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A Queen Called Wanda

Wanda Jackson took 15 minutes of fame and turned it into 68-year career. At 80 years old, Jackson is known around the world as The Queen of Rockabilly. At the tender age of 12, Jackson won a talent contest in her native Oklahoma City, and got a 15-minute radio spot every day on the local [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Wanda Jackson took 15 minutes of fame and turned it into 68-year career.

At 80 years old, Jackson is known around the world as The Queen of Rockabilly. At the tender age of 12, Jackson won a talent contest in her native Oklahoma City, and got a 15-minute radio spot every day on the local station. The show was extended to a half hour, and soon young Wanda was off and touring with the likes of Elvis Presley—with her father as chaperone. What followed would go down in music history. The country scene in the ’50s was rife with traditional clothing, flat hair and gender roles. When she hit the road in 1955, rock and roll was not yet named, and women were definitely not part of its plan. Jackson changed the game for good with a little hairspray and fringe, her electric guitar and trademark high, honeyed gravel voice ringing across the airwaves and around the world. (614) got the honor and opportunity to interview Jackson before she graces the capital city with original rock and roll.

You’ve broken down a lot of walls for women in music. Is there anything you see today that’s the same as it was back in the ’50s and ’60s for women?

Little things. But I think the pure talent always comes to the top. The cream always comes to the top. Whether you agree with it or not, some people have the charisma, they have good songs and great voices and they also are entertainers. So all that remains the same. That will never change… I don’t think.

Who are some young artists you like to listen to?

I don’t listen to radio, really. They don’t play a whole lot I can relate to. Some of the stations go back a few years and play good country things. I listen to Tanya Tucker, Brooks and Dunn, and Garth Brooks. They might not have a string of hits going right now, but they are so talented.

People say you were the first woman to bring glamour to country music. Are your sound and your style related?

Who can say? They came along about the same time. But I changed my dress before I started doing rockabilly and rock and roll. I had already gone into silk fringe dresses and the sweetheart neck and halter straps and high heels and earrings and kinda big hair for those days. It wasn’t really what you call “big” now [laughter]. But most of them were just real flat. I tried to put some glamour into country music. I think I was successful in that. [laughter] So I’m proud of that.

You’ve been called country music’s first sex symbol. What advice do you have for young women who are going into music?

That was kind of my intention, but I didn’t know I was a sex symbol at the time. I designed my clothes and my mother always made them so they fit me beautifully. I worked my shows and all the other is just a natural… Just charisma. Something about some people, when they walk into a room, people will turn, and kinda notice. Where other people can do it and it doesn’t affect people the same way. I can’t take a lot of credit for that. I was doing my job, not thinking about being a sex symbol.

I have to ask about Elvis. When you guys were touring together, did you ever get to play alone together? What was he like during rehearsal and offstage?

Well I never did see him rehearse. I didn’t rehearse much either. Hardly anybody did. It’s crazy when you think about it. We did these one-nighters for two and three weeks. We just kinda worked it out as we went. I was used to working with different bands almost every night. I’d hear him singing in the guys’ dressing rooms. Of course, I was never allowed to go in there. My dad traveled with me and made sure I stayed a lady and that my reputation was intact. But I could hear the guys in there singing, and once in awhile after shows, somebody’d say “Hey, listen to the song I just wrote,” and they’d grab a guitar and others would join in. Just spontaneous things.

Elvis took me to his home once when he was trying to encourage me to sing this new kind of music that he was doing. It didn’t really have a name yet. It wasn’t rockabilly or rock and roll, it was just Elvis’ kind of music. I told him, “I love the songs that you do; I could listen to ‘em all the time. But I’m just a country singer and I’m a girl and I can’t do what you do.” And he said, “I know you can.” And he was pretty adamant about it. So he took me to his home and played records for me. Then he’d take his guitar and say, “See if you just do it like this…” And he’d sing a verse. So I was getting the hang of it at that time. Of course I was a 17-year old kid. And he was something so fresh and new. And I had a crush on him just like his whole audience did. I thought he was great. We got to date a little bit when we were on the road, go to movies and go out to eat, and go get a Coke and things. We were good friends. But he wanted to see me successful and I thought that was so generous of him. To take the time with an artist like me. To take the time and show me, and I got to watch him perform every night on these long tours. So I guess you could say I had a very good teacher.

Jack White approached you and asked if he could produce an album with you. How did things change after you worked with him?

Well, my popularity certainly shot up. I’d always had good crowds, because I work an audience and I meet people. But after that album, there was so much publicity about me and the album and Jack that the crowds were just unbelievable. They were sold out, standing room only, I had to stay an extra night because so many people didn’t get to see the show. And I hadn’t really experienced that on my own and it was a darn good thing—it really was. When I recorded with him, he had the ability—don’t ask me how—of pulling out this young girl that was still in me, I guess. I said, “Jack, you want me to sing like I did when I was 18, and I don’t think I can do that anymore.” And he said, “Yeah, she’s still in there, we’ll get her.” So he worked me hard, but it was very, very good for me to be with someone so talented, with so much energy. He took his complete band with backup singers and everything on the road to introduce this album to people. We did Letterman in New York City, We went to California and did… Oh.. What’s his name? The red-headed guy?

Conan? Conan! Yeah, we did his show, and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. But he just went out of his way to help this record, and it did wonders for it. It truly did, and it was one of the best-selling records I had in many years.

Was there a moment in time when you knew things were changing for women in rock and roll?

could see that the music was changing. I would try to incorporate in my show some of the newer songs and things. But I found out it really wasn’t what the people wanted from me. They wanted to hear me sing the songs that they have on record, and that they play when they get together with their friends and they dance to. I didn’t have a chance to experiment much with the new things. I know I quit writing songs during that period because they just seem so different. I couldn’t really get a handle on them. Recently I’ve gone back into Nashville and written with some of the top writers in Nashville. So I’m kind of getting back into the swing of things—so never say it’s too late. •

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(614) Music Club: Joey Aich

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Photo by Zak Kolesar.

Every week, (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist consisting of songs that have inspired their sound, tracks they’re currently jamming out to, guilty pleasures, and favorite Columbus musicians. They also stop by to answer a few burning questions and plug any upcoming performances or releases.

This week’s playlist is brought to you by hip-hop artist Joey Aich. Originally from Woodmere, Ohio, Aich has called Columbus home since 2017. Since then, Aich has observed a city going through growing pains. His thoughts are present in his original work and even more poignant in his June 2020 release, Open Treehouse. The retro, introspective nature of the album shines through on his playlist selection and through his answers, both of which you can find below.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0HAmWoTgLUo3hhsGh8QKjj?si=CZoCOG1STyi3_qSefVLKJA

Can you talk a little bit about some of the songs you selected for your playlist and how they may have shaped your music career?

The way I crafted the playlist is into three sections: current, Columbus, and classics. 

The current section (consists of) songs that describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have dealt with amidst the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery due to police brutality and racism. One moment I’m crying in bed listening to Marvin Gaye hoping the violence stops, and the next moment I’m full of rage, and proud, scrolling through social media and seeing peaceful protests along with protests that include people burning cars and looting stores to make sure their voices are heard. Music has helped me during this time and these songs reflect where my head has been. 

The Columbus section includes songs from the Columbus-based artists that are featured on my upcoming album, Open Treehouse. Outside of them being featured on the album, they are incredible friends and amazing talents who push me to be better. Dom Deshawn, Trek Manifest, and Sarob are my “carried by 6 brothers,” and I’m glad we were able to make more music together. 

Classics! These are a few songs that will forever be in rotation for me. Believe it or not, I wrote a book for a class assignment in elementary school, and the title was “Living my Life Like it’s Golden,” because I loved (“Golden” by Jill Scott) when I was a kid. I have a personal attachment to these songs and each artist has had an impact on my genre choice, rapping style, and approach to music. 

During the past few months, how have you been able to stay creatively busy? Did you pick up any new skills or hobbies?

It’s been tough but I’ve enjoyed it. Since I’m in the middle of an album rollout I’ve had to scrap a lot of plans and figure out new ways to make it happen. I told myself I don’t want to come out of quarantine without testing my creative abilities or learning a new skill. Quarantining has stopped a lot of my writing process because I write off of experiences, and being in the house with roommates isn’t that exciting, to be honest. But I’ve found other ways to fuel and channel my creativity. 

I’ve been sipping wine and painting as a way to free my mind and put thoughts to canvas. I was inspired by my friend and Columbus legend, Hakim Callwood, to start painting a while ago, and I challenged myself to take this time to get better and keep myself at peace because I find it to be very therapeutic. 

With a lot of my plans, including music videos, being axed, I’ve been filming music videos on my phone and editing them in iMovie. The process is hard and a bit of a headache, but I’m proud of what I made and my progress with it. I’m glad I stuck with it because now when I work with a videographer I can bring some new ideas to the table. 

Overall, I think I’ve been having a good time with my creative process. I love the challenge of having to work with the situations at hand and make the best of it. 

What do you think separates the Columbus music scene from major industry hot spots like New York and Nashville?

Definitely not the talent. I believe the talent is here, but the infrastructure isn’t as solid as the other big cities. Oftentimes artists here in Columbus and even Ohio as a whole have to go somewhere else and get some type of name recognition before being accepted here in Ohio. I also don’t think that’s technically a bad thing as long as Ohio gets its respect as a place that breeds talent. 

How do you think the Columbus hip-hop scene can carry the momentum it had going into 2020 and turn a positive spin on the latter half of this year?

Continuing to do what we have been doing, but amplified and more polished. Again, I believe the talent is here, but we just have to take the next steps...I subscribe to the “trial and error” method of attempting to do things and learning how to do it better the next time.

To turn a positive spin on the latter half of the year, I think we should continue to be creative and adapt to the new normal because we don’t know how long quarantining will last and what normal looks like after. Maybe we don’t have shows until mid-2021, (so) let’s figure out how to still be effective whether it be live streams or create a novel way to bring the experience to the audience. I like where Columbus hip-hop is headed. I think we have a good group of artists that are right there and at any moment lives can be changed. 

Aich’s latest album, the June 18 release Open Treehouse, is available to listen to on all streaming platforms and available to purchase on Bandcamp here.

Here is where you can find Aich on the Internet:

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Rockin’ in a F-150

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Truckbound concert series reaches the city’s most vulnerable with music

The chances are, you’ve seen live music performed in venues of all sorts. From the historic Pabst Theater, to outdoors on the shore of Lake Michigan, to a sweaty mosphit in your second cousin’s basement.

Somewhere most of us have likely never seen live music though, is in the bed of a pickup truck while it’s parked outside your front door. But the Curbside Concert Series is trying to change that.

Organized by Can’t Stop CBUS —a group that formed this March with a viral tweet and aims to connect and better the city of Columbus through a series of community projects— the series brings 10-15 minutes performances to the homes of elderly Columbus residents in order to foster community spirit and unity in those who may need it most.

According to a statement from Can’t Stop CBUS, the goal of the series is “To create much much-needed moments of levity and connection for our elder neighbors,” for older Columbus residents “Who might not connect with others online through video chats or live events the same way that the digital natives of younger generations do.”

Friends or loved ones of elderly Columbus residents can request a concert online for a couple or individual they believe would benefit, and if selected their home (or assisted living facility) will be included as a stop on the four hour concert shifts musicians undertake Friday through Sunday every week. Those requesting a concert are even able to request a specific style of music and add a personal message that’s delivered from the performer

And for Curbside Concert musician Amber Knicole those moments of levity are very real indeed. “There’s a moment where you can actually see people light up. They’re so grateful,” she said. “There’s so much going on in our lives right now, and to see people let some of that go for even a few minutes is amazing.”

Knicole — who also serves as the vocalist for Columbus neo-funk group Mojoflo—actually began her tenure with the concert series as a driver before taking on performances as well. “I’ve always been familiar with larger vehicles, so I was able to step right in.” 

Musicians are carted throughout the city on the flatbed of a glossy, slate-gray Ford F-150 donated by Ricart Automotive and fully equipped with a battery-powered speaker system. And while this allows the music to quite literally show up at your door, according to Columbus artist Steven Paxton, it presents a unique set of challenges as well.

“You’re always trying to find the right spot to park, because that matters,” Paxton said. “And last week it didn’t rain so everyone was outside mowing their lawn. That kind of stuff can get in the way.”

He ultimately sees the truckbound performances as being able to reach Columbus citizens in a unique and compelling fashion. “One elderly lady was confined to her bed and she wasn’t able to come outside, so we pulled up right beside her window.” And it’s moments like this where he says the spirit of the series shines through at its brightest.

“The response we get is great, people just light up. They’ll often come out of their houses or the houses nearby, or out into the parking lot. It seems like everyone is just glad to have the interaction.”

Last weekend, Paxton even got to put a show for one of his biggest fans: his own Dad. “It was nice, this last week we ended our set earlier and was close to where my Dad lived, so we stopped by and did an extra show for him in Groveport,” he said. 

And while there’s not much you can do in the bed of an F-150, the series has been able to show off a nice cross-section of musical talent. While Paxton sings and plays keyboard as accompaniment, others will bring a guitar. Fisher only performs vocally, but she finds a way to make things interesting by singing over pre-recorded backing tracks to songs. “I try to find the ones that are the least amount of cheesy,” she says laughing. “But sometimes with covers you can find a track that really presents the song in a different way, which people appreciate.”

And the Curbside Concert Series benefits more than just those who hear the shows. One of the sponsors of the concert series, the Great Columbus Arts Council, pays artists for their performances.

“Being a full time musician means you need to have about six part time music jobs. Now, most of the venues are closed, so anything like this we can find  is even more important,” Paxton said. “It really is a blessing.” 

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Celebrate Juneteenth by patronizing these local black artists on Bandcamp

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, Bandcamp took things into its own hands to elevate the voices of artists struggling without gigs. 

The #BandcampFriday campaign waived the company’s revenue share so that 100 percent of music and merchandise sales went directly to the musicians. On March 20, fans spent $4.3 million on Bandcamp, 15 times more than a typical Friday. On May 1, people showed up even more, spending $7.1 million.

This #BandcampFriday is a little different, however, with the rise of protests fighting for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement popping up all over the country the last two months. With Juneteenth—an American holiday celebrating the end of slavery—being celebrated today, Bandcamp is changing its mission slightly this month and for every Juneteenth moving forward.

From midnight to midnight Pacific time, Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Bandcamp will also be allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

To double up on Bandcamp’s promotion today and in honor of Juneteenth, check out the list of Columbus-based black musicians below that you can patronize for Bandcamp’s Juneteenth celebration.

Paisha Thomas

One of the most powerful voices in Columbus, Paisha Thomas weaves passion, politics, and history into her potent R&B style. Purchase her track “I Am Here” below.


Mistar Anderson

One of the smoothest, in-the-pocket Columbus bands to pop up over the past five years, Mistar Anderson blends jazz and hip-hop while also bringing in influences such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. You can purchase its EP below.

T.Wong

One of the most fierce musicians and entrepreneurs in Columbus—as well as one of the top-rated business and corporate attorneys in the capital city—T.Wong is at the intersection of soulful R&B and provocative rock. His album, The Upside Down, is a perfect mixture of those sounds and can be purchased below.

Counterfeit Madison

Counterfeit Madison (vocals, piano), along with Adam Hardy on bass and Seth Dailly on drums and percussion, has been delivering show-stopping performances for almost a decade now. The group’s music has a sense of urgency to it, a reflection of the tumultuous 2010s. You can stream a re-created performance of Sade covers below.

Joey Aich

Joey Aich, originally from the Cleveland area, started making an impact on the Columbus music scene as soon as he started calling Columbus home. His introspective hip-hop is a creative lens into the makeup of our community. And what perfect timing! Aich’s latest project was released on Thursday. You can purchase the fresh album below.

MojoFlo

Amber Knicole, the lead singer and show leader behind, has the energy to get the room moving and the vocal power to leave the same room speechless. MojoFlo has long been one of Columbus’ cherished musical treasures. With plans to release an album this year, show some support by purchasing the group’s 2014 EP below.

Learn more about Bandcamp and its efforts here.


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