On their first date in February 1961, Wendell Goodman took Wanda Jackson bowling. The place was fairly new, only open a couple of years over on Northwest 39 Expressway — aka Route 66 — called, appropriately enough, 66 Bowl. Wanda and Wendell must’ve ended up bowling each other over, because they were married eight months later. The "Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice” and her husband/manager celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary Oct. 7. On Saturday, 66 Bowl marks its 50th year as a landmark on the Mother Road. Like one of Wanda’s hit songs says, "Let’s Have a Party.” The Queen of Rockabilly returns to the scene of her romantic beginnings for a special show at 8 p.m. Saturday. "You know, I called him and asked him for a date,” the singer recalled in a phone interview from Denver International Airport last week. "Oh yeah, I’m no good you know; I really am not. Both of us liked to bowl, so that’s where we went.” Wanda said she met Wendell through her best friend, Norma Jean, another Oklahoma-born singer, also known as Pretty Miss Norma Jean. Wendell was going steady with Norma Jean at the time. "I told you I was no good,” Wanda laughed. "She got a spot on the Porter Wagoner network television show in Nashville. So, naturally she took that, and she told me to take good care of Wendell, so I’m doin’ the best I can.” Another cause for celebration is Wanda’s current collaboration with Jack White. She told me the front man of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs is producing her next album. At the time of our conversation, she was on her way to Nashville, Tenn., where she would record half a dozen preliminary tracks, with White at the studio console. "One of the biggest stars on the planet I guess right now,” she said of White. She said it would be premature to reveal titles of the songs she’s covering because the selections might change, but she did allow that White had been consulting with his friend Bob Dylan. "Jack e-mailed (Wendell) and said he happened to be talking to Bob Dylan the other day, and Dylan is a big fan of mine,” Wanda said. "So, he asked him if he could think of a song that he thought would be good for me to record. So, I might be doing one of Bob Dylan’s songs.” Just another milestone in a career that’s been full of them. The Maud native, 72, was a young country and gospel artist who began singing rockabilly in the 1950s on the advice of her mentor and then-boyfriend, Elvis Presley. Widely considered the first female artist to sing rock ’n’ roll, she had a rockabilly hit with "Fujiyama Mama” in 1958, which became a major success in Japan. Her version of "Let’s Have a Party,” which Elvis had cut earlier, was a U.S. Top 40 hit in 1960, and she scored Top 10 country hits in ’61 with "Right or Wrong” and "In the Middle of a Heartache.” "The Box It Came In” and "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine” reached the Top 20 in 1966. Nominated twice for a Grammy, she’s toured the world steadily ever since, recording country and gospel albums, and playing rockabilly and country festivals in Europe. Wanda’s career began a resurgence in 1995, when alt-country/rockabilly revivalist Rosie Flores named the Oklahoma singer as a major influence, and invited her to sing two duets on Flores’ album, "Rockabilly Filly.” Flores and Wanda then embarked on a major U.S. tour that year. Associations with other new-generation rockers followed, and in 2003 she worked with Dave Alvin, the Cramps, Lee Rocker, the Cadillac Angels and another Elvis — last name Costello — on her comeback album, "Heart Trouble.” Costello was also one of the stars who championed Wanda’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which finally took place in April. White is only the latest in a long line of modern rock luminaries who’ve professed a love for Wanda Jackson’s music. And her hometown finally recognized her importance this year by christening a Bricktown alley "Wanda Jackson Way.” "Yeah, some big things happenin’ since all these big stars like Bruce Springsteen and of course Elvis Costello and guys like that have been sayin’ how much I influenced them,” she said. "And so that’s pretty heady stuff for an old lady.” But with all the touring, recording and international attention she’s been getting, the rockabilly queen can still find time to help celebrate 66 Bowl’s half-century birthday. "Yeah, my goodness, I’ve gotta sing at home once in a while,” she said.
Wanda Jackson/66 Bowl 50th Anniversary
→With: Brian Dunning and the Rock & Roll Trio.
→Where: 66 Bowl, 3810 NW 39 Expressway. →When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, 59 cent specials on bowling, shoes, hot dogs, soft drinks. Doors reopen at 7 p.m. for 8 p.m. concert. →Tickets: $15 at the door or online at ticket storm.com. →Information: 946-3966.