Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Wanda Jackson — the first and, for many years, only significant female rock star — has announced her retirement from touring, via a message posted to her Facebook page.
“After over 60 years of touring, Wanda Jackson wishes to announce her retirement from performing,” read the post, on behalf of the 81-year-old singer. “This retirement is solely based on health and safety. It has been a wild ride. Thank you all for all the years of continued fandom and support. This is not the end, just the beginning of a new chapter. Join us as we congratulate the Queen of Rockabilly on over six decades of rip roaring live performances, priceless stories and countless shimmies.”
The message confirmed that Jackson is calling off upcoming gigs she had scheduled. “All of this being said,” it read, “Wanda will not be making appearances at either Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend nor the Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender. In true rockabilly spirit, please still go out to these shows and keep the spirit of rockabilly alive.”
Jackson’s daughter, Gina Simpson, confirmed to their hometown newspaper, the Oklahoman, that her mother had recently been dealing with health difficulties. “She’s been touring since she was 16, and to be doing it into your 80s in this business is crazy. It’s a hard life,” Simpson said. “People don’t realize what a hard life it is. She has been blessed to be able to do this for as long as she has. … She’s good about it. None of us like it, but it is what it is. … It’s been tough, but she is strong.”
At one of her last Southern California appearances last April, at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, Jackson sat through her performance — making it hard to see the diminutive singer over the heads of a rowdy and appreciative crowd — but came off as vivacious and vocally robust, digging into her trademark rasp as enthusiastically as ever and regaling the crowd with tales of her experiences with everyone from Elvis Presley to Jack White. (See video below.)
Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, shortly before her 21st century comeback got seriously underway. That happened when Jack White produced the album “The Party Ain’t Over” and released it on his Third Man label in 2011. She quickly followed that with “Unfinished Business,” produced by Justin Townes Earle, in 2012. Jackson had been a steady presence on the road since and released her memoir, “Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” in 2017.
She began her recording career as a country artist on Decca in 1954 at the age of 16. Jackson had been swept up in the rockabilly craze by the time she released one of her signature songs, “I Gotta Know,” in 1956, off the album “Rockin’ With Wanda.”
Jackson’s reputation and influence outstripped her chart numbers. Her most famous song, “Let’s Have a Party,” peaked on the pop chart at No. 37 in 1960, two years after it was released on an album — yet it’s considered one of the all-time early rock ‘n’ roll classics, more so for her version than her friend Elvis Presley’s.
Jackson recorded for Capitol from 1958 through 1972. At that time, following a religious reawakening, she signed with the gospel label Myrrh Records. She continued to alternate between Christian, country and oldies-oriented recordings for decades before her association with White elevated her from the realm of rockabilly revivalist cult favorite into a wider notoriety.
As David Letterman said when Jackson and White appeared on his late-night show in 2011 (below): “Easily worth the wait.”
In an interview with the Oklahoman last year, Jackson spoke about her influence on all the women who followed her into rock. “I didn’t know I was setting a trend or blazing a trail at the time, so it’s very nice to have these young singers come up to me and say, ‘If I hadn’t heard your song, I probably wouldn’t be a singer today,’” she said. “Cyndi Lauper, it was so sweet, when she met me she took a hold of my hand and kissed it and then she looked at me and tears were running down her face. I said, ‘What’s wrong, honey? What’s wrong?’ She said, ‘Oh, I’m just so happy to … get to meet you because you have helped all the girls in this business so much.’ So it’s always a very nice thing for someone to appreciate what you’ve done.”