By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Photo by James Bunoan "I had huge hair. Enormous hair. Teased-up, big hair," recounts DJ Wanda, explaining the story behind her nickname-cum-alter ego. Upon seeing one of Wanda's old IDs, a friend had laughed, "You are such a big-haired Wanda!"—referring to Wanda Jackson, the distinctively coiffed '50s rockabilly pioneer. "And from then on," she says, "I was Wanda."
That was 1993, when Wanda (a.k.a. Julie Espy) was pursuing a master's degree in English at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, and when she first stumbled—"through the back door" of punk music—into such early alt.-country bands as Blood on the Saddle and Lone Justice. Ten years later, her hair significantly less teased, she still thrives on alt.-country—and still goes by Wanda. Even her boyfriend calls her Wanda. And his family believes it's her real name.
But Wanda is not Julie, she says: Julie spends her nine-to-five days as a corporate trainer, sidelining as an English professor at Orange Coast College. And Wanda spends her nights as an alt.-country DJ on KUCI-FM 88.9 and at Long Beach bar the Pike, the lone girl in a boys' club of slicked-hair rockabilly DJs. "When I asked someone about getting my own DJ night recently, they responded, 'Well, what's your niche?'" she says. "I replied, 'I don't need a niche; I'm a girl.' I don't know any female rockabilly DJs, and even when it comes to rockabilly bands, the handful of girls are singers, not musicians."
So how might an uninitiated gal—or guy; we won't hate—unleash their inner Wanda?
TAKE OUT A LOAN: "Start with the Bear Family [Records] That'll Flat Git It!compilations. Each album has around 24 tracks, and they run about 18 bucks apiece. Rhino [Records] has some good compilations, too. Check out the Legends of Country Music. They have honky-tonk, West Coast swing, Nashville, Americana, everything. It's awesome." Thinking about deejaying? Borrow some turntables, practice, and then think a little longer. "You don't make any money. Any extra money you make is spent on equipment and records," Wanda says. "Or you drink it."
OR DON'T TAKE OUT A LOAN: Tape Wanda's radio show, Howdylicious!And head to the thrift stores: "Look for Buck Owens' On the Bandstand; Wanda Jackson—I don't care which one—but Rockin' With Wanda and Live from Mr. Lucky's are good; you'll probably want Johnny Cash's Live at San Quentin; and Charlene Arthur's Welcome to the Club. Just buy everything. How can you go wrong on 50 cents?"
REMEMBER YOUR FLASK: "For a long time, all I would drink were boiler makers. Cheap beer with a shot of Jack Daniel's." Don't know where to go? "Maybe try the Fling," she says. "Or the Quill. Any place with a lot of Hank Jr. on the jukebox. Just to piss everybody off."
AND YOUR BOOTS: "Justin's is a great brand, and Boot Barn has their own line of ankle boots called Shorties. But if you really want to be Wanda, you have to wear vintage aprons, something I copied from Exene [Cervenka, lead singer of X and the Knitters]."
LASTLY, DON'T HAVE A TV: "It sucks your brain out of your head. Even KDOC. If that was on, I'd just be watching Charlie's Angels; I wouldn't get anything done. I don't even go see movies. I just listen to music."
Catch DJ Wanda's Howdylicious! on KUCI-FM 88.9, (949) 824-5824; www.kuci.org; www.howdylicious.com. Sun., 8-10 p.m.; She also spins at the Pike, 1836 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 437-4453. Mon., 8-11 p.m. Free all ages.