Wanda Jackson – Fujiyama Mama
Well for this post it was actually not too difficult to find some strong reference and facts (which is a nice change), for this featured artist who is the dazzling Wanda Jackson. The difficulty this time was instead, trying to chose which 7″ to feature, as she has just so many that thrill me! I’ve decided to go with the glorious Japanese picture covered dancer Fujiyama Mama.
Wanda Lavonne Jackson was born on October 20, 1937, to Tom Robert Jackson and Nellie Vera Jackson, in Maud, a small town on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Her father, who himself was a country singer, moved the family to Bakersfield, California in 1941, in hopes of a better life, by escaping the poverty created by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. He was also a guitar player and a fiddle player, but in a time of deep and sad depressing surrounds, once little baby Wanda came along, he couldn’t continue with his music.
Wanda’s father noticed that his little young Wanda showed an interest in music, so he bought his only child that first musical instrument. Wanda recalls to Craig Morrison in the book Rockabilly The Twang Heard ‘Round The World, “When I was about six, he bought me a little guitar – it had the Uncle Sam hat on it because it was wartime. He put it in my hands and eventually I could reach around and he started teaching me chords”. He gave her lessons, taught her plenty of Jimmie Rodgers songs, and encouraged her to play piano, and in addition, he took her to see such acts as Tex Williams, Spade Cooley, and Bob Wills, which left a lasting impression on her impressionable young mind.
Tom moved the family back to Oklahoma City when his daughter was 12 years old. In 1952, she won a local talent contest and was given the prize of her very own 15 minute daily show on KLPR. The program soon after extended her spot to 30 minutes, which lasted throughout Jackson’s high school years. It was through this radio exposure that Jackson was discovered by country star Hank Thompson, who invited her to sing with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. She began performing with them on weekends.
In 1954, she recorded the single You Can’t Have My Love, a duet with bandleader Billy Gray, which hit No. 8 on the country charts. Thompson tried to get her signed with Capitol Records, but Ken Nelson, a company producer, said “Girls don’t sell records,” so Jackson signed with Decca instead, recording a good batch of singles for the label between 1954 to 1956.
Jackson insisted on finishing high school before hitting the road, and when she did, her father became her road manager and traveled by her side. While her mother stayed back and continued to work, somehow on top of that, she found time to make and help design Wanda’s stage outfits. “I was the first one to put some glamour in the country music…fringe dresses, high heels, long earrings,” Jackson said of these outfits. When she first toured in 1955 and 1956, she was placed on the Ozark Jubilee tour that featured many up and coming acts including Elvis Presley. The two hit it off almost immediately and actually dated for a brief time. Jackson said it was Presley, along with her father, who influenced and encouraged her to sing rockabilly.
In 1956, Jackson finally signed with Capitol, and one of her first 45’s has one of my favourite rockabilly B-sides Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad. It’s a cracker! The next year Jackson cut the rockabilly hit Fujiyama Mama, penned by Earl Burrows. Jackson told country music expert Rich Kienzle that she first became aware of the inflammatory tune when she heard R&B artist Annisteen Allen‘s 1954 version playing on a juke box when she was still in school in 1955. Jackson recalls that she “just flipped over it.” Burrows’ lyrics demonstrate that the bombings in Japan a decade earlier, were still viewed as being an impressive display of American might, without any consideration given to the moral implications of the devastating destruction which was unleashed onto the enemy. It is only now that I’m featuring this song (this Japan pressing comes with the lyrics…if you’re lucky) and as I read the lines, do I wonder how this song could have been taken so lightly, and how would it go down today. Sensitivity versus tongue in cheek. In the end, it’s really just a damn good dance floor country stomper, with some very fiery vocals, sexy attitude and flammable one liners.
I drink a quart of sake, smoke dynamite!
I chase it with tobbacy and then shoot out the lights!
Well you can talk about me, say that I’m mean!
I’ll blow your head off baby with nitroglycerine!
Well you can say I’m crazy, so deaf and dumb!
But I can cause destruction just like the atom bomb!
‘Cause I’m a Fujiyama Mama
And I’m just about to blow my top!
And when I start erupting,
Ain’t nobody gonna make me stop!
Ironically, the song was a major hit in Japan and Jackson was treated like a dignitary when she toured there briefly in 1959. There are a few other versions of Fujiyama Mama that are totally enjoyable, one in particular released just after Allen’s version in 1955, by the very cutesy Eileen Barton, that has absolutely nothing wrong with it at all! For a punkish version, check Pearl Harbour‘s spin from 1981, and for something quite cheeky and off beat, go to Petty Booka‘s take, released in 1996, which sadly isn’t available on a 7″.
Jackson’s relationship with Capitol lasted until the early ’70s and in that time she released some “must have” 7 inches. Hot ones that I would suggest you add to your collection (as if you don’t already have them) are… the 1961 release Funnel of Love, B side to Jackson’s major country-pop single Right Or Wrong, the remarkable and favourite popcorn number Whirlpool from 1962, and the Elvis cover Hard Headed Woman which you can find on a french and Aussie 45 if you dig deep enough (likely pressed 1961). Another popular cut would be Let’s Have a Party, yet another Elvis cut, which was a U.S. Top 40 pop hit for her in 1960, after which she began calling her band the Party Timers. There’s also the fiery, violent My Big Iron Skillet from ’69, which humorously (perhaps) threatened death or assault for cheating on a spouse, made her a top 20 hit!
Jackson’s popularity bounced back and forth between country and rockabilly; she did this by often putting one song in each style on either side of a single. This is certainly the case with the flip of Fujiyama, which has the slow country ditty No Wedding Bells For Joe. As rockabilly declined in popularity in the mid-1960s, she moved to a successful career in mainstream country music with a string of hits between 1966 and 1973, including Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine, A Woman Lives for Love and Fancy Satin Pillows.
Wanda was a big attraction in Las Vegas from the mid ’50’s into the ’70s, and toured regularly, and in fact still does. She married IBM supervisor Wendell Goodman in 1961, and instead of quitting the business, as many women singers had done at the time, Goodman, like a good man, instead gave up his job in order to manage his wife’s career. Jackson followed Kitty Wells‘ lead as only the second country female vocalist to have her own syndicated television show, Music Village, from 1967 to ’68.
Obviously I’ve only touched here, on the talent and the star quality that is Wanda Jackson. Don’t be surprised if she turns up here again with another smokin’ 7″, cause as I said, she was packin’ them!
In 2009, Wanda Lavonne Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
References and interests…
Rockabilly – The Twang Heard ‘Round The World – published 2011, Voyageur Press.