Cordell Jackson: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Granny

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Cordell Jackson: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Granny

Words by Cambell Courtney

The story of Cordell Jackson, credited as the first woman to have produced, engineered and promoted music on her own rock record label.

Cordell Jackson, better known later in her career as the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Granny’, was an unsung hero of the early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly scene that was developing in America’s south during the late ‘40s and ‘50s. She is credited as the first woman to have produced, engineered and promoted music on her own rock record label, Moon Records, which she ran out of her home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Moon Records Memphis

Jackson was born in 1923 in the small town of Pontotoc, Mississippi. Her father was a career musician, and she learned guitar, double bass and piano from a young age. She eventually began performing in her father’s band and on local radio stations, where she further developed her abilities as an instrumentalist and songwriter. In 1943, she married her husband, William Jackson, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Jackson’s home in Memphis is where her legend status would begin, as she installed recording equipment in her home to record demos of herself and other local musicians. One of those artists was Sam Phillips, who would eventually go on to create Sun Records, the record label behind iconic rock ’n’ roll and country acts such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. 

Her record label, Moon Records, was born out of necessity, with Jackson having been rejected multiple times by Sun Records, arguably the biggest label in Tennessee, which had an entirely male stable of artists. The label continually refused Jackson’s recordings, even though she had helped out founder Sam Phillips and arguably played a role in the creation of the label.

After receiving encouragement and advice from country musician and RCA Records representative Chet Atkins, Jackson carved her own path and established Moon Records out of her home, where she acted as a producer, recording engineer and promoter, as well as writing songs for talent on her label. Jackson would recruit various country, rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll artists from the southern states of the U.S. 

Rock And Roll Christmas

Cordell Jackson’s career saw a resurgence in the ‘80s after artists such as Alex Chilton and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns began to cover songs from the Moon Records catalog, many of which were originally written by Jackson. This resurgence encouraged her to once again start playing club shows in Memphis, New York and Chicago and start recording and releasing new singles on Moon Records. This is when she earned her moniker as the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Granny’, as by then, she was approaching her 70s.

Her fame and reputation only continued to rise throughout the ‘90s as she started making television appearances on late night talk shows and even booked a few Budweiser commercials, all while continuing to write record and perform her music. 

Jackson would unfortunately pass away in 2004 at the age of 81. At the time, Moon Records was the oldest continuously operating record label in Memphis. Her legacy as a pioneer of rock ’n’ roll is severely understated, but her efforts undoubtedly helped to form the beginnings of a genre that would dominate the music industry up until the the popularisation of Hip Hop and modern pop music in the 90s. 

Being a woman who forged her own path in a male dominated genre and surrounding industry, Cordell Jackson didn’t allow prejudice to stop her from following her passion. Being denied by larger record labels due to her gender only forced her to grow and develop Moon Records, which cemented her legacy.

Although the label wasn’t necessarily a household name, Jackson was always seeking to provide a platform for local artists to showcase their talents, offering to others what she had been denied.

Listen to more Cordell Jackson here.