Robert Gordon, singer who helped revive rockabilly music, dies at 75


Robert Gordon, a pompous singer who played a pivotal role in the 1970s rockabilly revival and collaborated with influential guitarists Link Wray, Danny Gatton and Chris Spedding, died Oct. 18 in Manhattan. He was 75 years old.

The cause was acute myeloid leukemia, said a sister, Melissa Gordon Uram.

Growing up in suburban Washington in the 1950s and early 1960s, Mr Gordon listened obsessively to rockers such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Jack Scott, country singers Johnny Cash and Don Gibson , as well as Chuck’s rhythm and blues ballad. Jackson and Sam Cooke.

In his stage persona, Mr Gordon seemed to revel in capturing that era in musical amber – cultivating a retrograde clothing style and image, performing in vintage sports coats or tank tops, and always sporting a tower of hair jet black.

He excelled in Presley-esque ballads and was gifted with a melodious baritone who could do over-the-top, teen-oriented lyrics like those of Conway Twitty”It’s only make believeconvincing without the slightest trace of irony or contemporary cynicism. In a 1977 Unicorn Times article, critic Joe Sasfy said Mr Gordon had established his “credentials with the great southern vocal tradition of romantic melodrama”.

Sasfy added, “The style is clear – masculine passion and pain made real by exaggerated timing, breathless gasps, deep, booming bass, falsetto vocals and nervous screams.”

Although filled with a passion for the musical past, Mr. Gordon has also recorded material by contemporary songwriters, including Bruce Springsteen (“Fire”), T-Bone Burnett (“Driving wheel”) and Marshall Crenshaw (“Somewhere, Someday”).

Guitarist Link Wray dies; Influenced by Punk, Grunge

In 1977 Mr. Gordon teamed up with Link Wray, the veteran rockabilly guitarist often credited with pioneering the loud, booming power chords that dominated much of later rock music. Their single “Hot Red,” which had its lyrical roots in schoolyard taunts and dozens of games (“my girl is red hot / your girl ain’t doodly squat”), was contagious enough to reach a respectable 83 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was a cover version: There were earlier versions by Billy Lee Riley and the song’s composer, Billy “The Kid” Emerson, both for Sun Records, in the 1950s.

Presley’s death in 1977 accelerated a revival of interest in fifties-style rockabilly and balladism, and Mr. Gordon and Wray collaborated on two timely albums. Their second, “Fresh Fish Special” (1978), with a tank top Mr. Gordon combing his pompadour on the cover, was named after a movie character’s description of Elvis’ haircut in prison in the 1958 film “Jailhouse Rock”.

Mr. Gordon’s later albums “Rock Billy Boogie” (1979), “Bad Boy” (1980) and “Are You Gonna Be the One” (1981) graced the Billboard charts. The latter included Mr. Gordon’s latest single, the bouncy”One day, somehowby songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.

In addition to Wray, Mr. Gordon has recorded with several energetic guitarists, including Speed and Gatton. Their combined virtuosity, in the opinion of several critics, gave Mr. Gordon’s recordings a smooth polish that other rockabilly revivalists lacked.

A 1980s live recording of Gatton backing Mr Gordon, ‘The Humbler’, was released in 1996, two years after Gatton had died by suicide. The album, so named because other guitarists found Gatton’s string work both impressive and somewhat intimidating, featured one of Gatton’s first shows as Mr. Gordon’s accompanist. Clandestine tapes of the concert had already been circulating quietly among guitarists and fans for more than a decade.

Robert Ira Gordon was born in Washington on March 29, 1947 and grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. His father was an administrative law judge for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. His mother, a housewife, also painted.

Mr. Gordon began performing as a teenager in the early 1960s with the DC-based rock and roll bands. the Confidential and the Newports. As the decade progressed, Mr Gordon said he joined the DC National Guard to avoid the Vietnam War draft. When asked once how he fared with the 1960s, the singer bitterly replied, “I didn’t!”

By the mid-1970s he had moved to New York, opening a leather shop and singing in a folk trio, Reunion. However, punk rock was on the rise, and it soon joined Tuff Dartsa group that shared the stage with Patti Smith, the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie at CBGB nightclub.

Mr. Gordon led Tuff Darts on Atlantic Records’ “Live at CBGB’s” compilation in 1976 and appeared with them in “Unmade Beds” (1976), one of experimental director Amos Poe’s first feature films. Mr. Gordon and Tuff Darts parted ways before the band released a full album.

Mr. Gordon also performed and produced the soundtrack for “The loveless(1981), a film noir starring Willem Dafoe and co-directed by Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery. With some echoes of 1953’s “The Wild One,” the film explored the carnage that ensues when a motorcycle club enters an unwelcoming town in the 1950s.

His marriage to Karen Ellis ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 27 years, Marylee Paquin Gordon of Manhattan; a son from his first marriage, Jesse Gordon of Bethesda, Md.; two sisters; and two granddaughters. A son from his first marriage, Anthony Gordon, died around 25 years ago.

Mr Gordon, who grew up on the music of first-generation rockers, said his legacy was to introduce rockabilly to younger generations.

“Most of the people who picked up my idea initially got drawn to this kind of music by listening to my stuff,” he once said. “I think I helped bring a lot of these people to the public’s attention for the first time.”


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