The Women Who Loved Elvis
Wanda Jackson, rockabilly performer
In July '55, I'd just graduated from high school. I already had a couple of hit songs in the country music field, and Bob Neal, the talent agent who also managed Elvis before Colonel Parker, said, "I'm booking a young man named Elvis Presley who is getting popular real fast, and we could use a girl on the show." I had no idea who he was. I met him at the radio station in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, that afternoon, and I was quite impressed -- a real handsome guy. He was dressed a little flashier than the guys dressed back home in Oklahoma City -- yellow coat, for example -- and when he left the station I saw him get into a pink Cadillac. That was before the days of Mary Kay, and I had never seen a pink car before. We worked together that night. I was in my dressing room, and Elvis was going on, and all of a sudden my dad and I started hearing this screaming. My daddy said, "I wonder if there's a fire or something. Let me go look." I started getting my things, and he came back and said, "No, relax. But you've got to see this for yourself." He took me to the wings, and there was Elvis singing and moving and gyrating, and all these girls standing at the foot of the stage, screaming and reaching for him. It was quite an unusual sight for those days. And when the rest of the nation started giving him havoc, it really upset him. Mostly if they said anything too bad, he got mad, because in his mind he was having fun. I don't think he was trying to be vulgar. He was just being flirty with the girls.
We dated off and on for a little over a year on the tours. If we could get in a town early, and it was large enough to have a movie theater, we'd go to a matinee, and then after a show we'd go out to eat, usually with the other musicians and my daddy. Then sometimes we'd get a hamburger and just drive around the town and talk. We had a lot in common. He was a little older, and his career was beginning to blossom, and mine was, too. He was just a fine person. He loved to have fun and he laughed all the time. He didn't take himself seriously.
What was really sweet was the fact that he wanted to see me do good in my career. And he was just really eager that I try this kind of music like he was doing [rockabilly]. I'd say, "But Elvis, I'm just a country singer. I can't sing songs like that." He said, "You can, too. You've just gotta try."
In the early part of '56, he gave me one of his rings, a man's ring. It had little chipped diamonds. He wasn't very rich at that point. We were in Shreveport, Louisiana, and we'd done a matinee show, and he asked me if I'd step outside. We stood by his car, and he asked me if I'd be his girl. He'd just turned 21, and I was still 18. I had a crush on him, and being able to know him and know his heart made me admire him a lot. So I said I'd be his girl, and he gave me his ring. I wore it for about a year. Of course, this was before he met Priscilla. The last tour I worked with him was in January of '57, and after that he went to Hollywood to start his movie career. I think his head was just in a spin.