Last weekend I was curled up on the sofa watching the Smithsonian Channel and I caught an awesome documentary: The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice. It told the story of Wanda Jackson, a female rock 'n roll pioneer. No. Wait. Jackson is a rock n' roll pioneer full stop.
Not only was she rare as a female performer, playing guitar and singing gritty rockabilly when most female performers, like Patti Page (below), worked within a "proper" and "ladylike" mold that was in keeping the more rigid gender roles of the time.
But Jackson was also among the women that--though they rarely receive credit for it--inspired male performers like Elvis Presley, who are lauded as music pioneers while their female counterparts go unrecognized. According to the documentary, Elvis toured with Jackson for a while and borrowed her famous growl. And, of course, he borrowed "Big Mama" Thornton's Lieber Stoller tune, "Hound Dog."
So yeah, Jackson is a true pioneer. Elvis Costello and several other musicians led an effort to see her recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was inducted in 2009 as an Early Influence. (Hope we can expect similar recognition for "Big Mama" soon.) And Jack White teamed with Jackson last year to release a new album "The Party Ain't Over," which is a favorite on my iPod now. On the album, Jackson, still rockin' hard in her 70s, covers Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good."
Now, Winehouse is another lady with a nasty voice whose music I like. In fact, "You Know I'm No Good" is the only Amy Winehouse song that I really don't care for. Really. I skip it every time it comes up on my mp3 player. Although I kinda dig the live, acoustic version below. Hearing Jackson's take on the song made me appreciate it better. Her retro growl and gravel lends the song an authenticity that I think Amy pulls off better in other performances.
Hear them both for yourself: