Robert Gordon still carrying the rockabilly torch
It’s easy for some to view Robert Gordon as a nostalgia act, but the fact is, some people were just born to sing rock and roll. Moreover, the passion and flair at the heart of so much music made between Elvis Presley’s first recordings in 1954 to the appearance of Beatlemania ten years later will always connect with audiences, no matter how determined the endless parade of Elvis impersonators are to mock it.
That same passion and flair helped ignite punk rock in New York City in the mid-1970s, the time and place when Robert Gordon was convinced that his baritone was better suited to representing the music he first started singing in his youth. His early recordings that saw him teamed with the legendary guitarist Link Wray were equally rebellious as punk records of the time, and by the early 1980s, groups like the Stray Cats were selling millions of albums on the strength of a “rockabilly revival.”
Long after that fad dissipated, Gordon stayed true to his sound even though it relegated him to the role of cult hero. Still, in a lot of ways the 64-year-old remains one of the last vestiges of the original rockabilly spirit, meaning that new generations continually discover the music through Gordon’s dogged determination to stay active on the global touring circuit.
“It’s either feast or famine in the music business,” Gordon says. “But I’ve been doing this since I was 15 years old, so what else am I gonna do? I’m fortunate that I’ve worked enough in Europe that I can go to places like Italy and Finland and play with great bands there, because it’s so hard to keep a full-time band on the road. You just have to do what you gotta do to keep working.”
Canada has been good to Gordon too, ever since he did a guest spot on SCTV in the early ‘80s, performing his then-current hit Someday Someway with his group that featured the late, celebrated guitarist Danny Gatton, and Bob Dylan’s future bassist Tony Garnier. “Canada has always been a very special place for me,” Gordon says.
“Back in the ’70s, even when I was more associated with the punk scene, the audiences in Canada were responsive, and have stuck with me even though we’ve all gotten older. I used to play the El Mocambo [in Toronto] back when it was thriving, so I feel like I’ve paid my dues in Canada. But aside from that, I just like the people, and I like hanging out there.”
Gordon’s most recent album, 2007’s It’s Now Or Never, found him reuniting with another of his longtime collaborators, British guitarist Chris Spedding. In the years that followed its release, they toured with Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock and Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom as their rhythm section, to great acclaim. While Gordon can’t say at the moment if that group will ever reform, it did give him some reassurance that a substantial audience for rockabilly still existed, and was eager to hear the classic material played well.
“The bulk of the songs are the ones that people most want to hear,” he says. “I still have a lot of original material that Chris and I worked on a long time ago, but I’m sort of saving that for the right moment when we can go into the recording studio. But things are so different now; to me, people seem to make CDs just to sell at their shows. If the right situation comes along, though, I’d like to make another album.”
Who: Robert Gordon w/The Greasemarks and Burnin’ Ethyl
When: Thursday, Sept. 22
Where: Fat Cat’s, 101 Hazelglen Dr., Kitchener
Doors: 8 p.m.
More Info: www.ticketscene.ca