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

When Cordell Jackson’s long and mostly obscure musical career briefly intersected with American pop culture in the early 1990s (coinciding with his appearance in a popular beer series), commercialin which she showed guitarist Brian Setzer some tricks), it was almost as if she had stepped out of a dream: Grandma, resplendent in a sparkly party dress and cocoon, peering through her old lady glasses as she fiercely rocked a guitar. Cherry red electric, amp turned up to 10.

Even if we’d never seen or heard Jackson before, she seemed to reside in the dusty trinket of our country’s collective unconscious: one of rock ‘n’ roll’s forgotten pioneers, Cordell Jackson had been making music for more than half a century. century.

Cordell Miller was born on July 15, 1923, to William and Stella Miller, in Pontotoc, Mississippi, a small town once known as a hideout for Jesse James’s gang of outlaws in the 19th century. From an early age he became interested in musical creation and learned to play the banjo, piano, double bass and harmonica.

At age 12, he was already part of his father’s string band, the Pontotoc Ridge Runners. “When I picked up the guitar, I could see it in his eyes: ‘Little girls don’t play the guitar.’” she then remembered. “I looked straight at them and said, ‘Yo do.'”

Jackson always claimed that he had been rocking long before the men who would make rock ‘n’ roll famous. “If what I do now is rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly or whatever,” he told The Tulsa World newspaper in 1992, “then I was doing it when Elvis was 1 year old. That’s just a fact.”

Or, as he told Cornfed magazine: “Whatever the song was, I always creamed it, so to speak. Quick game. “I’ve always turned it upwards.”

In 1943, she married William Jackson, moved to Memphis, and began trying to make her way in the male-dominated music scene. She eventually befriended and recorded demos with producer Sam Phillips, who would later found Sun Records. She grew impatient with Phillips, who saw her gender as an obstacle and created Moon Records. becoming one of the first women in America to record and produce her own music (some say he first) and secure his place in history.

“Cordell was immune to being told ‘no.’ It was almost like that was her art,” country singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell said by phone. “Many artists are told ‘no’, that what we want to do is not possible, but Cordell was absolutely determined to be an artist. That was not typical of a woman, especially in the South.”

Recording sessions for Moon Records took place in Jackson’s living room, where she engineered, produced and released music by regional artists such as Allen Page, Earl Patterson and Johnny Tate. Although Jackson initially focused primarily on production, she also released some of her own performances, including 1958’s “Rock and Roll Christmas” and “Beboppers’ Christmas.”

But neither she nor her roster of artists achieved great success, and in the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson did a traveling series of other types of work: in a printing press; as an interior decorator in a real estate agency; as a DJ on the all-female Memphis station WHER; running a junk shop. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when she crossed paths with musician, performance artist and filmmaker Tav Falco, that things really changed for her.

The two first met at a Western Sizzlin steakhouse in Memphis, at a benefit for Don Ezell, the former delivery boy for Sun Records. “All the Memphis guitarists were there,” Falco said in a video interview. That included Jackson, who approached him after hearing his band, Panther Burns (with Alex Chilton), covers one of his originals, “Dateless Night.” The two became fast friends. He invited her to appear on posters with him and her band, and she accepted, even though, at almost 60 years old, she had not yet given her first professional live concert.

This marked the beginning of the surprising second act of Jackson’s musical career, when she became, among a determined group, an elder stateswoman of grunge thrash guitar. During a 1988 appearance on the WFMU radio show “The Hound,” Jackson plugged in her guitar and let it play; the result It sounds less like a performance than a wild animal loose in the studio. In an interview, Jim Marshall, the show’s host, described Jackson’s playing as “some of the meanest, nastiest rock ‘n’ roll guitar playing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

He headlined colorful, now-defunct rock clubs in New York City such as CBGB, Lone Star, and Lakeside Lounge, as well as Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. He played primarily as a soloist, but occasionally with local musicians. supported her, including the Brooklyn band A-Bones. “There were no rehearsals,” Miriam Linna, the band’s drummer, recalled in an interview. “It was just, ‘Let’s go!'”

Susan M. Clarke, editor and publisher of Cornfed magazine, added: “I can’t imagine anyone knew what to do with it. “I’m surprised they didn’t admit her.”

Offstage, Jackson was down-to-earth but proper and deeply religious. He did not curse and drank “nothing but milk or water,” he claimed. said Roctober Magazine in 1993. Falco recalled that she said doctors had put her on “an all-meat diet,” and Kenn Goodman, whose Pravda Records released her album “live in chicago” in 1997 – said in an interview that whenever Jackson traveled (always in his yellow Cadillac; he didn’t like airplanes), it was with “his own steak, his own milk, and giant jugs of Memphis tap water,” because no I don’t trust any other guy.

Nancy Apple, a close friend and acolyte, said that when Jackson went shopping, “she wore old lady’s white gloves, not for fashion; She always said, “I don’t want to touch all that.” money!’” When he got home, Jackson would take the bills he had received as change, wash them in the sink, and hang them on clothespins to dry.

Eccentricities aside, what was really surprising was what Jackson did on stage. Watching archival footage of her performances is a shocking experience. Speaking from the stage at a concert in Memphis in 1995, Jackson described her music as “from barnyard disaster to classical.”

There was an unbridled ferocity to the way Jackson played, almost as if he was fighting with his guitar to give him what he wanted. His compositions, most of them instrumental, may not be terribly unusual, but what he did with them, in his urgent, raw, unabashedly abrasive way, was. Jackson didn’t just break guitar strings when he played. she broke peaks.

Intonation didn’t seem to matter one bit. Nor keep time: in one interview, she said, “I found that the faster I play, the more accurate I become.” The form and melody also seemed out of place. Instead, it was all about attitude, attack, pace, speed and noise.

She “was comfortable in her own skin,” said A-Bones bassist Marcus Natale: She put on no airs, made no concessions, and never seemed to be less (or more) than exactly what she was. , her performances are a testament to the exhilarating power of jagged, sloppy music.

“This is no masterpiece,” he wrote on the cover of one of his albums, “but it might be so bad you’ll like it.”

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

In her music, and in everything she set out to do, Jackson was determined. “I have never felt confused about what I was supposed to do while I was here,” she said in 1999. “If I think about it, I do it.”

Howard Fishman is a musician and composer and author of “For Anyone Asking: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse.”

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