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Hipster saints have lined up to “rescue” her from “oblivion,” but WANDA JACKSON (pictured here with her latest producer Justin Towns Earle) has done just fine gigging away across this great land for fifty-plus years…and TONIGHT of all nights, she’ll be at Asbury’s WONDER BAR of all places, appearing with POKEY LaFARGE of all people in a must-see Monday fujiyama fracas.
The fact that it’s within a dogpiss distance of our home has at least a little something to do with it, but we’ve long appreciated the Asbury Park circuitside landmark Wonder Bar for its historically honkytonk ambience, its sidewalk snackbar and — during the recent Live Nation/ Madison Marquette era — its repainting as a reflection of the old Palace Amusements, in addition to a general sense of its being a downmarket, plainspeaking cousin to the Stone Pony’s more corporate brand of cold creepiness. Hosts Lance and Debbie may have harbored a few quirkily experimental bookings in recent years (Jonathan Richman, We Are Scientists, even Rasputina), but the bread ‘n butter remains attractions like the ever-popular Doggy Yappy Hour and the kind of jam/ trib/ blues/ SOAP fare that fits the joint’s oddball configuration like a broke-in pair of vintage Cheap Jeans.
Best yet for freewheeling freeloaders like us is the fact that the featured entertainment can be enjoyed gratis, courtesy of the generous windows that line the Fifth Avenue side of the building (and the external speakers out at the sidewalk smokers’ lounge). But tonight, August 20, there happens along a WonderBill that just might cause us to lay down a little Southern juke coin.
Alternately and unabashedly billed as the Queen of Rock, First Lady of Rockabilly and America’s First Female Rock and Roll Singer, Wanda Jackson parlayed early kid-radio-singer success (and a couple of dates with Elvis Presley) into a largely regional stardom that, before settling into the standard country-gospel template, produced perky/snarly rockers like the amazing “Fujiyama Mama,” “Hard Headed Woman” — and our personal favorite “Funnel of Love;” a harem-scarem bit of lounge exotica that featured future Hee Haw host Roy Clark on supercharged sitar.
We had the pleasure of catching the diminutive, pantsuited legend a couple of times in the 1990s, still gigging away, performing Elvis hits (interspersed with heartfelt thanks and the occasional soft-sell sermonette) to audiences who never got to hear any of her music played on the radio. A funny thing or three happened to La Wanda’s career soon thereafter; all of it spearheaded by newer generations of musicians (including Rosie Flores, Elvis Costello and our longtime faves The Cramps) who arrived at the Oklahoma native’s doorstep with thoughts of working with/ paying homage to/ “rescuing” the veteran performer from a career that anymore fell outside most people’s music-biz frames of reference.
The clincher came with the release of 2011′s The Party Ain’t Over, produced by White Stripes founder and Third Man impresario Jack White fresh off a Grammy-lauded collaboration with Loretta Lynn. Comes 2012 and the 74 year old Jackson, who’s been making the rounds of TV shows and showcase events like never before, has an all new release Unfinished Business, this time featuring and produced by Americana exponent/ Brooklyn transplant/ second-generation country contrarian Justin Townes Earle (who by the by will be returning to the Upper Wet Side of NJ for an upcoming gig at Monmouth University).
Opening for Wanda Jackson is one of the greatest goddamn entertainers we’ve ever seen — Pokey LaFarge, the hitch-hiking, bound-for-glory young old-timer who can sell a song door-to-door like Avon, Grit and Fuller Brush combined. Having previously played amazing but ill-attended local gigs at Bayshore dartbar The Claddagh and Bradley Beach bowling lounge Brewsters, Pokey and his South City Three return Wetside with ever-growing cult momentum on his side. You’ll hear oldtime washboard skronk played with no time-o’-day given to precious Americana bullshit; you’ll see very young Dylan during those two weeks that he must have been an interesting person; you’ll mutter “I’m convinced…I’m convinced…” like E.G. Marshall in Twelve Angry Men. Check out this archived interview we did with the leading exponent of Riverboat Soul a couple of seasons back, and get your tix for tonight’s event ($20 advance) rightabouts here.