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Rock Pioneer Wanda Jackson Tells Her Tale in New Doc, Plus Video

May 14, 2008 3:29 PM ET

Fifty years after Wanda Jackson unleashed her country snarl on the world with her breakout hit "Let's Have a Party," the first woman of rockabilly (a.k.a. the Queen) is telling her story. Jackson — who has dated Elvis Presley, toured with Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, and recorded with Elvis Costello and the Cramps — is the star of The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice, a documentary that will make its TV debut on the Smithsonian Channel on May 18th (see clip, above). The film follows the singer, 70, over the past two years as she tours Europe and the U.S. and includes vintage clips of her live shows, as well as interviews with Costello, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, who give props to Jackson for influencing their music. So how did the mild-mannered girl from Oklahoma break into the rock & roll boys' club? "The guys I was working with — Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash — I felt like if they can do it, I can do it," says Jackson. "Sometimes I did it better."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »
 
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