Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson Announces Retirement, Cancels Shows

Without citing a specific cause, rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson has canceled her scheduled concerts and announced her retirement from performing.

A statement on her Instagram account says her decision to retire is “solely based on health and safety.” It adds that the 81-year-old singer will not be making her scheduled appearances in Las Vegas (April 20) or in Nashville (May 25).

A native of Maud, OK, Jackson has been making music for more than 60 years. She had her own radio show by the time she was 15 and while still in high school toured with Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.

Her 1954 duet with Thompson’s sideman Billy Gray — “You Can’t Have My Love” — was her first single to chart. She joined the Ozark Jubilee after graduating from high school. Intermittently from 1954 through late 1955, she toured with Elvis Presley. She credits him with turning her toward a rockabilly sound and helping her find her “growl.”

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By 1956, she had signed to Capitol and recorded the half-country/half-rockabilly “I Gotta Know.” Backing her on the single, which topped out at No. 15, were such musical luminaries as Buck Owens, Joe Maphis, Skeets McDonald and Speedy West.

In 1958, she recorded “Fujiyama Mama.” It failed to chart in the US but became a major hit in Japan and an enduring part of her repertoire. She had the biggest chart hit of her career in 1961 with “In the Middle of a Heartache,” which she co-wrote. It rose to No. 6.

Jackson was a performing star in Las Vegas during the late ‘50s and well into the ‘60s. Beginning in 1967, she recorded as “Wanda Jackson and the Party Timers.” While she steadily occupied the charts throughout the ‘60s and into the mid-70s, she scored no big hits.

Her highest charting singles during this period were “Both Sides of the Line” (No. 21), the combative “My Big Iron Skillet” (No. 20), “A Woman Lives for Love” (No. 17) and “Fancy Satin Pillows.”(No. 13). Between 1960 and 1962, five of Jackson’s singles made the pop charts, including “Let’s Have a Party,” “Right or Wrong” and “In the Middle of a Heartache.”

Starting in 1971, Jackson declared that she was a born-again Christian and would no longer record and perform secular material. But by the 1980s she was again embracing her country and rockabilly roots (but without chart success).

Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jackson regularly toured Europe. She also became the grande dame to such admirers as Cyndi Lauper, Rosanne Cash, Pam Tillis and Rosie Flores.

In the twilight of her career she released these notable albums: Heart Trouble (2003), which included guest performances by Elvis Costello, the Cramps and Flores; The Party Ain’t Over (2011), produced with Jack White; and Unfinished Business (2012), produced by Justin Townes Earle. It was Jackson’s first album in 39 years to make Billboard’s Hot Country Albums chart.

In 2009, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “early influences” category.”

She released her autobiography, Every Night Is Saturday Night, in 2017.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to