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Be specific: Wanda Jackson on recording with Jack White

Wanda JacksonWanda Jackson's latest project finds her working with Jack White.

The Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, visits the Black Cat tonight. She was breaking rock-and-roll barriers more than 50 years ago - "I changed the way country music girls dressed and gave other girls, with rock-and-roll, the freedom to come out there and get with the guys," she says - and continues to tour regularly even at 72 years old. When we talked to her in late January she was about to hit the road to do some recording. With Jack White.

Their first sessions together resulted in a properly soulful version of Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" and it went well enough for the pair to agree to Round 2. "He has his own studio on the grounds of his home," Jackson says of White. "It makes it easier for him. He's a busy guy." We talked to her about this latest project in her storied career - and had to ask about finally getting the call from the Rock Hall, as well.

So how did you get hooked up with Jack White in the first place?

It was actually kind of a go between. My husband (Wendell Goodman) and my publicist (Jon Hensley) they were just hoping that I'd get another call from somebody wanting to do an album or something. So they were kicking around ideas. And they said, "Well, why don't we have her do 'Wanda Jackson and Friends' and get different artists to do duets?" I wasn't really too hip on that but I said, "OK." (Laughs.) "I'll try." Jon spoke to a friend of his in Nashville, someone in the business, and the guy said, "Gosh, Jack White is a big fan of Wanda's I bet he'd like to do a duet." So by hook or crook or some way John got through to him. He asked him and Jack said, "No, I wouldn't be interested in doing a duet with her. But I tell you what I would be interested in is recording her." So that thrilled him to death and he gave the idea to us and we said, "Well, heck yeah!"

(White) had just done - well, four years ago, come to think of it - an album with Loretta Lynn. It got four Grammy nominations, she won two Grammys. So I thought, well how lucky can I be to have a young man like this interested? And so he's given me some unusual material for me to do.

(Tears and roses, after the jump)

I heard the Amy Winehouse cover.

That's the first release. That's the single.

Were you a fan of that song before recording it?

I had never heard it before. (Laughs.) My country roots, you know? His part is great -- the arrangement, he's got a great horn section in there. And after I finally got a handle on what he was wanting me to do with the song then I reared back and sang it in my style and he really liked it. He's played he said for several industry people and they're just flipping out over it. So I'll hang on for the ride and see what happens.

What's coming next?

He's very private with things. He wants me to record some more. I don't know what he has in mind. He won't say until he's ready. I found that much out about him. But he's such a super young man. Talented and very easy to work with. But this time we're going way back to some country songs. I know he wants to keep me doing some country.

Do you listen to any White Stripes or Raconteurs or any of his other bands?

Well, no I don't even know the names of them. Well, I know White Stripes. I have a CD of his with the White Stripes and I'm kind of listening to that. But that's not what he's wanting from me, that kind of song. So I don't clutter up my mind too much with that.

Is he easy to trust in the studio? He has you doing some different things.

(Wendell), we told him we're putting me in his hands. I'll do my very best to sing 'em the way he has in mind. And I'd like for him to pick out the material. I do have to have final say but so far we've agreed on everything. And he's so helpful to me. Because he realizes some of these songs are a stretch for me. They're different. And he's helping me any way he can. He sings along with me. And helps me learn the melody. So it's been a real delight working with him.

I guess when you agreed to the project, stretching from your comfort zone was part of the appeal.

I think so. I've never backed away from challenges in my field, in music. I think he's hoping to pick up new fans, get a whole new fan base out there, by releasing it on vinyl. I did an interview this morning, I told her that it's coming out on 7-inch vinyl and she said, "Oh, wonderful, wonderful!" (Laughs.) And I can't believe that these kids - where are they finding turntables to play them? I've been around for so long to see what goes around comes around. That vinyl, here it comes again!

Since the last we talked to you, you became a Hall of Famer. So, congratulations.

That's right - thank you. Full fledged!

How did you react to the news?

Well, I'm a typical woman - I started crying. (Laughs.) My husband told me in such a sweet way. With all the family that was here he prepared a toast for everyone and I'm thinking what in the world is he doing? My granddaughter came into the dining room area and she had three dozen Sonia roses for me, which are my favorites. And he said, here's a toast to the newest member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So he made a real big production out of it. And then we were able to take all of our kids - our kids, their spouses, our grandkids, our staff, brought in Rosie Flores because she was very instrumental in bringing me back to the new generation here in America - so it was a family affair, it was great.

The class that you're in with - there's a heavy metal band (Metallica) and a rap group (Run-DMC) - it's quite a diverse lineup.

It really is! I really liked the category [Early Influence] they put me in. Because I didn't know they had a category like that. And everyone's saying, "Why aren't you in the Hall of Fame?" and I said, "Well, I don't know," but I have never even expected to be in it. I never had a string of No. 1 songs in that superstar class. It just never did happen for me. People say, "Well, you should be in there anyway." So I thought it was very fitting. I was quite proud of that.

By David Malitz  |  February 12, 2010; 1:34 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Jack White, Wanda Jackson  
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