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?"
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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.