Americana Showcase: Wanda Jackson Rocks a Hotel Bar

Seriously, what are the odds of hearing a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member rocking out with her band during a lunchtime concert at a hotel bar? Fortunately, those odds get a little better when the Americana Music Conference is taking place in Nashville.

Wanda Jackson roared through a seven-song set Friday (Sept. 14) at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown Hotel, the headquarters for this year’s conference. And while the street level bar isn’t known as a local hot spot for live music, the still-feisty legend made it the place to be.

Hosted by Sugar Hill Records and CMT Edge , the event was revealed to conference attendees only after they arrived in town. Sugar Hill will release Jackson’s new album, Unfinished Business, on Oct. 9. The project was produced by singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle.

As for the hour of Friday’s show, Jackson admitted, “I’m usually just getting up at this time.”

It didn’t matter, though, once her four-piece band, the High Dollars, cranked up the amps and edged up the twang to open with the Link Wray guitar instrumental, “Rumble.”

Sharply dressed in a sequined jacket, she launched into “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine” and another favorite from the ’50s, “I Gotta Know.” The crowd was already mesmerized by the time she got to “Tore Down,” the first track on Unfinished Business, and the devotion only grew stronger when she started yodeling on “I Betcha My Heart I Love You,” a song punctuated by lead guitar riffs derived from the West Coast sound Jackson helped develop.

She also offered two songs from 2011’s The Party Ain’t Over, produced by Jack White. After “Shakin’ All Over,” she performed “You Know That I’m No Good,” an Amy Winehouse song White urged her to record for the album. Noting she was recently asked what it was like working with the White Stripes member, she lovingly described it as “a velvet-covered brick.”

She closed the brief set on a classic rockabilly note with her hit, “Fujiyama Mama.”

Jackson is one of those unique artists with the sort of musical curiosity that has prevented her from becoming an oldies or novelty act. Working with younger musicians and showing an open attitude toward new possibilities, she seems as vibrant at age 74 as many performers half her age — or even younger.

Following the Americana performance, she told CMT Edge writer-producer Craig Shelburne the location and time turned out to be a great one for her.

“The room downstairs here, it seemed like everybody loved me,” she said. “You can’t go wrong! (laughs) I felt kind of like I was singing in my living room to a bunch of friends. And, of course, when I have a good band behind me, it really drives me. That helps.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.