age 21 and over.
- TICKETS: $20/advance, $25/day of, available from www.thestateroomslc.com
Watch Wanda Jackson and Jack White play "Thunder on the Mountain"