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Guitar Granny

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YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN THE AD ON TV: “So I’m doing my sound check, and I hear this woman’s voice,” says rocker Brian Setzer, onstage with his guitar. Suddenly the camera zooms to a homespun granny who hollers, “Crunch that last chord—I’ll show ya!” Sure enough, a couple of hot licks later, Grandma has out-jammed the Stray Cat. “Someone that hot deserves something this cold,” intones an announcer, in what turns out to be a pitch for Budweiser beer.

It is also becoming a memorable pitch for Cordell Jackson, the chord-crunching granny in question. Jackson is not an actress; she is a 68-year-old rockabilly guitarist. “I never planned on being a performing artist, but it’s just snowballing,” says the ax-pickin’ grandmother of 10. “My career has just exploded.”

For Jackson the fuse was lighted decades ago in Pontotoc, Miss., where as a child she learned classical music from her bandleader father, then gravitated to a mail-order guitar and earthier rhythms. She cut her first single in 1947 and eventually went on to found Moon Records, a home-based mail-order firm to market instrumental tapes.

Jackson, who paused in her playing to raise two sons, still runs the company out of the same ranch-style, Memphis, Tenn., home that she and her ex-husband built in the ’50s. Since being spotted by an ad exec who saw her playing at a club last year, she has been working on an album of comedy songs, a movie script and has no plans to crank down the volume. “Why should you wear your hair up when you can let it down?” she says. “I have no intentions of sittin’ down, backin’ up or stoppin’.”