Rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon has died

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photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

Throughout the 70s and 80s, when so many other styles of music were all the rage, a group of dedicated rockabilly cats did everything they could to keep the sounds of Memphis and Sun Records alive in the present, iconic of artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Singer Robert Gordon was at the top of this class of revivalists. He died on October 18 at the age of 75 after suffering from leukemia for years before his death.

Born in Bethesda, Maryland on March 29, 1947 to a Jewish family, Robert Gordon heard Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” at the age of nine and immediately decided his life’s purpose was to play rock and roll. roll, pursuing a career from an early age. His first official band was called The Confidentials, which he led under the name Bob Gordon, and with which he recorded a few singles. Soon after, Gordon chose to enlist in the National Guard instead of risking being drafted for Vietnam.

After his military service, Robert Gordon moved to New York where he fell into the city’s burgeoning punk scene in the 70s, playing in the band The Tuff Darts, who were one of the original bands that helped establish New York punk club CBGB (by the way, meaning “Country, Blue Grass and Blues) as the Mecca of punk music, including appearing on the Live at CBGB Release.

Although punk and rockabilly blended early on, Robert Gordon was looking for a purer rockabilly sound and found it through producer Richard Gottehrer, who was impressed with Gordon’s Elvis covers. The producer paired Gordon with legendary rockabilly guitarist Link Wray, which resulted in two successful rockabilly revivalist releases on Private Stock Records: Robert Gordon with Link Wray (1977), and Special Fresh Fish (1978), the latter featuring the Country Music Hall of Famers Jordanaires who had also sung behind Elvis.

This established Robert Gordon as one of rockabilly’s top revivalists, and he was signed to RCA Records, the same label as his idol Elvis. There Gordon was joined by English-born producer and guitarist Chris Spedding, and released rock billy boogie, the title track becoming one of Robert Gordon’s signature songs. Gordon then released Bad boy (1980), and his most successful album, are you gonna be the only one (1981), which included the first recorded version of the song “Someday, Someway” written by Marshall Crenshaw, who would have a hit with the song himself the following year.

As the era of rockabilly revival began to fade, opportunities for Robert Gordon also grew, although he continued to tour and perform, recording albums for Viceroy and other labels in the 90s, and continuing to record and perform well into the 2000s, including in Europe and at rockabilly revival events in the United States.

In 2020, rockabilly for life was released on Cleopatra Records and included collaborations with Dale Watson, Rosie Flores, Albert Lee, Kathy Valentine of the Go Go’s, Linda Gail Lewis and Steve Wariner, among others, showing the appreciation Robert Gordon enjoyed through music. Beloved across roots, punk, rockabilly and country music for keeping the original spirit of rockabilly alive, Robert Gordon’s death is mourned across the music world.


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