1979 RCA Publicity photo with Bruce
VARIETY: October 18, 2022
Robert Gordon, Rockabilly-Revivalist Singer, Dies at 75
By A.D. Amorosi
Robert Gordon, one of rockabilly’s earliest revivalists and a familiar presence on the 1970s New York City punk rock scene, died Tuesday at the age of 75, his record label confirms to Variety. No cause of death was cited, although his family recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist with his battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
“Cleopatra Records would like to offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We liked working with Robert and will miss his powerful baritone vocal as well as his focused dedication to his music,” wrote label VP Matt Green.
Gordon’s final album, “Hellafied,” which again teams him with British guitarist Chris Spedding, is being released by the label on Nov. 25.
With his swept-up D.A. haircut and predilection for 1950s clothing, it would have been easy in the 1970s to consider Gordon a “Happy Days”-style throwback. But with a deeply resonant and romantic voice, curatorial precision and excellent taste in guitarist collaborators such as Spedding, Link Wray and Danny Gatton, Gordon was unique among neo-rockabilly revivalists. His work pre-dated that of Brian Setzer’s Stray Cats, who took the sound he embraced to the top of the charts in the early 1980s.
Born on March 29, 1947 in Bethesda, Maryland, Gordon was a voracious radio listener and record aficionado with a taste for Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and, of course, Elvis Presley. After singing in various local bands such as the Confidentials and the Newports in his teens, Gordon joined the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam draft, got married when he was 19, and had two children. By 1970, Gordon and his family moved to New York City to open a clothing boutique, but changed his focus to that city’s bourgeoning punk scene when the likes of Blondie, Television and the Ramones began to storm CBGB. Gordon became part of the NYC pop-punk act Tuff Darts, and recorded part of 1976’s Atlantic label compilation “Live at CBGB” with that band, singing lyrics such as “I’d rather slash my wrist and cut my throat than spend the night with you,” on “Slash.”
“I was doing the rockabilly thing which always seemed to get people off, but I was an angry young man,” Gordon told this writer in 2014. “I had split from my first wife and punk worked for me. But I wasn’t really into punk. I missed singing those old songs.”
When Richard Gottehrer — a producer/songwriter from the celebrated Brill Building, responsible for hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy” — heard Tuff Darts do a cover of Presley’s “One Night,” he convinced Gordon to go back to his roots and make a rock & roll album. Gordon split Tuff Darts, hooked up with Gottehrer and convinced original rockabilly legend Link Wray to record with them. The team debuted with 1977’s “Robert Gordon with Link Wray” and quickly followed with “Fresh Fish Special,” an album that not only featured Elvis Presley’s background vocalists, the Jordanaires, but Bruce Springsteen, who contributed the song “Fire” to the sessions (later a hit for the Pointer Sisters) along with playing keyboards on the track.
“Bruce used to hang out at my fourth-floor walk-up when I broke up with my wife,” Gordon told this writer. “We became close friends. If the Pointer Sisters hadn’t come along with their version of ‘Fire,’ we could’ve had something there.”
Not long after the critically-acclaimed “Fresh Fish Special” dropped, Gordon got signed to Presley’s precious RCA label, and made his debut with the flashy “Rock Billy Boogie” in 1979, followed by “Bad Boy.” “Gottehrer was instrumental in hooking me up with Link, first, then this cat I heard in London, [Chris] Spedding,” Gordon told me. “Gottehrer got things done. He found Spedding a green card, and was instrumental in getting me signed to RCA.”
With firebrand guitarist Danny Gatton and for RCA, Gordon shifted some of his emphasis away from rockabilly and toward pop, R&B and country for 1981’s “Are You Gonna Be the One” and its MTV-favored hit single “Someday, Someway,” penned by power-pop hero, Marshall Crenshaw. Not long after the release of that album, Gordon contributed songs to the soundtrack of the low-budget movie, “The Loveless,” the first directorial effort from Kathryn Bigelow.
After parting ways with RCA, Gordon continued to record accomplished rockabilly and blues-based albums for labels such as Viceroy (1994’s “All for The Love of Rock ‘N’ Roll”), Jungle (2004’s “Satisfied Mind”), Rykodisc (2007’s Elvis Presley tribute “It’s Now or Never” with Spedding), Lanark (2014’s “I’m Coming Home”) and Cleopatra for his most recent studio recording, 2020’s aptly-titled “Rockabilly for Life.”
Gordon prided himself on the production of his more recent recordings. “It’s pretty raw but also pretty clean,” he told this writer, “as opposed to many pseudo-rockabilly things that sound like trash.”
To that end, Gordon’s upcoming album “Hellafied” with Spedding and longtime collaborator Albert Bouchard, former drummer for Blue Oyster Cult, features new original songs from the singer alone (“One Day Left”), along with several others co-penned with Bouchard and Mark Barkan.