Wanda Jackson with Elvis Presley in 1957.

Women of Rock, Here�s Your Musical Grandma.

All those interested in improving their chances of snagging the vice-presidential slot on one of the 2008 tickets should tune in �The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice,� on Sunday on the Smithsonian Channel. It has nothing to do with politics, but it�s a virtual clinic in the art of self-promotion.

The documentary, as genial as it is shameless, aims to elevate Wanda Jackson to the status of female Elvis, arguing that her rockabilly recordings from the mid-1950s and early �60s paved the way for female rock stars.

Ms. Jackson, at 70, still performs today, but the case here is built on vintage films of her as a teenager and young woman, strumming her guitar with a vengeance and snarling lyrics of songs like �Let�s Have a Party.� The clips are convincing proof of the claims made by admirers in this film: when Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats draws a direct link to Janis Joplin, and Bruce Springsteen does the same to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, you can actually hear the connection.

Too much of this legacy-building comes from Ms. Jackson herself and her husband and manager, Wendell Goodman, but there are some delicious biographical titbits: an account of how their children led them to embrace Christianity; a serendipitous call by Ms. Jackson�s father at the start of her career that landed her on a bill with an up-and-comer named Elvis Presley. Late in the documentary another Elvis, Elvis Costello, nicely summarizes Ms. Jackson�s achievement. The film by this time has gone from endearing to mildly annoying, turning into a blatant campaign to get Ms. Jackson enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Mr. Costello (reading from a letter he wrote to the hall) captures what those vintage film clips conveyed:

�She was standing up on a stage with a guitar in her hands, making a sound that was as wild and raw as any rocker, man or woman, while other gals were still asking, �How much is that doggy in the window?� �


With the Nasty Voice

Smithsonian Channel, Sunday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Produced and directed by Joanne Fish and Vincent Kralyevich; Jeff Meltz, associate producer; edited by Jennifer P. Honn; Ms. Fish, Mr. Kralyevich, Bill Hunt and Kristine Sabat, executive producers; Adam Feinstein, George Sozio, Joseph Mealey and Sam Painter, camera; Tommy Byrne, Sheila O�Neal, Ted Roth and J. P. Whiteside, sound.

A KPI and Fishnet Production. For Smithsonian Networks: Kate Sweeney, coordinating producer; Charles Poe, vice president of production; David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production.

Neil Genzlinger - www.nytimes.com 

Posted:  20th. May 2008 

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