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A crossover sensation, Wanda Jackson always did it her way. She brought glamour to country and rocked as hard as any male star. As the rockabilly queen decides to (technically) retire, we celebrate six decades of her rip-roaring, rollercoaster career

Just like Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the other few rockersleft standing, Wanda Jackson is blessed with a feisty spirit. Like Lewis, she recently suffered a stroke – luckily caught in time – and has experienced up and down health of late. In April this year, Wanda told Rolling Stone that she was to retire “due to health and safety”. As a pioneering female performer, in the 50s she shared bills with the greats such as Elvis, who encouraged the young country singer to rip it up in the emergent world of rock’n’roll.

As a rare woman capable of both a cooler take on country and rocking up a storm, Wanda paved the way for other female entertainers to follow. She spent some 65 years on the road: first as a teenager, managed by her father, criss-crossing the States on gruelling one-nighters and package tours; then in Japan after gaining surprise star status, and latterly a renaissance on the European retro revival circuit. Between ‘54-’74, Wanda achieved 30 hits and 40 albums on the Country and Pop charts. “I wanted to work right up until I couldn’t,” she recently revealed. “That point has been reached.” Yet happily for her many fans worldwide, even this swansong statement isn’t final: for the still growling grandmother, now 81, the prospect of a sparky new album’s in the pipeline.

Following on from her great later album collaborations with musician-producers Jack White and Justin Townes Earle, Wanda is looking forward to completing a new “full album” project produced by Joan Jett. She’s also returned to songwriting. Recently linking up with young guns Sonia Leigh, a writer of No.1 hits, plus American Idol contestant and Sugarland hit-maker Vanessa Olivarez, one result was the composition Treat Me Like A Lady. This song alone sums up Wanda’s enduring persona as an artist. She was encouraged by parents who said that it was “fine to be different” but at the same time to “always be a lady”. Which meant no suggestive onstage antics and heeding her father’s sage advice “to keep my legs together while performing”. It’s a philosophy that’s stuck fast and since earned the feminine firebrand the title “the sweet lady with the nasty voice”.

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About Vintage Rock

In this issue of Vintage Rock we enter the riotous world of Wanda Jackson. She's finally just hung up her touring boots this year aged 81, so we decided it was time to honour the Queen Of Rockabilly's tenure at the top from her incredible rise to glory as both a country and rockabilly star to her greatest ever performances – "It's been a wild ride!" Little Miss Dynamite goes out with a bang! We got the exclusive on Brenda Jackson's retirement too! In our candid interview Brenda remembers her spectacular career, from rubbing shoulders with Elvis to surviving the British Invasion intact. It's been 60 years since the storming debut album that positioned Cliff Richard as the UK's own Elvis – with The Drifters in support – we remember a raw classic. It's also been 60 years since rock'n'roll was hit with it's first major scandal. Inside we get to the bottom of the infamous 'Payola Scandal', the real rock'n'roll swindle in which the scene's major players had to face the music. From villains to heroes, we talk to Memphis Mafia man Jerry Schilling about his days with Elvis and the upcoming 'Elvis In Concert' tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, plus we speak to instrumental hero Johnny Farina, one half of duo Santo & Johnny, about their timeless hit 'Sleepwalk'. Bringing things up to date, we chat with Darrel Higham about his new album Bop Machine, we met Nick Lowe, who tells about his new project with masked marauders Los Straitjackets, and we review Stray Cats long-awaited return to the London stage – and what a night it was! Plenty more besides from fresh talent and rockin' weekenders to news, reviews and more!