Robert Gordon broke out with his hit "Red Hot" in 1977, knocking down disco queens, would-be punks, and new wave wannabes with his no-holds-barred take on hot-rodded rockabilly. Since then he has been like a turbo jet, and is often credited for lighting up the roots-rock revival and paving the way for real rock'n'rollers to find their niche among the overblown dance music and arena rock that dominated the airwaves.
Mainstream Americans first became aware of Gordon via his 1977 album on Private Stock, titled Robert Gordon and Link Wray. Wray, who recorded such instrumental hits as "Rumble" (1958) and "Raw-Hide" (1959), provided the newcomer with genre credibility. In return, the album single-handedly revived Wray's nearly forgotten career of the 1950s and 1960s. Musically, Gordon mined a series of oldies and rockabilly cult favorites, such as Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot," Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock," Sanford Clark's "The Fool," and Gene Vincent's "Five Days, Five Days." Sounding rawer and wilder than any current act, Gordon's first album for Private Stock was a groundbreaker for the neo-rockabilly trend. "Then all of a sudden, a lot of cats started doing it again," Gordon recalled. "So, it did start a movement, I have to admit."
Gordon's second LP for Private Stock, Fresh Fish Special, was named after the haircut foisted upon Elvis Presley's character in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock. Songwise it was more of the same, with the exception of a song written especially for Gordon by rock icon Bruce Springsteen. "Fire," with its brooding sexuality and passionate hook, received pockets of airplay in the northeastern United States. Unfortunately for Gordon, the Pointer Sisters appropriated the tune and beat him to the hit.
More productive was the collaboration with British session ace Chris Spedding. "Chris was in London when we contacted him, and he was tired of doing session work for all the biggest names in the business," Gordon told Country Standard Time. "So, it was a perfect way to get him over here at the time. Rock Billy Boogie was our first album and we were together for ten years." Another great guitarist in his clique was Danny Gatton, who was so good that other musicians referred to him as "The Humbler." Gatton recorded and played live dates with Gordon sporadically until his death in 1994.
The RCA albums contained some of Gordon's finest work and took in shades of 1950s Nashville country as well as hyper-kinetic rockabilly. Boasting a far better promotional set-up and radio contacts, the label was able to get a few singles, notably the Marshall Crenshaw-penned "Someday, Someway," onto the charts.
The American rockabilly revival lasted only a little longer than the original movement. After his last album for RCA in 1982, Gordon began cutting sides for such European labels as New Rose and Bear Family. Live albums appeared on New Rose, King Biscuit, and others.
After three-plus decades in the business, can he still possibly get a kick out of all this? "Performing the music is just as joyful as it ever was," he stated. "But I think more so now, because I'm not as crazy as I once was and I finally know what the hell I'm doing."
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