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Wanda Jackson remembers Elvis

By Ken Burke, March 2006

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Most husbands would be miffed at the prospect of their spouse constantly talking about another man. Not Wendell Goodman. Jackson's manager and husband for 45 years, he can joke philosophically, "That's all right. She can talk about it because I'm the guy that beat Elvis out."

The mock wisecracks don't stop there. Three years ago, Jackson's "Heart Trouble" album featured a guest appearance by Elvis Costello.

"So now I'm talking about Elvis Costello, I have been the last three years," giggles Jackson. "Wendell says, 'That's all I need - another Elvis in my life.' But he has a very good sense of humor. I also tell on that talking track that I was glad he got the opportunity to meet Elvis. Because I would be talking about him the rest of my life. He was very impressed with him and liked him as well."

Jackson's inclusion on Cleopatra Records' Shania Twain tribute - she sang "Whose Bed Are Your Boots Under Now" - led to Goodman pitching the idea of a Presley tribute for their Golden Lane imprint.

In turn, the label brought rockabilly guitarist Danny B. Harvey in as producer. "I had heard about him from one of my fans that lives in Iowa," says Jackson. "She had just sent me one of his recordings and said, 'I wish you'd listen to this guy. You need to work with him,' and things like that. So, later on that year, I met him and did work with him. I was most impressed with his knowledge of those years and music, and then when I heard him play I was doubly impressed. He's one fine guitar player and as it turned out, a very fine producer."

Presley's best early music was made in conjunction with the Blue Moon Boys - Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana.

Did Jackson ever encourage Harvey to replicate their seminal sounds? "I was very tempted, yet as I listened to him I thought, 'I don't think this record needs to copy Elvis' exactly.' We got the spirit of the songs and after all, when I'm singing the song, it becomes mine. As much as I wanted to say that, I enjoyed very much everything (Harvey) did. It freshened the songs up."

Song selection was a key factor for Jackson, but some proved trickier than others. "Well, I wanted to do all the early things - the songs he was doing when I worked with him," she explains. "For many years, I've been doing 'Trying to Get to You' because that was one of my favorites. But 'Baby Let's Play House,' if I wanted to hear Elvis do one of those old '50's songs, that's the one I would play.

"One I really loved, 'That's All Right (Mama).' You know, I can't do that song. I can't change that gender without changing the whole song. Then also 'Heartbreak Hotel,' which he was beginning to perform when I was still working with him. 'Give Me the Right,' 'Too Much' and 'Ain't That Lovin' You Baby' were some of his earlier Victor songs. I liked 'em very well and enjoyed singing 'em, so I just threw those in."

The lone new song "I Wore Elvis' Ring," was directly inspired by Jackson's history with Presley. Still in her possession, the ring in question has long been a subject of good-natured household controversy.

"My daughter and son, ever since they were old enough to know who Elvis was and their mother had a ring of his, they started fussing," she chuckles. "'Who was I going to leave that ring to? ' So, seriously, not too long ago, we were with our lawyer going over a will. I said, 'I want to add something.' I said, 'I want my will to read that I want Elvis Presley's ring to go to my first grandchild.' So, now, that's stopped all of the fussing on my kids' part. Only now, (granddaughter) Jennifer is waiting for me to kick the bucket."

Jackson's only regret about her new album is that she flat out forgot to record a gospel song because that was a very important part of Elvis' music.

"I think the song I would have done - I recorded it one time in Czechoslovakia for an album - was 'Crying in the Chapel.' I wish I had put that on there. To his fans, all I can say is I'm sorry. I don't know how I overlooked that."

"I Remember Elvis" is also the centerpiece of a documentary film being made by KPI films titled "Every Night is Saturday Night." Following Jackson all around the world, co-producer Vinnie Kralyevick describes the film as a labor of love, adding, "When you look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you have people like James Taylor in there that aren't necessarily rockers, but Wanda is out there with her husband Wendell just about every night, whether it's in Finland, Sweden, Oklahoma or Houston. They're always driving to the next gig. I just thought that was a story that had to be told."

While the film is being edited and completion funds are sought, Jackson will spend some time caring for her ailing 92-year-old mother before hitting the road. She is profoundly grateful for her young fan base and hopes the new album pleases them.

"Well, I hope that they do enjoy listening to it and maybe jitterbugging to it as much as I enjoyed singing for them. And I just want the rock 'n' roll and rockabilly fans out there to keep this music alive because it's the best music that America has to offer."

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