I first got wind of Robert Gordon when reading about the New Wave scene in the late 70s. He was probably the first singer in New York City who rose up out of Punk Rock to be diving back into Rockabilly. He had started as the lead vocalist with NYC New Wave band Tuff Darts, and there’s even recordings of him singing “All For The Love of Rock N’ Roll” [mentioned two days ago…] but he split before they managed to record their album to indulge in his passion for Rockabilly.
He was first signed in 1977 to Private Stock, the label where Blondie had gotten their start before Chrysalis came sniffing around. And his debut album showed that he meant business because he had the vision to get the most badass guitarist that ever lived to be his wingman. Of course, that was guitar legend Link Wray. Gordon recorded “Robert Gordon With Link Wray” in 1977 and “Fresh Fish Special” the next year for Private Stock.
Then Elvis’ label, RCA, signed him in 1978. You know that didn’t hurt. The label then reissued those two albums along with three more through 1981. It was only after the last RCA album, “Are You Gonna Be the One,” that I finally heard this guy who had been playing Rockabilly in New York City when Brian Setzer was still exploring Post-Punk in the Bloodless Pharaohs.
In the late 70s, I never got to hear Robert Gordon. It wasn’t until he made an appearance on my favorite show, SCTV, performing his popular cover of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” in 1981 that I got to get a taste of his formidable vocal chops. And that was from the last of his RCA albums. Where Link Wray had moved on and Gordon had found valuable foils in other hotshot guitar slingers like Chris Spedding and Danny Gatton.
After the RCA run was over, Gordon lay low for the most of the 80s until signing on with France’s New Rose in 1989. The label was no stranger to Rockabilly and with that leg up, Gordon kept up a steady stream of new albums and reissues of his hot tours until his death this Tuesday, October 18th, 2022.
It was in the 90s that I finally got some of his music when my loved one, who was hitting estate sales for her antique booth at the time, picked up the lovely white vinyl promo of 1979’s “Rock Billy Boogie.” It was the first album with Spedding and was a tour de force of Rockabilly with side trips to 50s Pop and hints of Country. There was plenty of Burnett Brothers and a tour de force performance of “It’s Only Make Believe” that made Conway Twitty sound hollow and overblown as Gordon’s baritone rode that bolero all the way to its powerful conclusion like a champ with just the perfect touch of vibrato to moderate his immense power. I can never listen to this performance just once. I always have to hit the repeat button and play it again! When I ran across the CD edition of the album I pounced on it.
It was at least a decade later when perusing a local emporium that I found the CD reissue of “Fresh Fish Special” and that became my second Robert Gordon album in the Record Cell. By then I had quite a few Link Wray albums and had actually seen the man twice in concert, thank goodness! The “Fresh Fish Special” album was important not only for having Wray add his menace to the world class cover of Jack Scott’s “The Way I Walk,” but for Gordon also having the vision to round up Gospel combo The Jordanaires who had famously backed Elvis on many of his hits. I’m sure this wasn’t lost on huge Elvis fan Link Wray!
Of course, the album also had the best version of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Fire” that he brought to the sessions, which he even played keys on! The song was reputed to have been written specifically for Elvis to sing, but in 1978 that left Gordon in the catbird seat. As great as the Pointer Sisters were, it’s hard to imagine the song ever sounding better.
In the end Gordon was singed to Cleopatra records and had last released 2020’s “Rockabilly For Life.” It was from Cleopatra Records that the announcement of the singer’s death had first emerged on Tuesday due to complications from leukemia. But there’s still more Robert Gordon to come when the lost 1998 album with Spedding, “Hellafied” gets a release on November 25th, 2022.
I wish I had more of Gordon’s glorious vocalizing but there are still many albums to run across in dusty record stores, if we ever get back to those. For those who’ve never had the pleasure, below is Gordon and Link Wray on German TV in 1978 performing “Wild, Wild Women,” a song that never made it on to either of their albums together.
Oops! May you check the numbers in the title ;) Love from Spain.
Alicia – Welcome to the comments! I’m so old it’s hard to remember what century I’m in! Thanks!
A voice that was better than Elvis’, and a purer rockabilly spirit that never went religious or Vegas. Can’t ask for much more than that.
chasinvictoria – Speaking of Elvis, it’s kind of hard to remember that his recording career only lasted 23 years. Which seemed like a long time when he died in 1977, but is peanuts, now. Robert Gordon’s was twice as long.
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