FilmMagic A plethora of material from a trio of iconic performers is being…
- Posted on Jan 25th 2011 1:00PM by Dan Reilly
Despite their 38-year age difference, Jackson and White became fast friends in the studio. "When you're recording with someone, you get pretty close because you have to say things like 'I don't like that. Let's do it this way,'" Jackson tells Spinner. "You make a good friend very quickly that way."
At the start of their tour, Jackson spoke with Spinner about her working relationship with White, being the first woman to play rock 'n' roll, the influence of Elvis and what she brought to 'The Party Ain't Over,' which is out now via Nonesuch.
During the recording, did you call the shots or was it Jack?
He directed me a lot. I was very grateful for it. I'm not as up-to-date on the market these days. I have my group of people that will always search out and find my recordings, but things change so vastly in our business. Somewhere along the way I got the confidence to tell Jack, "I'm going to take my hands off of the product and I want you to make the decisions. I'll give you my thoughts if you want them, but I'd rather you have the say on the material." I did bring three songs to the table, but he liked them very much, so that was no problem.
'Like a Baby,' which was an Elvis Presley song, 'Teach Me Tonight,' the DeCastro sisters from the early '50s, and 'Blue Yodel #6,' which was Jimmie Rodgers' song from back in the '30s. That happened to be the first song I ever learned as far as playing the guitar and how to sing a song at the same time. I was only about 8 or something like that, so I had to learn to yodel. He liked the idea of putting that in because it's a special song to me.
Who taught you the song?
My father. He was a Jimmie Rodgers fan and he played his records a lot as I was growing up. My daddy taught me to play the guitar and any music ability I have is from the Jackson side of the family.
It's a great album closer.
Well, that's what Jack thought, just making it acoustic guitar and me.
Did you do any guitar playing on the album?
I started off playing rhythm and teaching him 'Blue Yodel #6' and then I thought, "What in the world am I doing trying to play guitar with Jack White sitting here?" so I decided against that. He's so good, the licks and rhythms and fills that he does. It's fantastic. He'll blow you away.
You said he's a pretty energetic guy. Is it hard for you to keep up with him?
Sometimes I tell him to slow that tempo just a little bit [laughs]. I have to admit that.
What about the time in the studio? Was that more relaxed?
It got a bit frustrating to me on the Amy Winehouse song until I figured out what exactly Jack wanted in that performance. He didn't want anything like hers, so he kept pushing me: "Push a little more on this verse and push a little more ..." If you play the record, you hear Jack saying "We're rolling" and I say "And I always have to push." He pushed me 'til I thought "I'm pushed out." But I guess I wasn't.
What direction did he want the song to go in? Yours seemed a bit more defiant than hers.
That's the way it turned out to be, like a light bulb over my head. I said, "Oh, Jack's wanting that 18-year-old rebel girl that's still in me somewhere," so then I got the gist of what he wanted, that defiant attitude. That's my image today. I said, "Well, as long as I can hang on, I'll try to keep up that image."
A lot of female artists have said that the music industry is a big boy's club. In the 50 years that you've been involved in it, how do you think it has changed?
Well, certainly women have found their place. The reason that I've influenced so many of these girls is because I was the first one to do it. I was out on a limb all by myself but it didn't bother me. I wanted to do this kind of music and it was my generation. I was only 17, 18 when I started recording. I was working with Elvis for about a year and he kept telling to record [rock 'n' roll] and he said, "I know you can sing this. You've got a spirit for it and you've got the voice for it and you need to try it." It was at his urging that I stepped out and tried it. Not too long ago, I worked with an all-girl band and they were fantastic. You don't have to say "that's really good -- for a girl" anymore. They are good. They're with the guys and they equal them, sometimes they outdo them.
Since there were no other women doing this back then, was Elvis protective of you and your career?
I hadn't thought of it as being protective. My dad traveled with me and he saw to it that I was protected from a lot of things. I was always the only girl on the show. There would be four or five male artists and a couple of bands, so my father traveled with me to help me, of course, and drive and do the hard things, but also to be there and keep me on a short leash [laughs].
You and Elvis dated briefly. Did that bother your dad or did they get along well?
They got along fantastically because they were both big kidders. My dad loved to make people laugh and he'd have something going all the time with the guys, and Elvis, that was right up his alley too. I kind of learned from my dad and from Elvis and now even from my husband to just not take myself too seriously. That's something we all have to learn and I'm still learning.
Speaking of your husband, it's impressive that you guys have been married almost 50 years now and have forged this career together.
I know. It's fantastic. We said a long time ago that we got married to be together, not to be separated, so he gave up his job. He was in computers and had a brilliant career and I gave him the choice of staying with his career or mine. He said mine looked a lot more exciting and glamorous -- and it is. He said, "You worked really hard to get where you are, your whole family, so I'm gonna go with your career as long as I can be helpful." He jumped in and learned the business very fast and took over the booking and the management and the driving. We're always together.
Do you notice any similarities between Jack and Elvis?
Quite a bit, actually -- maybe it's the charisma they have and just the raw talent and still a business sense.
How has it been working with Jack's Third Man House Band. Are you the boss of the band?
No, I defer to Jack on quite a few things but he also is very quick to listen to me and change it. In the rehearsal room, the music was entirely too loud for my liking so they toned it down and we're all happy. The studio is quite small where we're rehearsing. We're kind of standing on top of each other and it gets so loud you can't stand it. They put on ear plugs -- why do that when you've got a volume knob? Now it's much easier to rehearse.
Jack does like playing loud.
Yeah, he does. The true rockabilly bands, they didn't play that way. The singer, the lyrics were the important thing. The band supported that. Nowadays, it's like you can hardly hear the singer of the band.
Are you going to add a more expansive tour?
I think we have to sit back and see what the demand is. Jack has been so generous with his time to get this album out there, not just to record me but to help it get a significance that he thinks it should have.
With all his work on Third Man Records, Jack does seem to enjoy using his stature to promote acts that he likes.
I know it and that's such a generous attitude. I thought I was opening for him on this tour and I asked him how long did he want me to do and he said "Oh, you're the star. I'm just your guitar picker." He has a lot of humility. He's a very smart young man.