When Lemmy Met Wanda Jackson
The last time I saw Lemmy Kilmister, we were sitting in a small room just off the side of the stage at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. He was holding a bottle of Jack Daniels with one hand while a too-young blonde, who was trying awfully hard to look older, sat on his lap. He was dressed as he usually dressed — black denim and a cowboy hat. Across from us on the couch was Wanda Jackson and her husband, Wendell.
I believe it was a week or two before Thanksgiving in 2003, and Jackson had just released Heart Trouble, her first album in 15 years. She was known back in the late 1950s as the Queen of Rockabilly, and had toured with — and briefly dated — Elvis Presley. Elvis encouraged her to add a rock beat to her traditional country repertoire, and for the next 10 years she scored with a number of hit singles. By 1965, Jackson had transitioned back to country music, toured all over the world, had a TV show, did the Vegas thing, and eventually began to release gospel albums. By the ’80s, she’d returned to rockabilly once again, and toured extensively in England and throughout Europe, including Scandinavia.
Heart Trouble was released on CMH Records, and it was a solid effort that featured both old and new songs. It included a number of collaborations and duets with artists like Rosie Flores, Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello, the Cramps, and Cadillac Angels.
On this particular day at Amoeba in Hollywood, I was there representing the label and Wanda was going to perform a few songs and sign some albums. The band that backed her featured Danny B. Harvey and (possibly…a scratchy memory chip here) Slim Jim Phantom — both members of Lemmy’s rockabilly band the Head Cat.
I admit I initially felt a bit protective of Wanda and Wendell, who looked and talked like they stepped out of central casting in the role of Everybody’s Grandparents. I’d first met Lemmy a dozen years earlier and knew he could be a bit rough around the edges, but he spoke softly and clearly had respect and a deep knowledge of Jackson’s work. She seemed utterly charmed and fascinated by him as well, although she admitted to never having heard of Motörhead.
It was a very gentle conversation, and during her set she got cheers and laughter from the audience when she mentioned meeting “Mr. Lemmy,” noting what a lovely young man he was. I remember looking over and seeing him laugh as well and while he was still holding onto the blonde, the bottle was nowhere in sight. Just another day in Hollywood.
Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister died on December 28, 2015, in Los Angeles at age 70.
Wanda Jackson turned 78 last October and resides in Oklahoma City with Wendell. She continues to tour.
Lemmy Kilmister, Wanda Jackson and Danny B. Harvey. Amoeba Records. 2003.
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