Following on from previous entries into Bear Family Records‘ Connection series, including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent, the German label has opted to focus its latest entry on “the queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson. This compilation features thirty Jackson-associated tracks, recorded before and after the fact. Is the thirty-track collection, The Wanda Jackson Connection, worth picking up?
From what inspired Wanda to record tracks, to hearing people taking heavy inspiration from her, these albums are always a wild ride. It is fair to say that aside from a couple of tracks, the general public may not be as familiar with Wanda’s vast catalogue of recordings. When listening to this album, I certainly had trouble thinking of Wanda when I heard Brenda Lee sing Kansas City, Jenny Luna perform Stupid Cupid or even Chuck Berry lay down his original version of Brown Eyed Handsome Man.
I have no such trouble with Wanda’s mega-hit, Let’s Have A Party, which features heavily on this compilation. Initially written by Jessie Mae Robinson for Elvis Presley, Wanda’s reading seems more heavily inspired by The Collins Kids’ (Great harmonies) interpretation of the track. The other versions featured here, including Rikki Henderson, Bix Bryant and The Raiders take the formula and shake things up. Henderson, for example, approaches the energetic number like a (sort of) American crooner backed by a swing orchestra. The Ladybirds’ renamed version, entitled Man, We Had A Party, shows the adaptability of the composition. All that being said after hearing all these versions, I think I prefer Wanda’s interpretation.
It is debatable whether I feel the same about her take on Fujiyama Mama. When I heard her version for the first time during a recent review of a Wanda-themed vinyl release, I was taken by the boppy arrangement and her ability as a vocalist. While some of this still holds true, there is no doubt that Annisteen Allen’s powerfully soulful and funky original laid the foundations for Eileen Barton and then Wanda’s reading of the track.
I appreciate the nice mix of known and obscure artists contained here. There’s a nice pre-Alvin Stardust Shane Fenton & The Fentones recording of Sparkling Brown Eyes, rocking through the less-than-ideal quality. A few of these recordings appear for the first time, including Bix Bryant, Betty McQuade, and Shirley Jean Wiley. Also included are big-name artists including Ray Campi, Brenda Lee, Skeeter Davis, Fabian, Connie Francis, Chuck Berry, Bobby Bare, and Roy Orbison. Wanda herself even features on a track with Velvetone; A souped-up groovy version of Funnel of Love.
A Little Something Extra…
Inside a nicely printed one-CD digipak is a thirty-six-page booklet featuring liner notes by Bill Dahl with a foreword by Rosie Flores. The notes tell the story of Wanda’s career, while also detailing information about each of the acts featured. It also includes rare photographs and illustrations.
- Joyce Hahn – I Gotta Know
- Ray Campi & His Rockabilly Rebels – Honey Bop
- Betty Hutton – Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad
- Sunny Gale – Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad
- Terry White – Cool Love
- Annisteen Allen – Fujiyama Mama
- Eileen Barton – Fujiyama Mama
- Lydia & Her Melody Strings – Just A Queen For A Day
- The Collins Kids (Larry & Lorrie) – Party
- Rikki Henderson – Let’s Have A Party
- Thelma Blackmon – I Wanta Waltz
- Shirley Jean Wiley – Long Tall Sally
- Terry White – Mean Mean Man
- Brenda Lee – Kansas City
- Shane Fenton & The Fentones – Sparkling Brown Eyes
- Vicki Young – Riot In Cel Block No. 9
- Skeeter Davis – Right Or Wrong (I’ll Be With You)
- Velvetone feat. Wanda Jackson
- Betty McQuade – Tongue Tied
- Fabian – Tongue Tied
- Connie Francis – Fallin’
- Jenny Luna – Stupid Cupid
- Chuck Berry & His Combo – Brown Eyed Handsome Man
- Bobby Bare – So Soon
- Roy Orbison – Candy Man
- Ria Vailk – Santo Domingo (Fernando, Alfredo En Jose)
- Bix Bryant & The Raiders – Let’s Have A Party
- Lou Ann Barton – Mean Mean Man
- Rosie Flores With Rumble On The Beach – I Gotta Know
- The Ladybirds – Man, We Had A Party
This edition of the Connection series continues the stellar work in showcasing an artist’s back catalogue of songs they’ve recorded, through the recordings of other artists. These albums are always extremely interesting and bring up a lot of questions and answers. Who did it better? What would it have been like if Wanda had done it like that? Would the artist have recorded it had Wanda not been a hit? All these and more make these albums a curiosity that you either appreciate or don’t. Even when you take Wanda out of the equation, you’re left with a nice collection of songs, sung in a variety of genres by a neat mixture of known and obscure artists. Everybody wins.