Cordell Jackson – Barrister’s (Memphis, TN)
103 humid degrees of bug-bitten fun: That was the promise held along with this evening’s entertainment on the second night of the annual Dixie Fried Festival, brought to you by your friends at Shangri-La Records.
Despite the fact that the air conditioning blew in some remote corner on the other side of the room, I was powerfully and inevitably drawn to the front of the stage, where Memphis’ legendary rock ‘n’ roll grandma had just seated herself, her Hagstrom Condor six-string electric (one of only two known to exist) placed gingerly on her lap.
Once upon a time there was a Budweiser commercial on TV, featuring Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats. For anyone who can’t remember that far back into the Reagan era, Brian is rockin’ out onstage when this sweet little old lady runs out, yells some insult at him, then proceeds to kick Brian’s butt all over the place as she rocks and wails on guitar. Although it’s probably Cordell Jackson’s most noteworthy claim to fame, it’s not her only one.
Originally from Pontotoc, Mississippi, Cordell began playing guitar in the 1940s, doing a lot of her studio work in the late 1950s. Aside from being one of the few ladies of rock ‘n’ roll at the time, she was also one of the first women to start her own record label, Moon Records. After a long hiatus during the ’60s and ’70s, Memphis celebs Alex Chilton and Tav Falco convinced Cordell to dust off the old strings and start playing again.
On this night, with the aid of her able-bodied roadie-for-the-night Scott Bomar of local garage/surf band Impala, Cordell traded off her Hagstrom after a handful of intro songs and some cheerful banter for a new cherry-red Gibson 175 (a gift from the company, who are about to open a production plant in the Memphis area) and dove into one rollicking two-and-a-half-minute instrumental after another. Much to everyone’s surprise, she also tried her hand at a couple of vocal numbers including “I Wanna Love The Hell Outta You”, shaking the rafters as hard as any 18-year-old punk rock kid.
Although a live performance by Cordell Jackson is an occasion not to be missed, it is also somewhat of a rarity. She does, however, have two singles available on her own Moon Records, “Knockin’ 60” and “Football Widow”; or, if you happen to be in the Memphis area in the summertime, she opens her home up for tours every August. Just look for the yellow house with the yellow Cadillac parked out in front.