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Bob Dylan once called Wanda Jackson ”an atomic fireball of a lady.” Elvis Presley just called her his tourmate — and his girlfriend. Early rock & roll’s first female star, the beautiful Oklahoma teen with the wildcat voice and ripping guitar licks performed with the likes of Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and went on to release dozens of albums, tour the world, and even host her own TV show. But she never reached the chart pinnacles of her peers, and for decades her trailblazing was recalled only by a cult of ardent fans.

One of them, Jack White, would like to change that. The White Stripes frontman and champion of legendary ladies — he also helmed country icon Loretta Lynn’s Grammy-winning 2004 crossover, Van Lear Rose — has conceived and produced a rollicking new covers album for Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over (out Jan. 25). ”I was just a little apprehensive,” she says of working with the 35-year-old White, ”because I was afraid he was gonna try to have me singing this contemporary-type rock stuff, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to sing that kind of material! And even if I did, I don’t think my fans would like it.’ Well,” she laughs, ”it didn’t take long to find out I was wrong on both counts. I usually am, so I get used to that.”

Indeed, Party finds her unleashing her still-potent wail on Amy Winehouse’s ”You Know I’m No Good” and Dylan’s ”Thunder on the Mountain” (handpicked for her by the bard himself, per White’s request), alongside more expected vintage gems like Presley’s sultry 1960 blues burner ”Like a Baby.”

A fitting tribute, considering how the King talked her into changing her sound. ”I was 17 when I started working with Elvis, and I loved [rock & roll]. I wanted to sing it, but I didn’t think I could. During the year and a half that I worked with him quite a bit, he was always on my case: ‘You’ve got to try this.’ I kept saying, ‘I can’t do it, Elvis. I’m a girl and I’m country.’ He just said, ‘I know you can,’ like he knew something I didn’t.”

In fact, he did; the hollering, hip-swiveling recordings that followed earned her the title the Queen of Rockabilly and, years later, the adoration of artists as varied as Bruce Spring-steen, Joan Jett, and Elvis Costello. At the time, she says, it was hard enough getting the American public to accept ”devil” music from stars like Elvis and Jerry Lee, much less a teenage girl. So she returned her focus to country and later gospel until the 1980s, when her work incited a revival among rockabilly fans in Europe — one that endures today.

Now, with her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a string of upcoming shows with White, she couldn’t be happier. ”I never found anything else I was halfway interested in other than singing and performing,” she says. ”All of it just made me more determined to show them what a girl can do.”

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