Cordell Jackson is a 67-year-old born-again grandmother, real estate...


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Cordell Jackson is a 67-year-old born-again grandmother, real estate broker, record company owner, songwriter and rockabilly guitarist who's finally hitting it big, thanks to music's new genre: the video.

Jackson's video, 'The Split' -- in which she's seen playing hot licks on electric guitar at her Memphis home -- has been airing on MTV since winter. The cable television exposure has earned her more attention than she's ever had in a long, long music career.


Jackson, with her auburn bouffant hairdo, would seem an unlikely candidate to be queen of Memphis rock' n' roll.

'I'm sweet and loving and simple, but there's a wild side to me,' she said. 'I've found that the faster I play, the more accurate I become.'

It was in Hoboken, N.J., that producer Dan Rose first saw Cordell play and display that wild side. In June last year, he made the video that is making her famous.

But there's a lot more to the story than that: decades more.

'I like to say I'm an overnight success, but it's been a 42-year night,' Jackson said.

'I've had 42 straight years of hard knocks,' she said. 'I was the only woman who even thought of making a record for radio play. I've had a lifetime of hearing adults say, 'Little girls don't play the guitar,' but they do.'


As a young wife with dreams of performing in radio after finishing up a stint as a riveter at Fisher Body Aircraft during World War II, she bought a record-making machine for $400 and produced the first rock 'n' roll record ever cut in Memphis, 'It's Been So Long, Darling.'

In 1956, nine years later, she founded Moon Records, now the only label operating out of Memphis after more than 500 others went out of business. The label's biggest hit was Allen Page's 'Dateless Night.' Cordell recorded a couple of songs on the Moon label herself, though they were far from hits.

'I've been a businesswoman: running a junk shop, selling real estate, writing songs. When you put it all together, I've survived,' she said.

Jackson started playing the guitar at age 12. She can play other instruments, but shines on electric guitar.

'My dad had a band and I watched and listened and learned by myself,' Jackson said.

Jackson, a born-again Christian, says she has had trouble with people in her church who don't understand why she plays rock 'n' roll.

'I do resent what some people in the church say. It's the cleanest, most happiest music there is outside of classical music,' she said. 'And I'm not talking heavy metal, because that's not rock 'n' roll. It makes people happy.'


Although she says God spoke to her at age 11 to tell her that she would be a songwriter, she didn't start until she was 25.

'I just wasn't ready until then,' she said. 'Then one day, I got up in the morning and he said, 'Today, you write your first song.' It was just a little rock 'n' roll tune.

'I don't know how many I've written since then. I've found at least 400 that I've recorded in boxes and stuff around here. I know there are more. I write and play all kinds of stuff: rock, country, blues, jazz and reggae.'

Cordell keeps busy these days with weekend performances and working with up-and-coming Memphis singer Susan St. John. She's also writing a screenplay about her life and working on what she says is her most important project, a syndicated radio show promoting the family.

She wrote 'The Split' after she had been performing in Stockholm, Sweden, and said to herself, 'I don't have a split second to myself.'

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