Ignored no more: Cordell Jackson, the elder statesman of rock ‘n’ roll

Ignored no more: Cordell Jackson, the elder statesman of rock 'n' roll

This is part of the article IgnoreA series of obituaries about notable people whose deaths were not reported in The Times, starting in 1851.

When Cordell Jackson’s long and mostly obscure musical career briefly intersected with American pop culture in the early 1990s (with his appearance in a popular beer commercialin which she showed guitarist Brian Setzer a few tricks), it was almost as if she had stepped out of a dream: Grandma, resplendent in a glittering ball gown and bouffant, peering through her old lady glasses, dancing fiercely. Bright red electric guitar, amp cranked up to 10.

Even though we’d never seen or heard Jackson before, she lived in a dusty bric-a-brac of our country’s collective unconscious: one of rock ‘n’ roll’s forgotten pioneers, Cordell Jackson more than half the time. Was making music from. century.

Cordell Miller was born on July 15, 1923, to William and Stella Miller in Pontotoc, Miss., a small town once known as the hideout of Jesse James’s outlaw gang in the 19th century. He took an early interest in music-making, learning to play the banjo, piano, upright bass and harmonica.

By the age of 12, she was sitting in with her father’s string band, the Pontotoc Ridge Runners. “When I picked up the guitar, I could see it in their eyes: ‘Little girls don’t play guitar,'” later he remembered, “I looked right at them and said, ‘I to do.'”

Jackson always claimed that she was performing well before the people who would make rock ‘n’ roll famous. “If what I’m doing now is rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly or something,” she told the newspaper The Tulsa World in 1992, “I was doing it when Elvis was 1 year old.” It’s just a fact.”

Or, as she told Cornfed magazine: “Whatever the song was, I always creamed it, so to speak. I play fast. I have always taken it forward.”

In 1943, she married William Jackson, moved to Memphis, and began trying to make her way in the male-dominated music scene. They eventually befriended and recorded demos with producer Sam Phillips, who went on to start Sun Records. But she became impatient with Phillips, who saw her gender as a hindrance, and created Moon Records, to become One of the first women in America to record and produce (some say) her own music. First) and secured its place in history.

“Cordell was immune to being told ‘no,'” country singer and songwriter Laura Cantrell said over the phone. It was almost like it was his art. “A lot of artists are told ‘no’ – that what we want to do isn’t possible, but Cordell was absolutely determined to be an artist. “This was not a normal thing for a woman to do, especially in the South.”

Recording sessions for Moon Records were held in Jackson’s living room, where he composed, produced, and released music by regional artists such as Alan Page, Earl Patterson, and Johnny Tate. Although Jackson initially concentrated mostly on producing the material, he eventually released some of his own productions, including 1958’s “Rock and Roll Christmas” and “Beboppers Christmas”.

But neither he nor his list of artists were big-time successes, and the 1960s and 70s saw Jackson move through a series of other types of work: at a printing company; as an interior decorator in a real estate agency; as a DJ on all-female Memphis station WHER; Running a junk shop. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when he met musician, performance artist, and filmmaker Tav Falco, that things really changed for him.

The two first met at the Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse in Memphis at a benefit for Don Ezell, a longtime gofer at Sun Records. “Every guitar player in Memphis was there,” Falco said in a video interview. This included Jackson, who contacted him after hearing his band, Panther Burns (featuring alex chilton), cover one of her originals, “Dateless Night”. Both became fast friends. He invited her to appear on the bills with him and his band, and she accepted, despite the fact that, at nearly 60 years old, she had not yet played her first professional live show.

It marked the beginning of the shocking second phase of Jackson’s musical career, as she became – among a certain group – an elder statesman of grungy thrash guitar. During a 1988 appearance on the WFMU radio show “The Hound”, Jackson plugged in his guitar and let it play; Result It feels less like a performance than like a wild animal let loose in the studio. In an interview, show host Jim Marshall described Jackson’s playing as “the most dangerous, dirtiest rock ‘n’ roll guitar I’ve ever heard in my life”.

She headlined such colorful, now-extinct rock clubs as CBGB, the Lone Star, and the Lakeside Lounge in New York City, as well as the Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ. He performed mostly solo, but sometimes with local musicians. supported him, which also features Brooklyn band the A-Bones. “There were no rehearsals,” the band’s drummer Miriam Linna recalled in an interview. “It was just, ‘Let’s go!'”

Susan M. Clark, editor and publisher of Cornfed magazine, said: “I can’t imagine that anyone knew what to do with that. I’m surprised he didn’t promise her anything.”

Offstage, Jackson was a down-to-earth but honest and deeply religious man. He did not curse, and he drank “nothing but milk or water”. told October magazine in 1993. Falco recalled him saying that doctors had put him on a “complete carnivore diet”, and Ken Goodman – whose Pravda Records had released his album “live in chicagoIn 1997 – Said in an interview that whenever Jackson traveled (always in her yellow Cadillac; she did not like airplanes), she would bring “her own steak, her own milk and huge amounts of tap water from Memphis.” Jag”, because that’s what she did. Do not trust any other type.

Nancy Apple, a close friend and retainer, said that when Jackson went grocery shopping, she wore white old-fashioned gloves – not for fashion; She always said, ‘I don’t want to touch all this Wealth!'” When she got home, Jackson would treat whatever bills she found as change, wash them in the sink and hang them on clothespins to dry.

Eccentricities aside, what Jackson did on stage was truly astonishing. Watching archival footage of his performance is a shocking experience. Speaking from the stage at a concert in Memphis in 1995, Jackson described his music as “anywhere from barnyard disaster to classical.”

There was an unbridled ferocity in Jackson’s playing, as if she was fighting her guitar to give her what she wanted. His compositions – most of them instrumental – may not have been overly unusual, but what he did with them was his urgent, raw and unapologetically aggressive manner. Jackson didn’t just break guitar strings while playing the guitar. he broke the strings,

For him, intonation had no importance at all. Nor kept time: in one Interview“I’ve found that the faster I play, the more accurate I become,” she said. The form and melody also seemed mostly beside the point. Instead, it was all attitude, attack, rhythm, speed and noise.

Bassist Marcus Natale, who worked with her, said, “She was at ease with herself” – she made no pretense, made no concessions and seemed never less (or more) than who she was. Was not there. , their performance is a testament to the energizing power of tattered, tasteless music.

“It’s no masterpiece,” he wrote on the sleeve of one of his records, “but it can be so bad you’ll love it.”

Jackson died of pancreatic cancer on October 14, 2004 in Memphis. She was 81 years old.

In his music, and in everything he set his mind to, Jackson was nothing if not determined. She said in 1999, “When I was here I was never confused about what I was supposed to do.” “If I think about it, I do it.”

Howard Fishman is a musician and composer and author of “To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Secrets of Connie Converse,

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