“Some of the most vicious, nasty rock ’n’ roll guitar I’ve ever heard in my life”: That time forgotten rockabilly guitar hero Cordell Jackson dueled with Brian Setzer – in a Budweiser commercial

Cordell Jackson (left) and Brian Setzer, pictured in a Budweiser commercial
(Image credit: Martin Breeden/YouTube)

A name that rarely comes up in lists of 21st century rockabilly electric guitar greats is Cordell Jackson, a Mississippi native who blazed a trail with hot rod riffing, positively blistering tone, and a damn-the-torpedoes, DIY attitude in the face of sexism.

In the late '50s, Jackson – ignored by Sun Records' Sam Phillips due to her gender – started her own record label, producing sessions for others, and writing, recording, and releasing the occasional tune under her own name. 

It wasn't until the late '80s, though, that Jackson – now well into her '60s – began gigging, where audiences bemused by her grandmotherly appearance were quickly left slack-jawed by the rawness and sheer aggression of her playing, fitting right in in the punk-friendly rock clubs she plied her trade in.

Though she, sadly, never received a great deal of recognition before her death in 2004, Jackson did have a brief, bizarre moment in the spotlight courtesy of – of all things – a Budweiser commercial.

Aired in the early '90s, the 30-second spot paired Jackson with one of rockabilly's premier living players, Brian Setzer. Sound-checking for a fictional show, Setzer is interrupted by Jackson from the cheap seats. “Crunch that last chord! I'll show ya,” she shouts.

Seated in a rocking chair (befitting of her reputation as a sort of “rock 'n' roll granny”) Jackson takes Setzer on. The ad's subsequent, Eddie Van Halen-esque backing track is obviously exaggerated, but it nonetheless points to Jackson's freewheeling, attitude-minded playing (“I've found that the faster I play, the more accurate I become,” she said in a 1990 interview.)

“You're pretty good!” Jackson says to Setzer with a mischievous smile. “Not!” 

Aside from the commercial, one of Jackson's breakout performances came a few years earlier, in 1988, on the WFMU radio show The Hound.

Jim Marshall, the show's host, described Jackson's performance as “some of the most vicious, nasty rock ’n’ roll guitar I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.