Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 10:32 pm | Fair 72º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Wanda Jackson Rips It Up at SOhO

Legendary 'Queen of Rockabilly' brought the party to Santa Barbara on Friday night

Wanda Jackson has been called many amazing things, including the “First Lady of Rock and Roll,” the “Queen of Rockabilly” and, courtesy of Bob Dylan, “an atomic fireball of a lady.” At her concert at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Friday night, backed by Seattle’s Billy Joe Huels and the Dusty 45s, it was clear where these descriptions came from.

First, a little history. In the mid-1950s, the teenage Jackson made a jump from country music to rockabilly at the encouragement of the King himself, Elvis Presley, who she toured with and dated for a short time. This led to a string of hot recordings (all on the program at SOhO), including the self-penned “Mean, Mean Man” and “Rock You Baby,” plus “Fujiyama Mama” (which hit No. 1 in Japan), “Funnel of Love” (recently revived in the closing credits of an episode of Entourage) and “Let’s Have a Party” (which was a Top 40 hit in the United States). In the process, she blazed the trail for women in rock ‘n’ roll with style and grace.

Jackson’s profile has risen immensely in recent years for two huge reasons: She was (finally!) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, and fan/White Stripes guitarist Jack White produced an album of smoking cover songs called The Party Ain’t Over, which was released in 2011.

Songs from this new album at the concert included the old — “Like a Baby,” which Jackson described as “one of my very favorite songs of Elvis,” and “Rip It Up,” which was recorded decades ago by the likes of Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly — and the new — “You Know That I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse, whose recent death “shocked and saddened” Jackson.

Jackson did a further tribute to Elvis with “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” a cover of one of his early Sun Record releases. This followed her account of Elvis encouraging her to sing rockabilly way back in 1955, when she was “17 and skinny.”

The Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson sang her early rockabilly songs at SOhO on Friday night.
The “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson sang her early rockabilly songs at SOhO on Friday night. (Jeff Moehlis photo)

She touched on her country roots with “I Betcha My Heart I Love You” and “Right Or Wrong (I’ll Be With You),” the latter a hit written by Jackson. Happily, she also sang what I think must be one of the best all-time mergers of country and rock ‘n’ roll, the charming “I Gotta Know.” And a different side of Jackson shone through in her performance of the Hank Williams gospel song “I Saw the Light.”

But the biggest treat was definitely hearing those sizzling, early rockabilly songs that she first recorded more than 50 years ago, and which made her the legend that she is today. In Jackson’s hands, these still pack a punch and can bring down the house.

The party certainly ain’t over yet for the “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson, or for her still-growing set of fans.

Setlist

Riot in Cell Block No. 9
Rock You Baby
Hard Headed Woman
I Gotta Know
Funnel of Love
I Betcha My Heart I Love You
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Heartbreak Hotel
Shakin’ All Over
You Know That I’m No Good
Rip It Up
Like a Baby
Nervous Breakdown
Fujiyama Mama
Right Or Wrong (I’ll Be With You)
Mean Mean Man
I Saw the Light
Let’s Have a Party
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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